School Visit Series: A Charter With a Second Chance
Dorothy Curry and Sue Jarvis had a dream—build a school that helps at-risk children reach their full potential. Their vision came to life in the form of Gordon Parks Elementary, a charter school in Kansas City, Missouri. While most urban charters serve low-income students, Jarvis and Curry wanted to serve the neediest of those children. In its early years, according to current Executive Director Steve Fleming, the majority of the school’s applicants were funneled through Operation Breakthrough, a charity where the founders volunteered.
The organization describes the children it serves:
Over 20% of the children are homeless or near homeless, living in battered women’s or homeless shelter or transitional living programs. Often they sleep on the sofas of friends or relatives, sometimes even living in cars, rundown hotels or abandoned buildings. Many of our children are in foster care or other placements due to abuse, neglect, or other family crises.
Serving one or two children with these types of hardships is difficult enough, but Gordon Parks was serving only children with these hardships. In 2013, the State Board of Education decided that Gordon Parks had to close down. One of the reasons Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) Communications Coordinator Sarah Potter gave in an email to the Missouri Times was, “very low academic performance—in the bottom five percent of the state.”
The school fought back, taking DESE and the state board to court. The judge ruled in favor of Gordon Parks, “saving the school” from closing.
Although Gordon Parks has shown improvement in the past year, there are still challenges to serving the city’s neediest students. A Gordon Parks kindergarten teacher told Kansas City Public Media in January, “They need the structure, they need the individualized instruction, they need the love, they need the care. They need everything that we offer them and more.”
Gordon Parks was given a second chance, but there’s nothing preventing the state from penalizing schools that choose to serve a similar population of children. This is a shame, because schools like Gordon Parks provide a much-needed service.
Fleming said, “There’s some unique challenges that you have in the urban core, but we treat our kids like they’re our kids. We try to help them learn and grow and develop, and try to help them be good citizens. They’re our future.”