Horse Latitudes

“I’m not putting any more money into this (Académie Lafayette’s Oak Street Campus) building. If I have to go out and tell people not to donate (money to the planned Oak building expansion), I’ll do it.”

-a  current Académie Lafayette board member

Still Life with Climate Change and SkeletonThere is an area of the Atlantic known as the horse latitudes.

Spanish wooden ships once plied those sea lanes en route to the New World and discovered the trade winds necessary to fill their sails would often dwindle to mere zephyrs, with barely enough force to impel their crafts. To lighten the ships the sailors would throw heavy cargo overboard, allowing even that slight wind to drive the sails through the doldrums.

Furniture, dinnerware, linens, no cargo was immune; even canons would be tossed overboard.

When there was nearly no wind, the crews would force their panicked horses to leap into the still seas.

Stories passed down through the centuries tell of horses swimming after the ships, often for miles, before they drowned. The old tars claimed the screams of those horses haunted their sleep for years afterward.

The horse latitudes weather phenomena historically occurs between 30 and 35 degrees north and south of the equator; the air “sinks” in these regions. But that was before Global Warming.

The northern edge of the Horse Latitudes has moved further north – Kansas City experienced much other same weather pattern last summer and was expected to repeat it this year: overly hot, dry and still weather.

Fortunately we have yet to sacrifice any dumb animals.

Unless you count our children.

Is there anything else in Kansas City as absolutely FUBAR’d as education? 1

Education in KC is such an unremitting mess that the Missouri Education hatchet-woman Commissioner sailed into town back in the autumn of 2011.

She riled up the locals with loose talk about us not being able to abuse our own children any more, saying things like The State may just have to bring in some, you know, adults to oversee the education of Kansas City’s “scholars.” And, oh, by the by, it would be nice if all the current KCPS self important schmucks school board members would resign; yes, preferably now, thank you. And, again, yes – most especially you, Mr. Benson.

I thought it was strange when Nicastro handed us the resolution and asked us to cede our authority to the state,” Benson said. 2

Commissioner Nicastro spent time addressing KC audiences comprised of parents, educators and the KCPS self important schmucks school board members as though all the above had failed to provide adequate education for the city’s children over the last 30 years. 3

It was like a minor flotilla, the good ship Missouri Board of Ed alongside the USS Missouri, plying the local waters and tossing trinkets to the natives, threatening to board the KCSD and promising immediate relief for the kids. In the evenings fancy dinners were well attended, speeches given, reassurances proffered…then away our saviors sailed.

So, naturally, this time last year the USS Missouri all but foundered.

And just recently they started throwing the children overboard.

Meanwhile the KCPS is adrift and its scholars floundering.

The hushed whispers coming from 12th and McGee seem to point to the District continuing to receive inadequate grades for basic math, reading and writing proficiency, attendance, graduation rates and almost everything else that matters, though there’s “hope” Superintendent Dr. Stephen Green has tightened up the administrative portion of the district such the State will bestow provisional accreditation.

But the bald truth of the matter is– regardless the outcome of the latest MAP scores– it will take years to reverse the KCPS current course.

Perhaps even another decade.

Anyone who has ever served in the Navy will tell you that when a ship goes down, your best bet is to get the hell away from it; you don’t want to be drug down to Davey Jones Locker as well. 4 The bigger the ship, the further away you want to be.

The KCPS District is one large ship.

Once the State fired its broadside at the District every able man jack, child and parent with a lick of sense started looking for a new berth: Independence, Raytown, Grandview, you name it. It was every man for himself.

But if nothing else there’s money in education, so even though the Missouri Supreme Court ruled outlying Districts had to accept KCPS fleeing scholars, the unaccredited districts sued to keep the DESE money instead of allowing it to flow to the receiving District that would actually be educating the children (and, eventually, Missouri’s Supreme Court will have to settle that dispute, too.)

A cynical ploy, but understandable: the District should be able to obtain provisional accreditation, right? After all, they’ve done so several times in the last 30 years. And with that provisional status the District hopes to convince parents that KCPS is more than a perpetually sinking ship, it’s in reality seaworthy; a ready, willing and able vessel their children can sail to a bright future.

We’re not too sure how may people will believe said tripe, but we do know that people in general dislike change and will rationalize any decision to not decide (“Hey – the District is provisionally accredited!)

Then there are those who feel the need to get even closer to the ever foundering KCPS.

Académie Lafayette’s board is one such entity. They decided last year they wanted to buy another KCPS building, Bryant.

At first the reason for the Bryant purchase was presented as allowing Académie Lafayette to open up yet another French immersion school. 5

But wait! Maybe we meant a Spanish immersion school instead…yeah, that’s the ticket! 6

And then the rallying cry became – a high school!. Oh no, our bad: what we really meant was we’re going to use it as a way of starting a high school! Isn’t that exciting? No, not a French/Spanish/Chinese immersion high school, not at all! Why would you think that? No, we want to start a IB high school! No, we don’t have any practical administrative or teaching experience running an IB high school. No, we really haven’t looked into a need for that in KC; no we don’t really know the costs…but be forward thinking! Be a visionary! We should do this right now, not 5 years down the road when we have sufficiently planned for it. Don’t worry…

And again money reared its inconvenient head.

A.L. had just finished refinancing its two buildings and was committed to an expansion of the Oak Street campus. In fact, that was the selling point behind the purchase of Longan/Cherry Street campus: once the Oak Street expansion was done there would be enough room for all the K-8 kids (assuming 120 new kindergarteners per year and a static attrition rate throughout the upper grades: 8th grade historically graduates roughly 40 or less children a year.)

In fact a whole campaign sprung up to specifically fund the Oak Street expansion and Cherry Street renovation: Give To Grow. The goal is to raise $3.5 million and the fund currently sits at around $1.8 million.

Here is where it gets tricky.

The Al Board arranged financing such that the school – in the form of Give To Grow monies – had to chip in $2 million toward Oak Street expansion costs. $1 million won’t suffice; $1.8 million won’t cut it.  And $1.8 million is where the fund stubbornly sits.

So…uh…ahem….what was that quote waaaay back up at the top of this post?

“I’m not putting any more money into this (Académie Lafayette’s Oak Street Campus) building. If I have to go out and tell people not to donate (money to the planned Oak building expansion), I’ll do it.”

Stacked deck, anyone?

We were brought that quote, and context, over two months ago. It has taken us that long to source it with 3 other people. But now we know which AL board member uttered it, to whom, when and why.

And ultimately all it does is illustrate the frustration of KC parents with school age children: despite what parents may want, it is apparent that the desires of school boards are more important. People we’ve spoken with tell us that current Académie Lafayette board members are already quietly recruiting future board members for the IB high school.

You know, the one that doesn’t currently exist? The one the board hasn’t, ostensibly, decided on yet?

Which is another way of saying that the A.L. board members decided  –despite a rather urgent desire among parents to slow things waaaaaaaaay the hell down and put together a 5 year strategic plan that would end with a solid, sustainable path to building an IB high school–  that a high school needs to be built right now. 7


Well, that’s the rub, isn’t it?

There is no loud hue and cry for a high school at this very moment. Not, at least from the A.L. parents who’ve responded to our queries. And certainly not from the KCPS system itself. If anything, people want the KCPS system to actually, you know, improve the schools they currently run instead of asking them to build more. And for Académie Lafayette to continue to improve their already outstanding educational offerings.

And it’s not like Académie Lafayette graduates could possibly fill out an initial freshman class: the school’s 8th grade graduates –on average– only 40 kids or so. That leaves so many empty seats in the proposed high school the money has no chance of working.

So where do the other children come from then? Are parents going to say “no” to St. Teresa’s and Rockhurst, put their children in a brand new high school administered and taught by teachers untested in a system with which no one locally has any working knowledge?

Not likely.

Same for parents withholding their children from PemDay and that ilk; it’s just not gonna happen.

So where would two thirds of these putative scholars come from every year? There’s only one place left – KCPS.

And from what we’ve seen, that’s a match made in hell.

Nothing against any of the KCPS kids themselves but not a single KCPS school comes anywhere near the academic achievements of Académie Lafayette. Which means that fully two thirds of the virgin freshman class at our (imaginary) high school are nowhere ready to be in an IB high school.

Which means several parallel teaching tracks would have to be instituted, which means – of necessity – some sort of segregation. Which means dissension, disunion, resentment and –eventually– failure.

To what end, one wonders?

Even were the (imaginary) high school to overcome all the above it could only do so by mainstreaming all students, which would have the deleterious effect of “dumbing down” the curriculum.

It seems to us all that would accomplish would be to replicate the current KCPS.

Normally manias like this sweep through many boards, burn themselves out and are forgotten. Or are reined in and morph into something more reasonable and useful. Or the composition of the board itself changes and the mania’s impetus departs along with one or more board members.

Little chance of that happening at Académie Lafayette; just as recently as last month the notion of term limits for board members was brought up at the A.L. board meeting and was –as we read it — summarily shut down. By the board members themselves. 8 So in all likelihood this imaginary, under-performing high school is already a done deal.

As to the mechanics, the actual purchase of the Bryant building itself from KCPS — as well as whatever other constraints KCPS may impose on that purchase besides money; will they want to be a player in this high school? if so, to what degree? — sadly appears to have buried a knife in the back of the Oak street campus expansion some months back, the Give To Grow campaign be damned. But no one on the A.L. board has yet come right out and publicly said so.

Well…except for this person. They were rather frank about it, weren’t they?

“I’m not putting any more money into this (Académie Lafayette’s Oak Street Campus) building. If I have to go out and tell people not to donate (money to the planned Oak building expansion), I’ll do it.”

Show 8 footnotes

  1. Other than our water/sewage infrastructure, our sports franchises, our give-money-to-already-wealthy-businesses TIF process, our East Side drug/gang/murder problem, the (according to the skinny jeans set) local dating scene, or the blood pressure-raising fact that City Hall has yet to budget enough cash to fill potholes the entirety of the last four Mayoral administrations and now deems it necessary to further tax us in order to do so?
  2. That Benson found the idea ‘strange’ was in our opinion enough to make it mandatory. But as he’s diminished and gone to whatever personal hell awaits someone who thoroughly misguided nearly two generations of KC’s children, we’ll let it go.
  3. Hell, or even in just the last year or two.
  4. There is an ongoing debate whether a sinking ship will “suck” a person down behind her. Forgoing all terms, let’s just leave it at this: if a sinking ship is large enough it will displace a huge amount of water that creates a cavity therein where other water will immediately rush back in to fill as the ship falls to the depths, this will create a whirlpool (or ‘water tornado’, as the Astas are wont to describe it) effect that will, indeed, haul you downward. Add to that any aeration of the water –due to trapped air in the ship escaping which makes it harder to swim, your body being not as buoyant in air-filled water– and you’re looking at your basic death-trap.. Yes – get away, far away from a sinking ship.
  5. Académie Lafayette just recently expanded – rather contentiously – from their home school on south Oak by purchasing the old Logan building from KCPS.
  6. Except it was pointed out to the AL Board that the money simply wouldn’t work; there was no way to support 3 schools. Several AL Board members agreed that their figures were off. But, they suggested, let us go back and ‘work on those numbers’…
  7. A.L.’s 3 year strategic plan is not finished yet. Or should we say it hasn’t been published yet; one presumes it may start, a priori, with a high school and sprint forward from there.
  8. Go figure. The board also offered up their negative thoughts regarding A.L parents sitting on the school board, as parents’ points of view might selfishly reside squarely within the realm of monomania. It should be noted this was pointed out to us as being uttered sans irony.

11 thoughts on “Horse Latitudes”

  1. I can guess which board member said that. He’s the same one that always lectures parents when they say anything he doesn’t agree with. That what happens when members stay so long they feel they’re “entitled” and the peons don’t understand them. Too bad they’ll essentially serve for life.

  2. This ties in with how the board seems to ignore us even when they call special meetings in the gym to ask us what we think. It seems they alsways pick what they want to hear from all the voices as a means of justifying what they want to do not what the majority of people are saying. And where the heck is the meony to do all this coming from? Are they planning on using the money we all donated to Oak for the expansion? Because that’s not right. besides it surely costs more to buy a school right? There’s justs o much aboiut this that is wrong.

  3. This is exactly why I don’t attend board meetings. I went to one when we first put our boy in Academy Lafayette but it was clear the members weren’t really listening to the comments from the people who showed up. They were just marking time until they could go into a closed session and talk about what THEY wanted to do.

  4. Has the board member who said they would block donations to the Oak expansion resigned yet? Because that should happen immediately. Right?

  5. From what I read here then we should expect the AL board to have already committed to buying a building from the KC scool district and moving ahead with plans for a high school by the time we return for fall calsses? Why? Did the board hit the lotetry or something? There’s no way they have the money to do that. This sucks.

  6. I think you’re right, Mark. I expect when we bring our kids back in August the board not only will have purchased Bryant but they will also have started another one of those endless begging campaigns to fund it. What worries me more though is the author’s thoughts on the probable populace of the initial freshman class. There really is no other source of kids other than Kansas City schools. And we all know what excellent students the district turns out. And never any trouble makers, no no never!

    Someone on the board has a massive ego. No way this this rush to stupidity ends well.

  7. Wasn’t there a group of AL mothers who put together a Facebook page to keep everyone informed about stuff like this? Anyone know what it’s called?

  8. Lincoln College Prep already offers an IB curriculum. AL should partner with Lincoln rather than buy Bryant and compete with Lincoln. The AL Board and Development folks need help analyzing the financials. Running 3 quality programs in 3 separate (renovated) buildings at current funding levels just isn’t feasible. I won’t Give to Grow until the Board comes to grips with AL’s economic reality and aligns their vision accordingly. The failure of the capital campaign and inability to secure more community $ should serve as a reality check. Unfortunately, certain Board members are pursuing their own agenda with their head in the clouds.

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