Last Friday the KCPS and Academie Lafayette announced a partnership revolving around Southwest High School: KCPS proposes to allow Academie Lafayette exclusive long term use of the building to open an International Baccalaureate high school, something the noted charter school has long desired. In addition to providing a landing spot for AL’s K-8 graduates, KCPS students will also have an opportunity to attend.
We recently had the opportunity to ask Academie Lafayette board member (and departing president) Dave Cozad for a few more details. That conversation follows below:
WNBTv: This partnership seems like a great big leap of faith…do you have anything (details of the Academie Lafayette/KCPS partnership) in writing yet?
Cozad: We have a term sheet we’ve hammered out with the district – the final contract will be based on it.
WNBTv: Are you talking about leasing SouthWest from the district?
Cozad: It’s a long-term use agreement; not rental. KCPS will also initially provide certain other considerations. On our end Academie Lafayette agrees to put 1 million dollars into the building by the time we open it ( August 2015) and another million dollars by 2 years later…
WNBTv: Where does that 2 million come from?
Cozad: We’ve raised 2.3 million right now…and further (fundraising) is the chicken/egg issue: we couldn’t really go out and ask for money until we had a term sheet.
WNBTv: What has Academie Lafayette been telling parents they were going to use that money for?
Cozad: Capitol improvements, to improve our buildings. Plus operating expenses for the first three years of the new high school.
WNBTv: So how are the donations to the school running?
Cozad: Surprisingly some of our recent funders have never donated to us, but the high school has caused interest where there wasn’t before. There are more private donors involved with the high school than in the past, many of whom have verbally committed monies but are waiting until the process moves further down the road before they announce themselves. But the money’s there…
WNBTv: So explain again how we start-up since DESE money only arrives when the students do…
Cozad: We have $300K in (Stowers) planning money to spend if we need it; recruiting, principal search…and the district says they will assist.
WNBTv: We’ve been skeptical about an Academie Lafayette/KCPS partnership in the past. Given the current (known) variables –complete control by Academie Lafayette, to include instruction, course selection, principal/head of school and all teacher hires — we have to ask what does KCPS have to gain from this partnership?
Cozad: A couple of things: the district had planned to restructure Southwest, before this partnership. But KCPS had a large problem…they couldn’t have the building sit empty. So they avoid all the negatives associated with empty buildings.
WNBTv: Where will the current Southwest students end up?
Cozad: Remember the presser; the district will meet with each student and family to counsel them and assist in selecting a new district school.
WNBTv: So what happens with Westport High School?
Cozad: Not sure; Fouchs Brothers still have an interest in redeveloping it and the District seems to be leaning that way. We actually went and talked to the Westport neighborhood associations and explained this (Southwest) deal to them, talked about how hard it would be to pull off Westport. We had a lot of our parents concerned about sharing (under the proposed Westport plan) space with residences; scheduling common facilities (gym, pool) issues; kids would have to be transported in, plus AL being responsible for close to half a million dollars a year in rent: the neighborhood associations understood our concerns.
WNBTv: On another subject, how do the KCPS students get admitted to the new AL IB high school?
Cozad: This is the innovation that allows the partnership to work: the school will be a complete Academie Lafayette organization, with the KCPS kids staying on the district’s LEA. So though Lafayette will receive DESE money to educate each incoming KCPS student, the district retains the KCPS student’s scores. Since technically the non-Academie Lafayette admits will remain KCPS district students, the district itself will administer entrance examines to admit them to the school, just as they do for Lincoln. And this is not out of the ordinary; DESE approved this plan.
WNBTv: So let’s say you get 70 kids to test in. But by December you discover 10 to 15 of them are not going to make it; their grades are not sufficient, not passing at all: D and F students. What do you do then?
Cozad: Probably talk to them about the options they have; counseling, take a look at other things…
WNBTv: How aggressive will you be? Will you “carry” them, perhaps to the detriment of the school? And what other choices would you have at that point?
Cozad: Well, if grades warrant, we would fail them.
WNBTv: You don’t think you would get pressure from the district to not fail them?
Cozad: Nah, no, no…
WNBTv: Well, you say that now…
Cozad: I’m honestly not worried about this because we did a lot of research into the MAP scores and college admissions of Lincoln students…kids that qualify to go to Lincoln. And they have a big waiting list is the thing; those are the kids we think we’ll draw, kids who would have gotten into Lincoln and succeeded…we’d be getting those kids: if we do our job they will succeed here. Hale-Cook; those kids will now have a high school option; the two foreign language schools, they have a landing-place now. We’re talking quality students, people wait-listed at Lincoln or students who would have left the district to find the education they wanted. Those are the students we’re talking about.
WNBTv: You said KCPS gains a couple of things – what’s one of the others?
Coazd: Almost as important as this new educational opportunity, and the building not sitting empty, is the fact that this partnership highlights the district’s determination and willingness to try something new for the betterment of KCPS students. That’s important, almost as important as the district regaining accreditation.
WNBTv: What about the constant fluctuations within KCPS itself: new boards, new superintendents. Won’t that be disruptive?
Cozad: Dr. Green just signed a 5 year contract. That led us to view the proposal more favorably. And the school board is more stable these days…John Hile is thoroughly on board…more, remember we’ll have a contract that KCPS will have to honor.
WNBTv: Are their disincentives lodged in the contract to persuade KCPS to honor the document?
Coazd: We’ve had a number of people look at the term sheet: DESE, the Missouri Charter Association, even the Kaufman Foundation – they’re all approving of the terms. And that includes the penalties and stipulated damages. For example KCPS has no right to reach in and mess with the facility in any way. The penalty for that is punitive, a good amount of money. But I can’t see Dr. Green or KCPS doing that – they want this partnership to work, just like they want their students to succeed. The district wants another successful college prep school.
WNBTv: Do you anticipate pushback? If so, where from?
Cozad: There will be some blowback of some sort about displacing the kids already there (Southwest.) But the Mayor James said, “You…have to move forward.”
WNBTv: On another matter…will the current Academie Lafayette board also set policy for the new Al IB high school?
Cozad: I hope not. We will have new people, I hope.
WNBTv: Are you already recruiting for that?
Cozad: Yes. Though (new Al board president) Chad Phillips will lead that effort. I’m going to step back and concentrate on making this thing (Southwest) work…I’m not going away, mind you, just going to work on the high school.
WNBTv: So, the principal – you’re thinking someone IB certified?
Cozad: Probably. We’ve got a few people in mind…I’m thinking about taking a leave of absence (from the EPA.) Thinking about taking 2 months off, get off the (AL) board and just be an employee…
WNBTv: I’m sorry – be an employee of what?
Cozad: Academie Lafayette, just for a two month period, to get contracts negotiated, get a principal hired, get a facilities plan in place and get an architect hired…all the things you need to do. Hiring a principal – that’s job one; teachers aren’t gong to hire on without knowing who the principal is going to be…
WNBTv: What’s your timeline for hiring the new principal?
Cozad: We’re shooting for end of this summer.
WNBTv: Will anybody else from the current board assist you?
Cozad: I don’t know; some may be term-limited out…
WNBTv: So the board has adopted term limits for its members? How’s that going to work out?
Cozad: I don’t know yet…we’re not quite there yet. We would have to have a policy, but we would also have to have a transition policy; we need to roll off members in a phased approach…I’m for something like 2 three-year terms, then you’re off, for at least a year. Later, if the board wants, they could bring you back.
WNBTv: So what shape is Southwest physically in?
Cozad: It’s a mixed bag; good and bad. We’ve got people already working on it, seeing what can be done; they’ll be at the forums this week. We’re having them look at how do we move in there in a year; how do we wall off places we’re not using; how we might partner with third parties. Park University may be interested, the neighborhood associations might be interested in community space…
WNBTv: Culturally, how do you blend the differing kids into the Academie Lafayette culture.
Cozad: We’re looking at a one week camp before school opens, to let the kids get to know each other before the semester begins. And soccer; we won’t offer football, but we will offer soccer – that’s a sport the school can bond on. As well as other events. But remember, we’re just starting with 9th graders the first year. 120 kids who will make up the first class of the new school. We think they’ll do fine at developing the school’s culture.
Dave Cozad will present more information on the Southwest KCPS/Academie Lafayette partnership at two forums this week. He highly encourages parents to attend:
Tuesday June 24 at 5:30 p.m., Oak Street campus
Thursday June 26 at 5:30 p.m., Cherry Street campus