Missouri Commission Approves First Of Its Kind (In Missouri)
Public Prep Charter School Focused On Personalized Learning
SAINT LOUIS— Hundreds of St. Louis middle and high school students will have the opportunity to attend a college preparatory public school that tailors their learning to their individual abilities, interests and goals in a new charter school that will open a year from this fall. Kairos Academies will bring the nationally proven Summit Learning Program model to the Dutchtown neighborhood of St. Louis starting with 115 6th graders the first year and growing to 700 6th through 12th graders.
“This is the cutting edge in Missouri,” said Dr. John Wright, a member of the Missouri Charter Public School Commission, which voted today to sponsor the new charter public school. “Children need high performing schools with dedicated teachers and the innovative use of technology that create a classroom experience unique to them. Kairos will meet students where they are and prepare them for college and career. But, what sets this innovative school apart is the students will also learn how to teach themselves and develop a love for learning. A great education and the skills to be a life-long learners will serve them well beyond high school.” (The Missouri Charter Public School Commission was established in 2012 by the Missouri General Assembly. It is an independent state commission with the statutory authority to sponsor high quality charter public schools, and hold them accountable. Charter schools cannot open in Missouri without a state-authorized sponsor.)
Kairos founders, Gavin Schiffres and Jack Krewson, both Teach for America alums, spent three years working on the charter application. (“Kairos” means a propitious moment for decision or action.) Last year, they left teaching to fully immerse themselves in finalizing the school’s plan, building a quality board and developing leadership and management skills to successfully open in 2019. Kairos’s application thoroughly documents how students will leave high school college ready and with the soft skills employers crave. The school’s focus on developing the whole student is reflected in the curriculum, schedule, and personnel.
In traditional schools, students take the same courses in the same grade level, even if they are not prepared for the course work, or have already mastered it. That won’t be true with Kairos. “Having worked in traditional public schools, we became disenchanted with the one-size-fits all curriculum,” said Schiffres. “Our school will focus on personalized learning both by ability and interest. For example, there might be a student in the sixth grade who reads at a fifth grade level but does math at a seventh grade level. That will be her starting point. Our students will also have the chance to put their problem-solving, critical thinking, and communication skills to use in intense team projects. For instance, they might make a movie about how the combustion engine works, if that’s what interests them.”
Dr. Douglas Thaman, an educational expert who is the executive director of the Missouri Charter Public Schools Association, helps charter public schools succeed. Over three years the Association helped Kairos develop its application, provided legal and regulatory guidance, board and leadership training, helped with grants and connected Kairos to needed community, state and national resources. “Charter schools certainly offer parents and teachers quality public school options they would not otherwise have,” Thaman said. “But, more importantly, because they operate under local control, independent of many bureaucratic regulations, charter schools provide cutting edge, innovative education where teachers are encouraged and rewarded for focusing on the strengths and weaknesses of individual students. Kairos is only the latest example of how charters are focusing on students first.”
The founders of Kairos Academies submitted a 682-page application to the Missouri Charter Public School Commission. After a rigorous assessment, the commission voted unanimously today to sponsor the school. “We did not make this easy for the applicants,” said commissioner Dr. Susan Cole. “Our staff worked with them for the last three years. On several occasions, we challenged them to aim higher and do better— and they have. This is a really exciting idea that will be the first of its kind in Missouri.”
Instead of depending on the set schedule of a traditional school, Kairos students will practice managing their own time like a college student or modern-day professional. If they make productive decisions, they will earn increased choice over how, where, when, and with whom to work. At full choice, students will navigate the school’s co-working space autonomously, leveraging resources (including teachers) to reach their own academic, extracurricular, and social goals. When they miss the academic goals, students will get more structure to help them build productive habits.
Continuity is also important. Coaches will stay with their 10-student “pods” over multiple years—getting to know families, mentoring in community “houses,” and advocating during restorative-justice mediations.
The school’s calendar and school day schedule are part of their innovation for both students and faculty. Instead of using the typical school schedule, students work hard for five weeks, then recharge for two. The school will partner with other year-around schools and high-quality youth serving agencies to provide enrichment and tutoring programs during the breaks. Faculty use one of those two weeks for inservice—analyzing data, planning student interventions, and completing professional development to improve their skills. This break also allows faculty to refuel and replenish, returning to their students renewed.
Kairos will also innovate with teachers. While still teaching in the classroom, they can also share in administration, allowing them to advance their careers without leaving teaching, accruing the prestige, compensation, and school ownership professional educators deserve.
Charter schools are public schools. So, Kairos will be free and open to students who reside in the City of St. Louis, with priority enrollment to students who live in the Dutchtown area, a community that badly needs a quality school. The school will be held accountable to state standards by a community board, the Commission and by the State Board of Education.
The final step in the approval process is consideration of the application by the Missouri State Board of Education.
Parents with a child entering the 6th grade in 2019 are invited to get more information by going to the Commission’s web site at https://mcpsc.mo.gov/ or the school’s website at: https://www.kairosacademies.org/