What Draws People In Must Work for All Students

Every seat in every school needs to be one where a student is getting what he or she needs in order to be prepared for life and education beyond high school. There is a mountain of disturbing data (in addition to heartbreaking stories from too many students) indicating we have a long way to go.

Great schools must be options from which all students living in the city can choose regardless of family income, race, neighborhood, aptitude, what language they speak, where they come from or any other personal factor.

Two recent pieces in the Kansas City Star suggest both district and charter school options are either currently or soon will be attracting and keeping families in the heart of the city. The editorial published January 29 and Joe Robertson’s story from February 24 both highlight emerging school start-ups and expansions. These are exciting developments that represent part of a larger opportunity.

Ensuring students from urban schools have every chance to complete college is an enduring part of Mr. Kauffman’s legacy in Kansas City and one we plan to carry forward. The Kauffman Foundation, often in partnership with other funders, provides support for dozens of schools and programs in the Kansas City area, with a particular focus on providing opportunities for students of color and students from low- and modest-income circumstances.

The Foundation is investing across the metro area to improve all schools. This includes K-12 schools through our Individual Schools Grants program as well as large grants focusing on start-up, expansion and turnaround school projects.

There is a long list of hardworking district, private and charter schools where educators are utilizing grant funds to improve outcomes for students, but I am focusing on five schools today because they are all in a start-up, expansion or turnaround phase and qualified for significant funding support because of those efforts.

Our support over the last 18 months of Citizens of the World Charter Schools in Midtown, Crossroads Academy downtown, KIPP Endeavor Academy at 18th and Prospect, the district’s Kansas City Neighborhood Academy project and the ongoing work of the Kauffman School at 63rd and Paseo are all intended to increase the number of quality opportunities available to Kansas City students and families. 

Each of the schools listed is distinct in the kind of school culture, academic programming and staffing model it offers students and families. The things they share in common, however, are what made them good candidates for Kauffman Foundation grants and also makes them compelling models for school improvement efforts around the city.

By 2025, it is possible for the academic performance of the district and charter schools serving students within the KCPS boundaries to be equal to or greater than Missouri statewide averages. That is a mark a small handful of schools are already reaching, but students and families deserve any public school they attend to be one where students will be at least on par with their peers across the state.

Closing the gap with Missouri means nearly doubling the current collective academic outcomes in both math and communication arts for most students attending district and charter schools within the KCPS boundaries. Difficult? Yes. Impossible? No. What students and families deserve no matter where they live in the city? Absolutely.

The Kauffman Foundation’s key criteria for evaluating a school project’s ability to deliver a good return in student outcomes from a large investment in grant dollars:


  1. Evidence that the school recognizes challenges posed by poverty and inequity, but does not accept those challenges as justification for lower expectations or underperformance.
  2. Accountability for measurable outcomes.
  3. Leadership with proven or promising results.
  4. Access with enrollment and/or an enrollment plans to ensure students from lower-income families can attend the school if they choose to attend.
  5. Ownership by members of communities that will be most impacted by the school project.
  6. Small start with a plan to embed successful culture and practices early, and scale responsibly to ensure those early successes persists over time.
  7. Realistic timeline with appropriate opportunities for foundation team and other funders to build a relationship with the school group, understand the viability of the plan and ensure there is adequate lead time to use grant dollars to bring on critical leadership staff and engage in pre-operational implementation as early as possible before students enroll (at least 18-24 months).

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Aaron North

Aaron North is vice president of Education at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. Prior to joining the Foundation, North served as the founding executive director of the Missouri Charter Public School Association (MCPSA). Before leading the startup effort at MCPSA, North worked in Minnesota as a charter school sponsor, school resource center director, and in the Minnesota Department of Education's Office of Choice and Innovation. He also served as secretary for an urban elementary charter school board in Minneapolis.