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DeLaSalle Education Center, alternative high school opportunity for students in Kansas City, Missouri

Finding alternatives when students need them most

For students most at-risk to drop out, a solution is needed to ensure a quality path forward is available.

Whether in urban or rural communities, alternative high schools are necessary to support youth that have not found success in other school environments. Instead of giving up on students that have run into significant life challenges at an early age, quality alternative high schools provide those students with supports and a relevant, engaging education model.

There are many examples of high quality schools that meet this important need. Boston Day and Evening Academy, a nationally-recognized alternative high school in Boston, Massachusetts, only serves students that have already been through one or more traditional schools but have not been academically successful. A personalized education approach provides an on-ramp to academic success and career development.

The High School for the Recording Arts in St. Paul, Minnesota, leverages creative expression and hip-hop themes as a conduit to learning for students that have faced homelessness or have already dropped out of high school. Being a bridge to relevant work credentials, skill development, and nurturing and safe environments can be life-altering to youth that are running out of options.

In Kansas City, DeLaSalle Education Center (DeLaSalle), has had a deep tradition of serving students facing significant personal and academic obstacles to success. For decades, individuals and organizations from across the KC community have supported DeLaSalle and its students – volunteering to work with students, providing additional funding, and advocating for young people often in desperate need of allies.

A solution to support students

Sometimes schools end up in a spot as tough as those faced by many of the students they serve. This year, leadership from DeLaSalle approached funders in the community, including the Kauffman Foundation, to explain the challenges the school was facing and that closure of the school was imminent, possibly before the end of the current academic year.

The sincerity and good intent that has been present throughout DeLaSalle’s history were evident in the members of the board and staff who met with community members. They were actively seeking to ensure DeLaSalle’s students would not be adversely affected by the financial and programmatic challenges facing the school and were asking members of the community to help them find a path for the school and its students.

Like many alternative high schools, DeLaSalle is a charter school. The Kauffman Foundation believes that charter schools must be held accountable for student outcomes and stewardship of public resources, and if outcomes in those areas are not sufficient, the school should be closed or replaced. DeLaSalle, however, presented a case distinct enough to merit consideration of a different solution.

A critical opportunity for an extraordinary alternative

DeLaSalle is the only alternative charter high school within the Kansas City Public School (KCPS) district boundaries. We believe a quality alternative school option is a critical part of any just and equitable public school ecosystem. There has to be a place that holds itself accountable for student success when that success has been difficult to realize in all other educational environments. For this reason, we listened closely to the school’s representatives and began talking with others about what could be done.

Following those early meetings, we engaged with DeLaSalle’s board, interim leadership, and SchoolSmartKC to help ensure the school’s tradition of service can continue well into the future. The school’s current circumstances offer an opportunity to bring an extraordinary alternative high school option to students who are often overlooked, underestimated, and marginalized in other environments.

Models like Purdue Polytechnic High School in Indianapolis, Indiana, and Liberty Academy right here in Liberty, Missouri, are exploring how and what students learn in order to thrive after high school. They are disrupting the narrative of success, particularly for students who have found success elusive in more traditional environments. The learning opportunities are limitless, not just for enrolled students, but for communities seeking alternative options for young people who need them most.

During the next two years, DeLaSalle will continue to serve students as well as engage them (and the broader community) in the design of “DeLaSalle 2.0” – an education destination infusing the best of what our community and the education world knows about academic, career, and technical education, empowering students to achieve postsecondary success in education, work, and life after high school. That is the end result we seek for all students, including those whose paths may have looked different from my own and others.