Academie Lafayette, a French immersion charter school, has reached an agreement to buy the former Derrick Thomas Academy in midtown.
“If everything goes as we hope, this building will be the third campus in the Academie Lafayette network,” Head of School Elimane Mbengue says.
Academie Lafayette already operates two schools, a K-3 campus in midtown and a 4-8 campus in Brookside. The 69,000-square-foot facility at 201 E. Armour Blvd would likely house a high school.
Academie Lafayette spent two years trying to reach a deal with Kansas City Public Schools to open a high school on the Southwest Early College Campus. But that deal fell through. So the charter school spent six months developing its own K-12 growth plan.
The advantage, Mbengue says, is Academie Lafayette could grow at both ends.
“Just this year, we turned away more than 150 kindergartners,” he says.
Right now Academie Lafayette only has 120 seats for kindergartners. (Because it is a language immersion school, it cannot accept students after kindergarten.)
According to Mbengue, 56 percent of applicants to the school this year were minorities. Seventy percent live in low-income areas of the city. Mbengue says if Academie Lafayette can accept 200 kindergartners a year – that’s what the growth plan calls for – it would improve diversity.
The goal is to open the school to more kindergartners and an inaugural class of ninth graders in the same year, 2018.
The high school would be open to students who did not attend Academie Lafayette for K-8. All of the classes would follow a rigorous International Baccalaureate college-prep curriculum.
“You know, the children, if you raise the expectation, they follow it,” says Mbengue. “Unfortunately, sometimes, we underserve the children by underestimating their capacity.”
It will be 120 days before Academie Lafayette closes the deal with Wilmington Trust, N.A., the current owner of the building, which has sat empty since the Derrick Thomas Academy closed in 2013. At one point the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph was in talks to purchase the property, but that deal fell through. The building sits on two acres with an adjacent athletic field and can hold 900 students.
Elle Moxley covers Missouri schools and politics for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.