Education insiders in Kansas City have been closely watching the Ewing Marion Kauffman School ever since it started in 2011.
Now, the rest of Missouri may perk up.
This week, the Missouri Charter Public School Association named Kauffman its Missouri Charter School of the Year, citing its "strong academic performance," "innovative professional development" and "daily efforts to build community and engage parents."
"We are so humbled to receive this statewide recognition," school CEO Hannah Lofthus said in a written statement. "We are honored to see our students' accomplishments celebrated as they work hard toward their goal of becoming college graduates."
Student Test Scores
Kauffman has had enviable test results since its founding. And school officials are eager to point out the success of the founding class, the group of students that began as fifth-graders in 2011.
This past year, as eighth-graders, more than 80 percent of those students scored at least proficient on both state English and math tests, and 76 percent scored proficient or higher on state science tests.
In comparison, 58 percent of Missouri eighth graders scored at least proficient on this past year's English test, 28 percent in math, and 49 percent in science.
"Kauffman understands the academic bars their students must meet, however, they also acknowledge the personal characteristics research shows are equally important to model and teach," said Douglas Thaman, executive director of the MCPSA.
Those results, Kauffman staff will tell you, don't come cheaply.
School leaders readily acknowledge the demands Kauffman places on its teachers. Staff at the school speak of regularly working 12 hours a day or more in addition to class planning on the weekends.
The school's "flight simulator" model of professional development puts the school's teachers through intensive sessions practicing specific classroom skills, such as how to allow students to enter a classroom or how best to call on students who have raised their hands in response to a question.
Lofthus admits this approach can rattle teachers' pride but says those teachers who have bought in have seen success.
"I wold rather hire a B- or C-level skill teacher who has an A-plus growth mindset. I see more drastic improvement," she told KCUR earlier this year.
That type of hand-son training may be needed. Kauffman's staff is one of the youngest of any school in the Kansas City metro. Coming into this year, its faculty averaged less than four years on the job.
Students and Families
The Missouri Charter Public School Association lauded Kauffman for its ability to bring students and families into the "life of the school."
Kauffman and other Kansas City charter schools have come under some fire for the "churn" of students that come in and out of their doors. The Kansas City Star published data earlier this year that showed more than 500 students had left the city's charter schools to return to district-run schools.
The students who have stayed at Kauffman do see a difference in the school's approach.
"Despite what others are saying about schools in urban Kansas City, we are proving that we can succeed. I'm proud to be a part of Kauffman School, representing my city," ninth-grader Kimberly Cisneros said in a statement provided by the school.
Kimberly's classmate Arthur Weston also says his reading level is now on-grade level or "maybe even a year above" after he entered Kauffman as a fifth-grader reading below a second-grade level.
The association names four other Kansas City charter schools that exceeded state averages on both this year's English and math tests: Academie Lafayette, Alta Vista, Crossroads Academy, Frontier School of Excellence, and Hogan Prep.
Kyle Palmer, a former teacher, is KCUR's newscaster and reporter for Morning Edition. Follow him on Twitter, @kcurkyle.