On Friday, February 15, Kansas City Public Schools agreed to a plan to reopen the shuttered Hale Cook elementary school in the Waldo neighborhood.
A group of mostly young parents called the Friends of Hale Cook had been promoting the idea and working to garner support for the project for over two years.
The school will start with just three classes: two kindergarten classes and one first grade class, for a total of about sixty to seventy-five students. The school will add a new grade each year until they have a full elementary school of kindergarten through sixth grade. From the information gathered in its feasibility study, the Friends of Hale Cook estimates about fifty new students will start at Hale Cook each year. That should keep the elementary school supplied with about two classes of students for each grade level.
The 1920’s-era Hale Cook building has not been in use since 2009, and the Kansas City Missouri School District is still not certain of the cost of renovating the building. The District is waiting for full enrollment of the two kindergartens and one first grade class for Fall 2013 before initiating renovation plans. During the renovations, Hale Cook classes will take place at Hartman Elementary about a mile and a half away. To offset renovation costs, the District is considering bringing in outside tenants to occupy unused classrooms during the five years before the school incorporates all seven planned grades. The District will renovate the entire building as a single project, rather than in segments, as one initial proposal considered.
The Friends of Hale Cook’s initial plan had not included bus service in an effort to save money. They also believed that, if the school body was comprised mainly of children living in the immediate area, the school would benefit from increased involvement of neighborhood community members and businesses. The new plan, however, includes bussing, and the school will serve a larger area than initially planned, reaching further out east toward Paseo.
“We also want to see an integrated and diverse student population,” says Ashley Hand, who is chair of the Friends of Hale Cook. “So the [new school boundaries have] been drawn to, hopefully, create a very dynamic student population that will be reflective of our city and also be a great way of building relationships across the community as we get ready for Southwest [High School].”
The Hale Cook elementary school will feed Southwest High School.
Despite the tendency of many teachers to seek employment in outer suburban schools, the Friends of Hale Cook believes the school will have no trouble attracting high-quality teachers, even to a still-developing school. Ashley Hand and Friends of Hale Cook treasurer Sarah Darmitzel say they already have interested teachers involved with the project.
In November, Ashley Hand’s husband, Gunnar Hand, was elected to the Kansas City, Missouri school board.
“He was an avid supporter during his campaign and was very honest about being an advocate for Hale Cook and actually did everything he needed to do in his due diligence to insure there was no conflict of interest as a board member,” says Ashley Hand. “But this never went to the board fully for approval. It was approved by a board subcommittee.”
Hale Cook will have the same basic curriculum as other neighborhood schools in the Kansas City Missouri School district. The Friends of Hale Cook believes that the key to the success of the new school will be the high level of involvement expected from the community, local businesses and parents. They hope that the success they are planning for will spread to other schools in the district.
“Looking forward to the future of where these children will eventually go to middle school and high school, we see this opportunity of creating sister school relationships where we could create cross programming,” says Ashley Hand. “So leveraging the resources we have in our neighborhoods across multiple schools, but also really driving home what the strengths of Kansas City are. We’ve got some incredible talent here. We’ve got the arts and entrepreneurial spirit and all these great things going on with technology, that if we can start creating ways of bringing that into the classroom, it could and should be replicated across multiple schools.”