University Academy has been named a National Blue Ribbon School, the first public charter in the Missouri to earn the distinction.
The awards recognize sustained excellence for a five-year period. This award is for 2013-17.
Less than one-third of 1 percent of schools who are eligible for the award receive it each year, according to Supt. Tony Kline. He credits Principal Clem Ukaoma for building a culture of success at the upper school.
“We’ve been able to have sustained success with lots of different kids over many years,” Kline says. “It’s a tribute to him and his leadership. I’m really excited for him.”
For his part, Ukaoma says it’s not enough for schools to align their curriculum with rigorous standards. To succeed as University Academy has, schools also need mastery protocols that promote learning and retention.
“I think really it’s that we take the time to study a problem when we have it, and once we come up with a solution, we stick with it,” Ukaoma says.
He says University Academy students often set goals for themselves that are even higher than what their teachers and parents expect.
“The thing I want to tell everybody is that we are the living example that students in the urban areas can achieve if they have consistent effort and consistent protocols directed at their learning,” Ukaoma says.
Kline is candid about the fact that University Academy hasn’t always been blue ribbon material. He says the school struggled to find its place as one of the city’s first charter schools and is now eager to share lessons learned.
“Knowing what I know about some of the other charter schools, I think you’re going to see more charter schools earn this award in the next three to five years because schools like the Kauffman School and Crossroads are also doing very well,” Kline says. “We’re honored to play that trailblazer role, and we’re hopeful our other brothers and sisters from other schools will get their shortly.”
Seven other Missouri schools earned the distinction, including Fox Hill Elementary in the North Kansas City School District and Voy Spears Elementary in Blue Springs.
Elle Moxley covers Missouri schools and politics for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.