By Kevin Collison
(Update: Park University announced May 25 it will temporarily house students for the planned Crossroads Academy high school at its downtown campus in the former Commerce Tower building)
Four years after opening a school for 190 elementary students in a former office building on Central Street, Crossroads Academy is planning to open a high school in downtown Kansas City in 2018. But first, it needs a building.
“It’s an exciting time for us to be able to grow and add more kids,” said Dean Johnson, executive director of the charter school. “Parents have asked about a high school and that’s always been part of our goals.”
Since opening its first school at 1015 Central St., Crossroads Academy has grown to enroll 570 students in grades K-8 and this year opened a second school in a former Quality Hill mansion that once housed the offices of United Way at 1080 Washington St.
At a recent meeting of the Downtown Council, Johnson said Crossroads Academy wants to have its high school close to the new streetcar line, close to a soccer field and large enough to include a gymnasium.
The plan calls for 100 students to be enrolled the first year, and for it to grow to a full capacity of 500 students by 2025.
Johnson said the school is willing to consider either renovating a building or erecting a new structure. It would require about 50,000 to 60,000 square feet of useable space. Initial parking needs would be minimal, about 15 spaces, with a need for 125 spaces by 2025.
Bill Dietrich, president and CEO of the Downtown Council, said his organization is helping Crossroads Academy in its search.
“We’re looking at a wide range of alternatives,” he said. “A high school has greater needs, things like a soccer field makes it more challenging to find a site. We’re looking a potential partnerships to make that happen.”
Dietrich said having hundreds of students downtown has added to the vitality and appeal of the area. The kids run lemonade stands as a fundraiser in August, and they can be seen going to the Downtown Public Library for study, the Folly Theater for performances or Barney Allis Plaza for exercise.
“It’s always been a high priority in our strategy to revitalize downtown to have a K-12 program for people who live and work there,” he said.
Johnson attributed the charter school’s success to its strong faculty, the creative learning environment provided by downtown and its diversity. The enrollment is 44.5 percent African-American, 32.9 percent white, 19.3 percent Hispanic and 3.4 percent Asian.
“We all recognize we learn from people who are different from ourselves and the importance of having kids in that environment,” he said. “The waiting list has gotten longer each year and we’ve had to turn families away.”
Crossroads Academy currently employs a 72-person staff. The charter school ultimately plans to have a total enrollment of 1,344 students in grades K-12.
The program was the highest ranked charter school in Missouri in 2015 in its Annual Performance Report, and while it slipped slight this year, it’s still among the top performers.
“We think one of our responsibilities is to raise kids in a learning environment that will help solve some of our conflicts,” Johnson said. “Kids from diverse backgrounds having equal access to education is part of that solution.”
This article first appeared on the KCUR public radio website