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KC Neighborhood Academy set to close after low enrollment, lack of funding

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Neighborhood Academy will close. The board of the charter school voted on the decision Wednesday night.

Now, more than a hundred families are left struggling to find new schools for their kids after most open enrollments already closed.

KCNA opened in 2016 as part of the Urban Neighborhood Initiative with the Purpose Built Communities network.

Purpose Built is an organization based out of Atlanta, and its focus is to provide solutions to concentrated poverty areas. Partnering with UNI, KCNA was molded after the framework of Purpose Built's Drew Charter School in Atlanta.

The KC charter school took over the old Wendell Phillips building at East 24th and Highland and serves students from kindergarten through fourth grade.

The school touts a path for student success, building a better future for students in Kansas City and changing the academic outlook for the urban core. The basis of Purpose Built schools is to focus on an instructional model, supporting the community and helping people with a base in culture to obtain success.

It's a foundation many parents FOX4 spoke with love and are heartbroken to know their children will no longer be able to benefit from.

Kansas City Neighborhood Academy

They attended the Wednesday night meeting in hopes to change the imminent outcome -- but said the board had already made up their mind that the school would close.

"It didn't feel like our voices were really heard last night," parent Dee Johnson said. "When we talked to the board, they were very matter-of-fact. They had already made their decision."

Now, about 140 students will have to find a new school to call home.

However, parents said because most schools are past open enrollment some of their first choices are full, and their children may not get the education they would get at KCNA.

"I don't think it will be an issue to find a place, but a place that's perfect for our family -- not going to find it," parent Jumesha Wade said. "I've looked high and low. Not going to find it. So I'll have to settle for whatever's out there."

KCNA's board director, Diane Cleaver, said it was a difficult decision. She said she's sad and disappointed about the outcome, but said they have to be responsible. She said it took assessing their open enrollment to know it wouldn't be possible for the school to move forward.

Parents said they wish Cleaver had been more transparent about the struggles the school was facing to give more opportunity to find funding and boost enrollment.

Cleaver said in a letter to parents:

Kansas City Neighborhood Academy is facing several obstacles that make our current situation unsustainable. Despite vigorous efforts, we have struggled to meet our annual enrollment and budgetary goals. Slower than expected housing development around the school and the increasing number of seats available in our city also present significant obstacles for KCNA and has caused us to analyze the long-term sustainability of our school.

KCNA's principal, Dr. Robin Wilson, said her focus now is on the children and making sure the rest of their school year doesn't change.

Wilson said she understands parents were put in a difficult place, and there are a number of choices for parents before the fall.

"They have choice," Wilson said. "They might not have as much as they would have had, but they do have choice, and that's the good thing. I think if we had waited much longer that might not have been true."

"We are looking at other charters, and we are also contemplating what would it mean to relocate our family and enter a district that isn't reliant on charters," parent Elizebeth Behrens said.

All of the mothers FOX4 spoke with said although this is a hardship for them as parents, they understand that it's an even greater hardship for their children who have grown to call the school home.

"He's used to this school. His cousins go to this school, the teachers, the principal, he sees faces like his face," Johnson said.

"Every day at drop off she's crying because she doesn't want to move. She doesn't want to leave her friends," Beherens said.

The mothers said it's a sad end for a school that brought so much into their children's lives and was a sign for a positive future on the east side.

"We know that this will always be their favorite school home, but we're going to focus on finding them the best new home for all of them. And until the last child is placed in the right school and right fit for them -- we'll keep working at it," Wilson said.

School officials are working with parents through meetings and communication to help with resources to find a new charter school option for their children.

KCNA received funding over the years through the Urban Neighborhood Initiative with grants of $1 million from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and $600,000 from the Hall Family Foundation. They also received an investment of $500,000 through SchoolSmartKC. They also partnered with the KC Chamber of Commerce as one of their "Big 5" initiatives.

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