The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation has been granted approval from the Missouri Board of Education to open a new charter school in Kansas City. The Foundation plans to start classes in fall of 2011 with 75 5th graders.

“We’re intentionally starting off small. The schools that we’ve researched, the models consistently say that it’s better to start small and allow yourself to establish the structures and systems and school culture that’s necessary. So we’ll start with three classes of 25 students, a couple of administrative staff,” said Munro Richardson, Vice President of Education for the Kauffman Foundation.

Richardson told the Board that if all goes as planned; the charter school would eventually be for grades 5-12. Richardson says the charter would take lessons from the Foundation’s successful “Kauffman Scholars” program. This year, 98% of the students in the first class Kauffman Scholars have completed their first year of college.

“We’ve asked ourselves for a number of years, ‘what could we do if we had these students all day?’ So the Ewing Marion Kauffman School is really the next iteration, reaching back to Ewing Kauffman himself when he started Project Choice, of trying to educate young people in our community. Giving them the college and life preparation that we believe will be necessary,” Richardson said.

Project choice was an effort Kauffman tried in the 1980s, to offer a free college education to at-risk students that graduated high school and stayed out of trouble. Richardson says Kauffman learned a lot from that experience.

“Namely that, one, we from the very beginning had to offer a web of services around the student so they would be successful. Two, that it was not enough just to focus on college. Particularly for students who are coming from families and neighborhoods where a college-going culture is not present, where a focus on education is not appreciated. That you also needed to prepare these students for life as well. Moreover, it was too late to start just in the 9th grade; we learned that we needed to start earlier. So Kauffman Scholars actually recruits 6th graders to start in the program in 7th grade,” Richardson said.

The charter can’t legally give preference to certain populations. So Richardson says the first class of 75 fifth graders will be left up to a lottery if more than that many apply.

“So we’ve targeted five ZIP Codes on the eastern part of the city which have a predominance of students that are ‘at risk’ as defined by the state statute. Those students will get first opportunity in the lottery. In terms of marketing we intend to do a lot of heavy, on the street knocking on doors marketing,” Richardson said. “We obviously want to be open to any family that wants to apply, but we particularly have an interest in making sure that students that are ‘at risk’ as defined by the state statute not only have an opportunity but actually do apply. So when we look at, let’s say a public housing facility these days, we see a fertile opportunity for recruitment.”

Richardson says members of the Kauffman Foundation have made trips to numerous charter schools around the country to research the best methods for the new school. The Missouri Board of Education unanimously approved the charter.