By Jill Draper
The future of an old farmhouse that served as administrative offices for the Center School District since the 1960s is up in the air, and local residents will be asked their opinion during one or two public forums this fall.
Nearly 100 years old, the building at 8701 Holmes Rd. is having structural problems with the foundation, roof and walls. About one-third of the office staff already have moved to the district’s Academy for Success at 8434 Paseo, and the remainder will join them in the coming months. While there are a lot of memories and history associated with the old house, one option is to tear it down.
“We’re not sure it makes sense to use taxpayers’ money to fix it,” says Rick Chambers, Center’s director of communications and development. The district currently has no other use for the land where the house sits, says Chambers, who notes the building has been modified many times over the years. “It’s nothing like a 1926 farmhouse anymore.”
The house was acquired in 1954 when the district purchased a multi-acre chicken farm to build the current high school campus, and the seller was allowed to live there until she died.
Modifications continue throughout the district. Entrances have been made more secure at all seven school buildings, and metal detectors are being installed at the high school, middle school and the Academy for Success, an alternative school. The detectors are for daily use as well as anyone attending a Center football or basketball game. In conjunction with the detectors, students will be required to use clear backpacks.
Physical security is important, but so are skills for job security, says Chambers. With the help of a Kauffman Foundation grant, Center will continue to promote its Real World Learning program, which provides opportunities for students to practice broadcast journalism, building trades, athletic training and barber, cosmetology and manicure training.
“We no longer focus on just college prep,” Chambers says. “Our goal by 2030 is that 100% of our graduates will have earned at least one marketable asset.”
Last year about 80 students wrote, produced and broadcast live events on a YouTube channel called Hive TV CHS, while a popular shop program will begin its second year with a waiting list of students after a 15-year absence. In the future, faculty would like to partner with local builders, plumbers and electricians, Chambers says. Meanwhile, two real world projects are planned. During the 2022-23 school year students will build a soundproof booth for the broadcast program, and last spring they talked to Crows Coffee about building wooden tables for customers.
“Hopefully that will happen this year,” says Chambers, who observes it’s important that kids work with clients and “learn the ability to see a situation through somebody else’s eyes.”
A second Kauffman Foundation grant will help teachers from Red Bridge and Indian Creek elementary schools learn Greg Tang math, an innovative method which focuses on games, puzzles and manipulatives. The two-year program began this summer when Tang flew out to meet with the teachers, Chambers says.
Another new program underway is racial equity training, specifically targeting unconscious bias in teaching black and brown students. Last semester the district hired Educational Equity Consultants to work with the school board, administrators and about two dozen teachers. Over the next few years the training will be offered to additional teachers plus students and parents. The school board authorized an initial payment of $100,000, and the North American Savings Bank recently announced a gift of $150,000 to help fund the training, Chambers says.
In addition to new initiatives, the district is now reactivating several partnership programs that shut down during Covid. Lead to Read KC will start back up at the four elementary schools, and Center Friends, a mentorship program that matches older students with local adults, also will be back, as well as Caring for Kids Network, a local nonprofit that engages churches, businesses and civic groups to help local schools.