Gordon Parks Academy would drop its International Baccalaureate program and become a STEM and media arts magnet, according to a plan aimed at turning around the underperforming school.
The plan also would create Wichita’s first K-12 magnet pathway, pairing Gordon Parks with Northeast Magnet High School and offering students priority status in the Northeast Magnet lottery.
“We can’t continue to do the same thing year after year and expect different results,” said Amanda Kingrey, principal at Gordon Parks, a K-8 school near 25th Street North and Grove.
“It’s just not working for us, so what can we do differently?”
Kingrey recently presented a plan to parents, community members and local black leaders to abandon the school’s IB certification, which she says is too costly and time-consuming and has not lived up to expectations.
Test scores at Gordon Parks are among the lowest in the state. Staff turnover is high – about 40 percent of teachers have left in the past five years – and discipline problems are on the rise, Kingrey said.
“We talk about data a lot, and I’m a very transparent person. I don’t try to sugarcoat it, and I don’t try to hide it,” she said.
“This is an issue. It’s a problem. We have to do better for our kids, period.”
This is an issue. It’s a problem. We have to do better for our kids, period.
Amanda Kingrey, principal of Gordon Parks Academy
District officials plan to apply for a grant through the federal Magnet School Assistance Program to establish a new magnet theme that would focus on music production and composition, photojournalism, writing and filmmaking. The theme was developed with community input to honor the passions of the school’s namesake, a noted photographer, filmmaker, writer and musician, Kingrey said.
The proposal calls for Gordon Parks Academy to partner with Wichita State University, she said. WSU students would serve as mentors and teachers, and Gordon Parks students would use the university’s Shocker Studios for projects such as 3-D animation, audio recording and video game design.
The school also plans to partner with Northeast Magnet High School, creating a pathway for Gordon Parks students to have “priority status” into Northeast Magnet, one of the district’s most sought-after high schools.
The school plans to partner with Northeast Magnet High School, creating a pathway for Gordon Parks students to have “priority status” into one of the district’s most sought-after high schools.
Details of the proposal – including what impact it could have on the number of slots available at Northeast Magnet – are still being worked out, officials said.
Betty Arnold, a Wichita school board member whose district includes Gordon Parks Academy, said she supports the change.
“As concerns grew within the community … we felt like we needed to do something,” Arnold said.
Gordon Parks had to be reinvented, so this is really an effort in several areas to take a look at what we can do for this building.
Betty Arnold, Wichita school board member
“Gordon Parks had to be reinvented, so this is really an effort in several areas to take a look at what we can do for this building.”
The original vision
The brand new Gordon Parks Academy opened in 2008, shortly after the Wichita district ended its system of busing for integration.
Leaders hoped the IB program would attract a diverse mix of families to the school, which is in a predominantly minority neighborhood. That never happened.
Bill Faflick, assistant superintendent of secondary schools, said most students interested in the IB Diploma track at East High School – a globally focused, academically rigorous program designed for the children of diplomats – continued to apply for the district’s unofficial “pre-IB” program at Robinson Middle School.
“It was hard to compete with an established program like Robinson,” Faflick said. “We struggled to get that level of excitement generated around the IB program (at Gordon Parks).”
The school’s original plan called for half its students to be drawn from neighborhood boundaries – an area that included all of the central-northeast Wichita areas from which black students were bused under the old integration plan. The other half would apply from other areas of the district.
In 2012, after the district closed several schools and redrew attendance boundaries, Gordon Parks Academy became less racially diverse. Applications from outside its boundaries continued to decline.
Now Gordon Parks is among a quarter of Wichita schools that are considered single race. More than 90 percent of its students are black, Hispanic or multiracial.
For nearly a decade, district leaders pressed on with the IB program at Gordon Parks despite waning interest. Most current families hail from surrounding neighborhoods and aren’t really there for IB, said Kingrey, the principal.
“Our test scores don’t reflect being an IB school, and we’re finding that philosophy isn’t really working for our students,” she said.
The IB program requires teachers to develop their own curriculum based on IB themes, which means more work and steeper challenges aligning lessons to district and state standards, Kingrey said.
It also costs the district about $65,000 a year for teacher training, fees and other expenses.
Despite the investment, student achievement has continued to decline. On last year’s state assessment, only 6 percent of Gordon Parks students were on track to be ready for college-level work in math; only 12 percent were on track to be college-ready in reading.
More than 60 percent of Gordon Parks students scored below grade level in math on the 2016 assessment, compared with 41 percent of Wichita students as a whole and 26 percent statewide.
“The scores are horrible, there’s no way around it,” Kingrey said. “There comes a point where you have to change course and do what’s right for these kids.”
The plan being presented to board members this month hinges in part on a federal grant that would pump millions into the struggling school. Officials hope a back-to-basics approach, paired with a technology-rich magnet program in media arts, will renew excitement and eventually boost academic achievement.
Gordon Parks plans to adopt AVID, a reform effort that has reaped rewards in other Wichita schools, as well as Capturing Kids’ Hearts, a behavioral strategies program developed by the Texas-based Flippen Group.
Larry Burks Sr., president of Wichita’s NAACP chapter, was among about 70 people who attended a meeting last week to hear about proposed changes, which amount to a total reinvention of the school’s approach and mission.
“It has not lived up to the promise, and there are a lot of contributing factors to that,” Burks said.
“I want to make sure that our students are being taught the basics,” he said. “I really want it to work. I know it’s going to be a challenge, but they have support from the community to make it happen.”