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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Feb 22, 2007    #027
Contact: Amanda Lepper
(816) 235-1592

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awards grant for creation of new Kansas City, Mo., charter high school

With $400,000 in funding promised by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Lee A. Tolbert Community Academy and Expeditionary Learning Schools intend to open a new Kansas City, Mo., high school at the start of the 2007-08 school year. It will be among just 20 such schools across the nation to receive Gates Foundation support.

Established in 1999 with the support of the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Education, the Tolbert Community Academy has offered students in kindergarten through eighth grade an education in a culturally rich setting with an emphasis on social preparedness and rigorous academic goals. Working in collaboration with the community, the academy aims to prepare its students for the challenges of the 21st century by ensuring they develop strong self-esteem to better reach their maximum potential.

The Gates Foundation’s support, coupled with a new partnership with Expeditionary Learning Schools/Outward Bound, will allow the academy to expand its offerings to older age groups. This fall, the new high school will open with an inaugural class of 75 freshmen and will admit up to 100 students each consecutive year until reaching maximum enrollment of 400 students for the 2011-2012 school year.

“Our approach to education focuses on motivating students with compelling topics and learning targets. Once we get them motivated, we find they want to continue learning in that invigorating environment,” said Vivian Roper, Tolbert Community Academy principal. “The new high school will allow those students to do so.”

The Tolbert Community Academy’s teaching methods are based on a school reform model developed by the Expeditionary Learning Schools, with whom the academy developed a partnership in 2006. In every aspect of a school – from curriculum to structure to culture – the model emphasizes an experience-based approach to education. Students learn their core academic subjects through in-depth projects that often require them to use the community as a classroom.

Over the next four years, the Gates Foundation grant will fund the professional development of the high school’s educators and administrators to ensure only the best practices of education are used. The grant will also support the implementation of the Expeditionary Learning curriculum.

“It’s exciting to see our program move in such an electrifying new direction,” said Mark Tolbert, director of the academy. “The support of Expeditionary Learning Schools and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is just the thrust we needed.”

Tolbert currently is seeking an appropriate facility for the new school, and a principal, Tammy Combs, has been selected by the academy and its Expeditionary Learning partners. Once established, the school is expected to significantly contribute to the overarching mission of the UMKC School of Education and charter schools.

“We want to retain and attract families of school-aged children to live in the core city and by providing quality high schools, we can facilitate that goal,” said Steve McClure, assistant program director for the UMKC charter schools. “Our ultimate goal is to increase the number of graduates coming out of the Kansas City, Mo., school district and with the establishment of this new high school and other efforts, we hope to increase that number by at least 250 graduates.”

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