KANSAS CITY — The Kansas City School District is planning to start an all-male school modeled after one in Chicago with the goal of helping inner-city boys avoid the lure of gangs and drugs and get into college.
Superintendent John Covington announced plans for the Kansas City Preparatory Academy during his State of the Schools speech earlier this week, noting statistics that show boys in the district are falling behind their female counterparts. Of the top 10 percent of the district's high school graduates, 90 percent of them are female.
"We have a problem among our young black and Latino students," said Covington, who is black. "Gangs run rampant through our neighborhoods. Drive-by shootings populate the evening news. Some children seem more interested in hanging out on the corner than being in class."
He said the prep school's inspiration is Urban Prep Academies, a private network of all-boys schools that serves students from some of Chicago's poorest neighborhoods.
When the first class arrived in 2006 at the system's campus in the Chicago suburb of Englewood, the oldest school in the network, just 4 percent of them were reading at or above grade level. This year marked the second straight year that all seniors at the Englewood campus were accepted into college — and two will be attending an Ivy League school.
The school had strict rules: A longer school day by two hours, two classes of English daily and a uniform with jackets and ties. Students also went on tours of colleges.
The Kansas City School District hopes to duplicate that success when its new school for boys opens in the fall of 2012. It will be housed in the former Woodland School, a victim of a cost-cutting effort that shuttered about 40 percent of the district's schools before the start of the 2010-11 academic year. All students will be assigned a mentor and be required to wear and jacket and tie.
Covington didn't address how the school would be funded, whether its costs would be covered by regular public school funding or at least partially privately funded. A district spokesman was unable to set up an interview Friday with an administrator who could provide more details, and a phone message and e-mail left for the spokesman Saturday were not immediately returned.
During his speech, Covington said the effort is part of a so-called "portfolio school model" in which district schools incorporate an array of focuses, from performing arts to foreign language. He said every child doesn't learn in the same way so the district shouldn't be "teaching them the same way."
He said the Kansas City Preparatory Academy will have a "stringent learning requirement" and that — like at Chicago's Urban Prep Academies — all students will be required to wear a jacket and tie each day. He said the school would be a safe haven.
"Every student enrolled in this school will be assigned a responsible male mentor to help them navigate through high school and beyond, who will teach these young men not only how to make a living but will certainly teach them how to live," he said. "That is an initiative that we are very, very excited about."