Catalyzing Innovation: How City Garden and Kairos Academies Schools are Reimanging What School Looks Like

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Every parent knows that what one child needs to thrive might be different from another. This belief drives The Opportunity Trust’s investments to develop innovative schools that are diverse in their approaches to provide better outcomes for children.

City Garden Purchases New Facility and Prepares to Double Flagship Campus

One innovative school that’s working in St. Louis is City Garden Montessori, a public charter school that serves students in grades from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.  In addition to using a Montessori model that focuses on developing the whole child, City Garden is also a racially and socioeconomically integrated school and incorporates anti-bias, anti-racist approaches in their work.

The Opportunity Trust made its first investment in City Garden to create a strategic plan that resulted in a bold vision and roadmap to expand City Garden’s impact dramatically in this new decade, including growing from about 260 students to serving 2,400 students directly. The Opportunity Trust has committed $2 million over five years to help bring this plan to life.

“We are a small, grassroots organization and frankly didn’t have access to significant resources and technical expertise. The Opportunity Trust invested in what we’ve been envisioning to make it come to life,” says Christie Huck, City Garden’s executive director.

City Garden’s plan includes launching a Teacher Training Institute designed to educate teachers in Montessori in the public setting. “We’re also integrating City Garden’s anti-racism, anti-bias framework into teacher education,” Huck says.   “This doesn’t exist anywhere in the country.”

City Garden bought a 56,000-square-foot warehouse two blocks away from the current school. The vision is to create a campus that includes the existing school building and the new building.  The current City Garden school will house the Early Childhood Center and the Center for Equity. The new building will be home to first through eighth grade. Plans are to open the expansion in 2021.

Meanwhile, Huck says the goal is to add 60 new kindergarten slots next school year.

The Teacher Training Institute will launch in June 2020 with 20 teacher participants, a mix of current City Garden teachers and teachers from other school districts in the area.  Read more about the effort in this St. Louis American article.

“We have the opportunity to significantly narrow the disparities in life outcomes and economic opportunity through providing a quality education. We’re excited to be in partnership with The Opportunity Trust to envision together what is possible for families and kids and for the city.”

Kairos Academies Launches Offering St. Louis’ First Personalized Learning Environment

The Opportunity Trust also invested in the incubation and then launch of Kairos Academy, the first personalized learning school in St. Louis. NPR covered the successful opening of the middle school this fall.  Evidence both of the strong demand from students and families and good planning, the school exceeded its enrollment goal with a founding sixth grade class of 120 students.

“We saw the traditional education model was not setting our most vulnerable children up for success,” says co-founder Gavin Schiffres.  “What kids were being prepared to do didn’t look like the current college experience or the information-age careers of today.”

Schiffres and his co-founder, Jack Krewson, both former teachers, are delivering their education vision through Kairos. Schiffres says no other school looks like Kairos—about 75% of the concept is built on best practices and 25% is a new model. “We’re teaching academic skills as well as executive functioning skills,” Schiffres says. “We break learning into bite-size pieces, and teach kids how to leverage their resources to be successful. Every child has a personal coach who helps kids set goals and then checks progress. Kids seem happier learning. They tell us this is hard but they’re learning a lot.”

Through The Opportunity Trust relationship, Kairos connected to Summit Learning. Summit and Kairos have created a unique partnership to integrate Summit’s world-class resources into the Kairos model. Summit provides Kairos with best-in-class curricula designed by Stanford professors that lives online in a learning platform built by Facebook engineers.  Diane Tavenner, founder of Summit Learning, was recently in St. Louis discussing her book, Prepared, that Bill Gates named as one of his top five books of the year.

With this new learning concept, Schiffres says faculty have to be nimble and flexible. “We’re learning every day and adjusting as we go along to best meet kids’ individual needs.

“The Opportunity Trust support has given us a runway to build a strong school model that empowers students to direct their own lives and learning.”

The Opportunity Trust invests in educators and school systems eager to build the capacity required to make significant and measurable change.

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