Kimberly Townsend looked out into the empty warehouse space in Pagedale in late April and described the transformation about to take shape. A glass-walled main office will be on the spot where she was standing. Nine classrooms will line the perimeter. A multipurpose room will serve as a hub in the center.
Children’s artwork will line the walls, she said. The building’s tan exterior will be painted pale green with a yellow awning, with The Leadership School’s name emblazoned along the top. The brick warehouse next door will hold administrative offices and in a few years, a third building will hold a gym and additional classroom space.
“You have to envision it now, but it’s going to come together,” said Townsend, founder and executive director of The Leadership School over the sounds of an electrician soldering and installing wire.
After four years of planning, Townsend will welcome the first students to The Leadership School on Aug. 22. The warehouse-turned-elementary-school will serve families living in the Normandy Schools Collaborative as the first charter public school in St. Louis County.
Designed with community input
The school’s opening will be the culmination of more than 100 parents, educators, and community members providing input and expressing their desire for a school with rigorous academics and a focus on student leadership. Many parents in Normandy have demanded a high-quality school option in their community for years. The district’s reading and math proficiency rates have been among the lowest in the state for more than a generation.
Nevertheless, the journey to opening The Leadership School has been a rocky one, mostly due to the pandemic and political difficulties.
Townsend is a mom with 19 years of experience as an educator. She began developing her vision to launch The Leadership School as a Catalyst Fellow with The Opportunity Trust in 2018. She wanted a public school in north St. Louis County that she would be excited about sending her daughter to. Six months later, she left her job leading an independent private school to become an Opportunity Trust Entrepreneur-In-Residence fellow. She thought deeply about the purpose of school, visited innovative schools across the country, and developed a network that supported her as she began to put plans in place for The Leadership School.
In March, renovation work began on what will become the school campus – two warehouses once owned by US Van Lines. Townsend expects 125 children in kindergarten through second grade this fall. The school will grow by one grade level a year to serve approximately 450 students in grades K-8 by 2028.
Building relationships with families
Shanetta Windom, who enrolled her daughter in second grade, said she’s excited watching the buildings transform and for her daughter to begin thriving there.
“I was drawn by the focus on leadership,” she said. “It’s important to prepare students for the world, not just to be a worker, but for life challenges. The Leadership School lets children know they have a voice now – so my daughter will be learning how to use her voice as a child to make a difference. That is important to me.”
The Leadership School has been building relationships with families in the Normandy district for two years, offering both a summer and winter camp as well as after-school programming focused on reading, writing and mathematics. This summer, it plans to run a four-week Summer Leadership Camp to introduce founding student leaders to various aspects of the school’s model and prepare them to guide their own learning through school readiness activities.
“The more I engage with our founding student leaders and their families, the more sure I am that The Leadership School’s model and approach will offer a space where young people can explore their authentic interests and cultivate the leaders within themselves,” Townsend said. “The way that our student leaders and families are building community during this pre-opening year gives me so much hope for a collaborative and supportive school environment where all of us work to ensure a high-quality educational experience for every one of our students.”
Information about enrollment can be found on The Leadership School’s family connection page.