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Kimberly Townsend knows a lot about education, having been involved in classrooms in both public and private schools.
But her idea of what the perfect school looks like changed when she became a mom herself. By the time her daughter was three, Kimberly knew that she had combined her experiences as a mother with her dream of starting her own school.
“I did not believe that our local public school was going to be the right fit for our daughter,” she said. “That was a big deal. We live in North County and talking to family members, and going to the school she was assigned to, I was just worried that their outcomes were not strong enough.”
So Kimberly decided to build a school that would meet the needs of her daughter and other children in their community.
The new school, The Leadership School, will be the first charter school in St. Louis County and will serve students in the Normandy region when it opens in the fall of 2021.
Kimberly thought she would open a middle school, the grade levels where she feels most comfortable as a teacher, but after visiting the district school that her daughter would be attending she knew she had to focus on younger grades.
“They had a new principal and I think she was really, really proud of how quiet and calm and peaceful the school was,” remembers Kimberly. “But my idea of a great school is not children are sitting in rows in silence. It didn’t sound like there was learning and joy.
“I want more than fine for my own child and more than fine for everyone else’s kids,” said Kimberly. “At the same time, I was taking part in a fellowship with the Opportunity Trust where we were exploring what the purpose of school is and really looking at innovative schools around the country.
“It was a catalyst,” she added. “I resigned from my position as a school director of a private, independent school in 2018 and was fortunate enough to get a fellowship residency with the Opportunity Trust to support my efforts to launch a school in North County.”
Kimberly said the school is being designed to be very responsive to the needs and wants of students and parents.
“I have had many, many, many one-on-one conversations with parents,” she said, noting that she wanted to know what the community wanted out of a school. ”We began to kind of synthesize all of those conversations and pull it together. I then had a couple of focus groups where I was able to say here’s what I heard from all of you guys now this is what this is turning into.”
Kimberly said that parent voices and input will be critically important to the operation of the new school. She said she and her staff would of course bring educational expertise to the school, but that the final experience would be a partnership that valued parental expertise as well.
“Parents know their children,” she said. “Parents live with their children you know for their entire lives and for us to as educators to believe that we know more about the needs of any children than their parents is really foolish.”
She added that parents had a responsibility to stand up for their children no matter what school they are enrolled in.
“Whatever profession you work in,” she said. “Whatever your actual job is, you need to be really leaning into your other role to be an advocate for your child. You know your child and you know your child’s needs and schools need you to advocate for your children.”
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