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Atlas Public Schools, a planned K-5 public charter school in the Forest Park region of St. Louis, got official approval to begin operations from the Missouri Board of Education this week.
The new charter school, sponsored by the Missouri Charter Public School Commission, will initially open for grades K-1 and add a grade every year until it reaches its planned K-5 capacity.
The new school will be diverse by design and will focus on providing students with real-world experiences through partnerships with area community organizations.
Missouri Charter Public School Commission Executive Director Robbyn Wahby said the school founders had already piloted their proposed school model and found success and interest from the community.
Like some other charter schools, Atlas Public Schools is intended to offer a year-round education with students attending for six five-week sessions broken up by two weeks breaks, with an additional, optional summer session.
Although the board eventually gave approval to the new charter school, several members expressed concerns about adding a new school to the St. Louis educational ecosystem.
“You are asking for a new school in a fully accredited district,” Board member Pamela Westbrooks-Hodge said, despite the fact that current state law allows charter schools in St. Louis City regardless of district accreditation.
“There are thousands of children in Saint Louis who don’t have access to a quality school,” said Wahby. “We have got to find new ways to get great schools to kids.
“Do families in Saint Louis, every family in St. Louis, have access to a quality seat for their children?” she asked. “That answer is no. And until we’ve gotten that, by all means possible district, charter, other options that families choose, then we have a responsibility to continue to find models. Particularly when we’ve got such talented individuals that came with this model to be able to find a way to get that to families as quickly as possible.”
Wahby pointed out that education is the foundation of improving a wide variety of issues in cities, but highlighted that limiting the creation of quality school options will do more to hurt those efforts than to help them.
“The reality we have to face is that the alternatives of not trying to provide more quality schools are not simply going to make school districts better,” she said. “Us not doing charter schools is not going to have a benefit to the district.
“People with means have had the choice to leave our cities for decades and some of our high performing suburban districts are the result of those families moving out,” she said. “Our cities are beautiful places, diverse places. They’re thriving places and I know that our municipal leaders and our school leaders are trying desperately to retain families. We must provide them additional high-quality schools. Nothing that Atlas is doing is preventing. St. Louis Public Schools from putting out a high performing school.”
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