Lines, Wait Lists, and Limited Options: Back to School in the CITY

Note: This post is the first in our six-part “Back to School” series. Join us for more next week!

Jenn 080713I grew up in a suburb with strong schools and award-winning teachers. Heading back to school could always be summed up with a single emotion – excitement! The excitement of getting to see friends that were missed over the summer, a fresh start with a new teacher, and of course – NEW school supplies! Since moving to the heart of Midtown 3 1/2 years ago, I’ve slowly learned that many moms would describe back to school time in a different way. Often times, the best emotion to describe back to school in the city for some families is anxiety. The anxiety looks different for each family that experiences it. Over the summer, for example, I’ve watched friends and neighbors wrestle through what may be the biggest question of all: “where is my child going to go to school next year?”

For those unfamiliar with schooling options within the city, parents look at KCMO public schools (which lost accreditation in 2011), one of the many charter schools (some of which are good options; however, many are struggling just as much as the KCMO schools), private school, or home-schooling. For some families, home school or private school is a great option; but for many, it simply isn’t. Many families are unable to afford the high costs of private school while homeschool can be impossible due to restricting circumstances (typically the work schedule of one or both of the parents).

Then what? It may seem obvious to enroll in one of the “good” schools nearby … except there are not enough spots in the schools performing up to state standards. This week, a friend of mine told me that her son got into one of the coveted local charter schools. She said there were only forty spots open for the fall in this high demand school. But the need is great! There are seven kids who live on my block alone, and we live in a big city. I’d say he was one of the lucky ones! Many of our friends, however, got the anxiety-provoking news of being put on “THE WAIT LIST.” Another friend applied for three local schools and received word that they were wait-listed for all three. Now, school starts in three weeks and not only do they not know who will be their child’s first teacher on his first day of school, they have no idea what school he’ll be attending. (If you are interested in more statistics about school enrollment in our area, look at the key findings on page four of this report funded by the Kauffman Foundation.)  At our neighborhood playgroup last week, we were again having this all-too-common conversation about schools and one woman shared how her brother-in-law is moving to Kansas City this fall and has a five-year-old son; they got in line at 1:00 AM and waited all night to secure one of the four open spots in a local school. They were lucky enough to have the ability to do this and to obtain the spot they so desperately wanted; however, many families have not been met with the same result.

So what about all of the families who don’t have options? What about the families that are still “waiting,” the families that can’t school at home, that don’t have the resources to move (or that don’t want to move) or that can’t afford private school? Our family has a little brother through Big Brothers Big Sisters of KC. We have been matched with him for three years; in that time, we have seen him attend three different schools in the area. Every year, instead of getting to experience the joy and excitement I experienced as a youth at back to school time, he experiences the anxiety of a new place, a new bus route, new rules, new teachers … the list of “new”s goes on and on. Schools in our area are closing every year; meanwhile, kids’ worlds are getting rocked every time the doors close and moms and dads find themselves in a state of panic (again) as they try to make the best decision they can for their children.

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I don’t know how to fix this problem. I don’t know the answer to the question of how all kids in our city can receive a free quality education. BUT, I do know that I’m a mom, a friend, and a neighbor and I want my kids, my friends’ kids, and my neighbors’ kids to have more free quality options. On August 17, many families who live in the Midtown neighborhood of Kansas City, MO will be meeting to continue the conversation of how to come together and re-imagine education in Kansas City. We need more families to join us in this conversation! Please consider doing so if you live in Midtown. If you don’t, please share this information in your community; even if you are mom in Liberty, Olathe, Gardner, or Gladstone, it’s important that we support each other as moms in OUR city – Kansas City. As part of the conversation, think about this: what are some things you can do to help make education better for kids in and around Kansas City?

"Jenn is a Special Education teacher turned health enthusiast. Most days she can be found chasing her three kids (4,2, and 8 months) around some park in Kansas City wearing workout clothes and sweaty hair. Jenn is an ACE Certified group fitness instructor and loves teaching group fitness classes around KC. She is also a NETA certified Wellness Coach. You can visit Jenn's wellness coaching website at .Jenn is crazy in love with her husband of seven years, Matthew. Their idea of a great date includes playing or attending some type of sporting event followed by a delicious meal from a local KC restaurant. Jenn and Matt lived in the Midtown neighborhood of KC for four years and recently moved to Overland Park."


  1. I honestly don’t know what I would do if i was in your shoes. These are some tough choices! What can KC moms do to help?

  2. “Schools in our area are closing every year; meanwhile, kids’ worlds are getting rocked every time the doors close”… sad… School can already give some kids anxiety but to be paired with uncertainty and change every year doesn’t give them much security or a chance to excel. Thanks Jenn for this informative post and reminding us to pray and talk about ways we can help education for all the kids in KC

  3. What about a home school share program? You may not be able to stay home and home school every day, but in some cases, perhaps moms could share the burden. Find 5 moms who can each take one day per week. It might be good to put the pressure on the governor to bring back the K-12 program and make quality education at home more accessible.

    • Emily, thanks for your comment. I think the more options the better for families. A home school share is definitely worth considering for some families!

    • Have you heard of anyone using a model like this in our area? I am familiar with something like this for older students (middle/high school age) but am curious as to how this might work for little ones.

      • I find your idea of homeschool sharing really intriguing. I put our daughter in a “top rated” district, but am surprised to find how teaching and text have not really changed… I am reminiscent of my middle school days when my 6th grader shows me what she’s doing (and this is a LONG time ago). I am in a neighborhood I don’t particularly enjoy, but moved for the school (not uncommon, I know). Homeschooling has never appealed to me before as we have moved around and I was happy she was getting exposure to culture. However, now I think I get it. I won’t go into personal detaiI of my daughter’s reasons, but I have read the pros and cons and have done lots of research on-line. I have been seeking a homeschool co-op in KC (and yes, I would ideally like to move to midtown); if it even exists. Tonya, you mentioned there is a model for older aged kids? Do you have information you can pass along? I would appreciate anything, as I have hit dead ends. Thank you.
        Disclaimer: I am not trying to get off track with the pushing of public schools in that area. I have a kindergartner whose personality would thrive much better in a classroom setting.

  4. Is home schooling really a viable option? Are these children receiving the level of education that they need? Do they go to, and graduate from, four year colleges? I have known several home schooled children and their quality of education is lacking. I think on average, they are years behind other children who attended a public and or private school.

    I think the best option is trying to get a high quality public midtown school where our children can focus on learning English first not second to Spanish or French and where no waiting lists or lottery programs are needed.

    • Meghan, thanks for your thoughts. I love hearing your passion for quality education in Midtown.

    • Meghan,
      Thanks for posting your thoughts here. I know families who are doing a great job homeschooling. They work really hard and have good outcomes. Although I feel homeschooling is a good fit for some I think you are exactly right about the NEED for more high quality public schools in midtown.

  5. I often toy with the idea of living in Midtown or Brookside, but have always worried about what school and special services would look like for my kids. The quote, “If not now, when? If not me, then who”? casts the light of maybe we could find a way to make it work. Thanks for bringing this issue to light.

    • Thanks for your reply Sarah. Powerful Quote. We have friends who live in Brookside and have a daughter with special needs and they are wrestling through exactly what you just wrote. It’s challenging. Thanks for sharing.

  6. For me personally, I was overwhelmed with all the options available. I think people don’t realize the number of free elementary choices available. Not all of them are hard to get into, and not all of them are failing. There are maybe a dozen elementary schools within just a few miles of where I live in midtown. Foreign Language Academy, Borderstar Montessori, Carver Dual Language, African-Centered Prep, Allen Village, Academia de Ninos, Crossroads Academy, University Academy, Academie Lafayette, Gordon Parks, plus the comprehensive community schools that serve our neighborhoods like Faxon, Hartman, and Longfellow. I would love to see more parents investigate some of these options and then choose an existing school and help make it better.

    Here’s a link with info about the KC Public Schools:

    Here’s a link with info for the charter schools:

    • I’m encouraged by your perspective, Lisa. I agree that I would love to see more parents investigate other options. Thanks for sharing.

  7. This is such a great article and a topic that I’m really interested in. As a mother of a toddler, I’m sure the school years will be here sooner than I can imagine. I have so many thoughts on the topic, I’m quite frankly not sure where to begin. I would love to keep the discussion going and see more posts on the topic of education, specifically the KCMO school district. I feel that adequate education is a number one essential for a community to thrive and grow. I appreciate everyone’s input and ideas. For our family personally, at this point we plan on homeschooling with the thought of attending Acadamie Lafayette (like everyone else, ha) as the second option. I would definitely be considering homeschooling even if our district were top-rated. I think our ultimate decision will depend on what seems like a good fit for our child, which we will be able to discover as he gets older. Regarding the decline of the KCMO district, I agree with Lisa G that parental involvement is a top priority. It’s a great idea for parents to rally around an existing school and support it to their fullest capabilities. While parents / home life are essential to the educational path, it is not everything and I do think KCMO needs more than the slaps on the wrist it has received in the past to get back on track. The system has been failing for far to long, needless to say. To end on a positive note, I’m very encouraged that I see many young families moving into our neighborhood and with that comes a passion to make our community great! Let’s keep up the dialogue.

  8. I wanted to make sure everyone knew about the terrific gains in achievement the district has made this last year. Though I acknowledge there is still much work to do, I worry that many families only see the bad press and do not realize the gains made in achievement, improving school buildings, and balancing the budget. Here are some links to a couple articles about what’s going on in the district:

    School district celebrates higher test scores

    Making our Facilities Better

    Kansas City, Mo. School District Turns Right Side Up

    • Thanks for sharing the good news about the KCMO School District. I know that I’m excited! It is definitely good progress. This excites me more than I can express. In my opinion, I truly believe that the public school system is the best way for ALL kids to receive a free quality education. There are other good options like I discussed in the post, unfortunately all those options come with limitations. When public schools are educating kids well then there are no wait lists, no private schools fees, etc. I know there is still more progress that needs to me made if we want to see more families believe in the district again BUT this is a great step in that direction! YAY KCMO SCHOOL DISTRICT!


    I think this blog post, although referring to the Oakland School District in California, reminds me a lot of the predicament in which many affluent parents in Kansas City, Missouri find themselves. Although I do not live in KCMO, I still feel as though I can relate since I live in an area of Johnson County served by a school district that many parents, for some reason, find unfavorable for one reason or another. They start off living within the district boundaries until their children are school aged and either move to what’s newer and shiner out south OR they stay put in the neighborhood and send their kids to private school. I’m with the mom in the post, and I think you, Jenn, share a similar sentiment. These public schools aren’t going to improve unless there are enough parents who aren’t afraid to stick around and make a difference. Public schools, in my opinion, are the greatest place to get an education–in academics and in life. Thank you, Jenn for being a brave mom willing to send your children to the schools within your neighborhood. It’s not always about the ranking or label a school has received. Take some time to get to know your local schools! You’ll probably be surprised (for the better) what you discover.

    • Gabrianna, thanks for you comment! I really appreciate the encouragement and like hearing your prospective. Great article. Thanks for passing it along. I hope others read the article you posted. I really enjoyed it, and the mom in the article has a great prospective. I’ll be sure to share it with friends and neighbors. Thanks.

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