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Kairos Academies wins sponsorship to open charter school in south St. Louis

Jack Krewson hugs Gavin Schiffres after the two won sponsorship to open a charter school in St. Louis' Dutchtown neighborhood Wednesday, July 11, 2018.
Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio
Jack Krewson hugs Gavin Schiffres after the two won sponsorship to open a charter school in St. Louis' Dutchtown neighborhood Wednesday.

Two former Teach For America corps members will have a chance to bring a different model of public education to a part of south St. Louis they say is underserved.

The Missouri Charter Public School Commission agreed Wednesday evening to sponsor Kairos Academies’ application for a five-year charter to run a school in the Dutchtown neighborhood. It still needs the state school board to sign off, but earning a sponsor is a major piece in opening a charter school.

Charter schools are independently run public schools and currently can operate in St. Louis and Kansas City.

Kairos is the vision of Gavin Schiffres and Jack Krewson, two Teach For America alumni in their mid-20s who taught briefly in north St. Louis County districts. Krewson is the son of St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson.

Leading up to the hearing, the pair spent two years canvassing the neighborhood and drumming up support for their alternative to St. Louis Public Schools and competing charter schools. They got help from the Children Education Alliance of Missouri, known as CEAM, a pro-school choice organization.

The two said they chose to name the school Kairos because it means moment for action in Greek.

They brought a small horde of supporters to a hearing before the commission at a community center in Marquette Park. Schiffres and Krewson wore Kairos T-shirts and dark blazers as they gave a presentation on the school’s model to a room packed with more than 100 people before a public comment period.

Andrea Fortson lives in Dutchtown but sends her son and daughter to schools in the Rockwood School District through the interdistrict transfer program. She learned about Kairos when the founders knocked on her door last summer and said she is supportive of a quality school that’s not a 45-minute bus ride away.

“Options, that’s what I heard when they initially approached me, it was just knowing there was going to be more options for me,” she said.

Chris Dunn, a math teacher at nearby Roosevelt High School for five years was one of a few people who spoke against the school’s approval. Dunn said charters divert funding and students from a traditional public school like his.

“I’d rather see resources be put back into Roosevelt to continue the success that we’ve seen rather than to fragment resources and fragment our population of students,” Dunn said.

Kairos will be a middle school with a personalized learning model where each student gets their own laptop and academic coach. The founders say the school will have a non-traditional academic calendar with no summer recess.

Schiffres, 24, said some of the most successful charter models in the country were started by young Teach For America alumni.

“You build a team of people who are better than you and are smarter than you and you work really hard. That’s the core,” he said.

Krewson, 25, and Schiffres said they’re still looking for a location in the area to house their school. They plan to open in September 2019 with 115 sixth graders and then add a grade each year thereafter.

The Missouri State Board of Education still has to give final approval of the charter school, likely later this year.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

Ryan was an education reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.