Monday, April 29, 2013

Grand Center Arts Academy

The Grand Center Arts Academy (GCAA) is a public charter school founded in 2010 serving students in grades 6-9 currently, and they will continue to add one grade per year, until they cover middle school and high school through grade 12.  From the school website, the mission of the school is to:
Serve students with a meaningful, well-rounded education that includes a strong emphasis on the visual and performing arts and a deep commitment to academic excellence.  We strongly believe in community engagement, multi-cultural understanding, service and good citizenship.

Here is some background from the GCAA website on what a Charter School is:
In Missouri, charter schools are only allowed within the city limits of Kansas City and Saint Louis City. Charter schools must be sponsored by the local school district or by a four-year accredited university in Missouri. As a leader in higher education, Saint Louis University is well-positioned to help ensure that the charter schools they sponsor will provide high-quality educational experiences for the students they serve.
GCAA is sponsored by St. Louis University.  One of 3 schools that SLU sponsors (City Garden Montessori and Shearwater High School are the others; I will cover both in the near future). 
Saint Louis University has established a rigorous application process to ensure that any charter schools they sponsor will meet high standards of quality public education. These indicators address a number of areas critical to the success of a school, including:
■a clear and well-articulated mission

■solid governance structure

■parent/guardian participation

■sound administrative management

■strong educational program

■qualified and dedicated teachers

■plans to serve students with special needs

■health and safety

■evidence of increasing student achievement

■school climate and student discipline

■sound financial management

■recruitment and admissions procedures

■school-as-a-choice option

■appropriate facilities

■satisfactory reporting relationships

Accountability Framework

Saint Louis University has developed an accountability framework to help its schools succeed. Within this framework, Saint Louis University monitors performance in academic achievement, organizational management, financial stability, school satisfaction, and compliance with Saint Louis University’s requirements and Missouri charter school law.
The school centers around a heavy emphasis on creativity in the arts.  The standard academics of math, sciences, communication arts and social studies are offered as well as dance, visual arts, theater and music.

artwork hanging in windows on Grand Boulevard

Dance includes instruction in ballet, tap, jazz, modern, theory, etc.

Visual arts include instruction on drawing, painting, ceramics, sculpture, story boarding and much, much more.

Theater includes instruction on stage craft, improvisation, acting, set design, etc.

Music includes instruction on choir, instrumental ensembles, strings, woodwinds, brass, percussion, voice, piano and much more.

GCAA is strategically located at 711 N. Grand Boulevard in the Covenant Blu/Grand Center Neighborhood just across the street from Powell Hall, home of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.


The scenes surrounding the school are among St. Louis' best.  The cafeteria (where real food is prepared mind you) looks out on Grand.




This beautiful building is probably recognizable to most as the former Carter Carburetor complex.




This Carter Carburetor company is familiar to me from the hulking, abandoned and according to the EPA PCB-laden automotive parts manufacturing facility located in the Jeff-Vander-Lou Neighborhood visible from North Grand in the shadows of the former Sportsman's Park.



According to this source:  Carter was founded in 1909 by William Carter, and was purchased by American Car and Foundry Company Inc. in 1922, producing carburetors for GM, Ford, Chrysler, AMC and Willys, as well as for military applications. It was the first American carburetor manufacturer to produce a four-barrel unit, for the 1952 Buick. It was closed in 1985.

According to a 2010 Post-Dispatch report, ACF is now located in St. Charles, MO far from the PCBs they left behind.  I digress, back to GCAA...

Check out the front door... a real beauty.


Grand Center is becoming known more and more for its connection to the fine arts.  GCAA is a perfect addition and the school routinely partners with KETC Channel 9, Craft Alliance, Dance St. Louis, Metro Theater Company, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and Opera Theater St. Louis, among others.

I was able to connect with the Robinson family (Renee) to talk about GCAA and share a personal perspective on the school.  Here is their story:

Where are you guys from?
I was born is St. Louis , Mo.  Lived in Denver, met Mike from Auckland New Zealand, married moved to NZ for 7 years, moved back to St. Louis.  Adopted Valera from Ukraine, Michael from Belarus.
How long have you lived in St. Louis?  
After I graduated from Maryville University I moved away and eventually came back.  Have now resided in the city for 15 years.
What neighborhood do you reside in?  
SOHA
How old are your kid(s)?  
Valera is 12.75 years old (at GCAA), Michael is 10.25 years old (Gateway Science Academy).
How long has your daughter attended GCAA? 
Valera has attend GCAA for 6th grade and is in final quarter of 7th grade.
What other schools did you consider?  
McKinley
What was the key decision point for choosing GCAA?   
Of course we wanted a school that we felt could provide a solid education. Start time of the school day was a big factor.  Since our children were going to be in different schools we wanted a schedule that would allow time for extracurricular activities and a home schedule that allowed for coordinated wake up, bed times, family time, free time etc.  Reasonable homework volume was a big consideration. I think a safe environment conducive to learning is something all parents want for the children.  GCAA is an art focused school, which is a perfect fit for our daughter.  It is a stimulating environment with frequent opportunities for enrichment.
How do you enroll in GCAA?  
My husband and I followed the development of the school.  Valera and I spent a few hours at GCAA and then I applied for her.  She took a portfolio of her art work and science projects and met with the Principal for an interview.   
Do they get to school by bus, walk, drop-off?  
GCAA does not provide transportation.  We carpool with other families in our neighborhood.
Please rank on a scale of 1 – 10 safety, teaching, principal, curriculum, physical resources and overall education? 
Safety – 10:  The entrances are closely monitored. We have a Safety Officer and Dean of Students who are visible and involved with the students daily.
Teaching – I would give the teachers we have experienced a 10.  All the teachers have been responsive and supportive.  So far, the teachers we have had a GCAA have given reasonable homework and age appropriate projects that are relevant.  They encourage a hands on, creative approach even in math and sciences.. 
Principal – 10  Principal Glickert is excellent.  She works with families on getting their needs met.  She is responsive and direct. She addresses issues head on. I would say that she has high expectations of the students and the staff.  She often expresses her pride in the students and the school.  I think her leadership style sets a positive, upbeat tone within the school and makes the students feel special.  She is forthcoming with information about the school and the goals of the school. 
Curriculum – 9  It is age appropriate and projects are interesting and worthwhile.  There is a plan in place to allow  students to work through classes at their individual skill level.  Block scheduling has been put in place this year and is expanding as the school grows. 
If by physical resource you mean the building and atmosphere, then it is a definite 10.  The building itself is light, pleasant and interesting. There are some great views of the city from the classrooms. If you do get distracted in class at least you have a great view. As far as books, available materials for projects etc.  I would say 7.  I say this primarily because the administration is working to further establish some areas, like the library. More specific classes and resources are to be added as the school grows. 
Are there enrichment classes available?  
Yes, based on the ability of the students, they may work through classes according to skill level is expanding.  There is a steady offering of field trips and guest speakers and performers.
Are there extra-curricular activities?
GCAA is in the process of establishing it's traditions for the students, like dances, picnics, school parties.  There are only a few regular after school activities.  Many of the students at GCAA study dance, music and theater and perform so they are involved in private lessons after school.
What is the makeup of the student body (part of city from, race, income)? 
GCAA is an art focused school.  The mission of the school caters to creative students with a passion for at least one of the arts.  However, they do not have to be trained in a specific art.  But you will meet many skilled, gifted and talented students.   Current students are from 87 schools in many areas around St. Louis and St. Louis counties (15%).  It is a diverse student body which is currently 60% African American, 40%  other.  Girls out number boys, 63% to 37%.  GCAA has very active parent associations.
STL City Talk did an online search and found the above estimates to be pretty close (source):

67% Black

27% White

3% Hispanic/Latino

2% Asian

1% Other

Is there good parental involvement and accountability?
The Parent Association is very active and growing.  Activities are well attended and supported.  The teachers are very involved in the activities sponsored by the school.  Many of the teachers lead parent groups within their specialties and work with parents on fund raising and enrichment opportunities.  It was a pleasant surprise to find the teachers so active in this way.
Top pros?  
Outside of safety, the top 2 for me are compassionate homework and school hours.  The teachers and staff are willing to listen and adapt to individual needs.   I find there to be more of a “customer service” attitude at the school.  By that I mean I feel I am heard and my input is addressed in positive ways.  We have found the school to be more adaptable to the families and students.  I feel like my children are learning and are being evaluated appropriately.              
GCAA has excellent enrichment and field trip opportunities for the students in many areas of study that just would not normally be available. I attribute this to the excellent relationship the GCAA staff has established with the arts community and the Grand Center neighborhood.
Another pro is the location; being near the SLU campus has given my daughter a positive impression of college life.  The SLU students who assist at GCAA have been good role models.
Top cons?  
GCAA has little in the way of after school programs.  I know middle and high school do not need as many programs but since there is no transport, some after school programs would be an asset to families. There are actions being taken to improve the situation. 

I am anxious to see the library move forward.
In the future I would like to see programs like Honors Society that recognize academic achievement.  
What are the fees if any? 
There will be fees for some activities in the future at GCAA.  I have found that the fees, so far, are the same I encountered at SLPS re: field trips and extra activities.
What is the long-term stability of the school?  
The school is young.  As parents we are monitoring the situation as the school develops.  My children are very happy at their schools.  They are learning and thriving.  I do think the school is stable, primarily because there is such a need for alternatives to the public schools in our area and they provide good services. 
What are the near-term plans for the physical location/building?
GCAA is expanding to include the rehab of the Sun Theater next door to the main campus.  

The school starts at 6th grade and is currently up to 9th grade with plans to add a grade per year to complete 12 grades. The Grand Center district is very active in looking at ways to accommodate families at the school.  

We are offered opportunities to participate in development meetings in the area.  There are many exciting plans on the table for development around the school.
How long has the school been in existence? 
GCAA has been open for 3 years, 2 years at the present location.
I would like to know more about the actual fine arts being taught and music and how that plays into the average day.
While GCAA is an art focused school, it is still obligated to follow curriculum guidelines established by DESE. As the students move to the upper grades they begin to get more choices in their art focused classes. In addition to an all year art elective, exploratory is offered to sixth graders. This is a rotation, each quarter they select a different arts elective. It gives students a chance to try other arts. By ninth grade, the students are to declare the art they wish to make their focus.
Residents of St. Louis, please research your options for school in the city before you vacate for the suburbs. There are many, many viable school options in St. Louis that did not exist before.  If you are an expecting parent or young family, please call the school, talk to your neighbors, go visit the places...anything to learn about city schools. Become educated on your choices before abandoning the city as previous generations have.

Be part of the solution and not the problem. Thanks to the Robinson family for sharing their story...St. Louis City Talk is on to the next school adventure...stay tuned and informed.

To apply for GCAA click HERE.

1 comment:

DeniseL said...

Thanks for highlighting school choices within the City. As a City resident I get so frustrated when friends with kids automatically move out of the City when their children reach school age. Some of the choices within the City rival, if not outperform, every school district in STL County. I am committed to public education and my daughter graduated from Gateway STEM, an SLPS magnet school. My youngest is 3. I'm currently working on starting another Montessori charter school that hopefully he can attend. Keep up the good work in letting us all know those hidden gems right in our backyard! I'd love to see a post on Gateway Science Charter too.