Kennard Classical Junior Academy

Kennard Classical Junior Academy (KCJA) is a magnet school within the St. Louis Public School System, focusing on "gifted programs" serving children grades pre-Kindergarten through 5th. The school has been located at 5031 Potomac Avenue in the North Hampton Neighborhood since 1928.

The school building itself is another St. Louis masterpiece designed by Milligan.  Most recently the school served as a Junior Naval ROTC Middle School until it was closed in 1989 and then reopened in 1990 as the first gifted and talented magnet in St. Louis.  The building appears to be hear for the long run as the district recently invested in new central HVAC and the recent Proposition S passage brought a new roof, paved/resurfaced parking lot & playground, building & security upgrades, building envelope (whatever that means), new kitchen equipment, window replacements, and window shades.  Glad to see the investment being made is this beautiful asset to the city. 

The building gets its name from former Confederate soldier and successful business man Samuel M. Kennard (1842-1916).

Lieutenant Kennard was born in Lexington, Kentucky. He and his family moved to St. Louis in 1857. In 1861, when the secession crisis erupted, he joined the “Minute Men,” a militia organization in St. Louis that supported the Southern cause. He escaped capture at Camp Jackson and went to Little Rock, Arkansas and then to Memphis where he joined Bowen’s Brigade.In the spring of 1862 he joined John C. Landis Artillery Battery at Saltillo, Mississippi. While serving in this battery he participated in the battles of Iuka, Corinth, Grand Fulf, Port Gibson, Bakers Creek, Big Black and the siege of Vicksburg. After the surrender of the garrison at Vicksburg and parole camp at Demopolic, Alabama, the batteries of wade, Landis and Guibor were merged and became known as Guibor’s Battery.While in Guibor’s Battery, he was promoted to lieutenant and fought at the battles Resaca, New Hope Church, Kennesaw Mountain, the siege of Atlanta and Hood’s Tennessee Campaign. He fired the first gun in the battle of Franklin, Tennessee.After the battle of Franklin, he served as aide-de-camp to General Nathan Bedford Forrest. He was captured at the battle of Selma in April of 1865, but escaped a week later. While returning to his command at Bentonville, he learned of General Lee’s surrender and returned to his home in St. Louis.He went to work for Kennard and Sons Carpet Company of St. Louis and became very involved in St. Louis organizations. He was a member of the Veiled Prophet Association, served as eastern brigade commander of the Missouri Division of the United Confederate Veterans and was active in the St. Louis Exposition Association, the Citizens Smoke Abatement Council. He was Director of the American Exchange Bank, the Mississippi Valley Trust Company, the Suburban Railway Company and the Missouri Savings and Loan Company. (bio by: Connie Nisinger)

Kennard is buried in Bellefontaine Cemetery:

(photo source)

This school is the first gifted and talented program in the city.  The other school following the model is Mallinkrodt.  So, what is a gifted and talented program?  Essentially the students are tested for general aptitude and logical comprehension and have to score high enough to make the cut and get on the waiting list.  The waiting list is lottery based and there is sibling preference.  The school teaches on an accelerated curriculum, meaning, they teach a grade up.  If the student is in 1st grade he/she will be learning the 2nd grade curriculum, etc.  For what it's worth, KCJA routinely places among the top test scores in the city and region.  In 2009 it was awarded the U.S. Department of Education Blue Ribbon Award and has won the Missouri Gold Star School Excellence in Education Award.

From the school website:

Kennard CJA is the only gifted elementary school in the state of Missouri. The student body consists of both urban and suburban students and includes a full range of socio-economic backgrounds and cultures. Students entering Kennard are placed based on the state criteria for gifted as well as the magnet lottery system. Kennard’s goal is first to improve student achievement by providing challenges that promote intellectual, social, emotional, and creative excellence. The learning community collaborates to nurture and promote an appreciation of diversity and individuality and to work diligently to instill self-confidence and a sense of empowerment in students. The staff, as well as other stakeholders, recognize that when students know they have a voice and are taught how to use that voice responsibly and productively students learn to become productive, accountable members of society. As a member of Missouri’s Professional Learning Community Project and with more than 95% of the teaching staff qualified with gifted and/or National Board Certification, the Kennard staff understands that the fundamental purpose of school is student learning. Therefore, the staff is equipped to minimize teaching students what they already know, provide new challenges, and strive to make learning a positive experience for each child. Throughout the school, Kennard’s “Tiger Pride” is reflected in its philosophy, “Children First” and motto is “Together We Can.” The unique learning environment supports learning boards that reflects a school-wide educational intervention designed for gifted and talented students. The interior of the school has been painted with murals of the ocean and the rainforest which serve as environmental teaching tools. The entrance hall houses the Kennard “claim to fame” trophy cases that highlight the myriad of student and staff accomplishments.

In 2009, Kennard CJA was recognized as one of the fifteen high-performing elementary schools in the state of Missouri and was granted Missouri’s Gold Star School distinction as well as the prestigious 2009 National Blue Ribbon Award.

This is a great school, many think one of the best in the city.  For that reason, misleadingly, Kennard is thought to many parents and young families as the one and only shot for civilized, quality education in the city.  I'm not arguing that it's not the best, but I will say I know for a fact that it is not the "all-or-nothing" option that many think.  There are many other viable options, so I don't accept that argument any longer.

In all transparency, I have 3 kids in KCJA now, one in 5th, heading to McKinley and one in 3rd and one in 1st grade.  I will try to not interject my personal opinion in this blog just too much.  In fact, I chose a family to interview that I know peripherally, but who's kids I've noticed are great and who's parents I respect for the work they are doing.

My final commentary on KCJA is that we have had a great experience here.  My kids are my gold yet I am a staunch realist.  I know no school is perfect.  I attended a private/Catholic grade school, a public high school, a community college and a state university and have good and bad things to say about each.  I also never got the kind of experience my kids have so far.  I'm not saying it's perfect, just different, and completely acceptable per our standards.  I have had a couple issues arise over the years that required me to get involved, but they have been resolved by caring hands and minds and the administration.  I have made a personal decision to not get too involved in school operations, because I want to be the judge of my kids behavior, smarts and development on my terms.  If I like the behavioral qualities, intelligence level, friends they are making and respect for diversity and common man in general, than I am happy.  I don't need to get involved in the PTO or anything else.  Trust me readers, there is excellent parental involvement at KCJA.  I feel that, along with the excellent teachers my kids have had are the key drivers of success here.  The PTO is active and engaged.  They even have their own website, click HERE.  There are so many broken things in the city of St. Louis, and this is not one of them, so I have chosen to spend my time on things that need dire attention...KCJA parental involvement is so high that I feel my energy is best spent in other areas.  I've sat back and enjoyed my time runs so well.  I hope that doesn't sound lazy.  Some of the things I've enjoyed here are online text books, dramas and plays, the new music teacher, Ms. Betts is awesome...encouraging my oldest to bring his bass to school and practice.

My kids like Spanish and art and gym and have made great friends here.  It has been a great experience for us, and for that I'm grateful. 

A guide to magnet schools if provided by the SLPS here.

What is a magnet you may ask?

Students ordinarily go to the public school nearest them. Magnet schools are public schools without school boundaries. Each has something unique to offer that you won't find in traditional schools, whether it's a particular focus on technology or the arts, or a stimulating curriculum designed especially for gifted students. St. Louis Magnet School programs welcome eligible students from St. Louis County to help increase diversity in the public school system. Because of high demand, admission is based on a lottery system.

That said, I'll let Darren and Anne O'Brien take over from here to answer my standard questions on KCJA. Again, Darren and I are acquaintances but have never talked school politics or anything else that would influence my decision to invite the O'Brien's as the family to represent KCJA.

Darren's wife Anne leads a before-school program at KCJA called Girls On The Run, which has been a great experience for my daughter and again speaks to the excellent quality of families working their butts off and getting involved for the gain of the kids.

Here's the O'Brien's take:

Where are you guys from?

Anne and I both grew up in Saint Louis, but she spent some time in L.A. and New York growing up. Anne's family is not from here, mine is.

How long have you lived in St. Louis?

I've lived here just about all of my life. Anne was born in Omaha, but has lived here most of her life.

What neighborhood do you live in?

Clifton Heights

How many children do you have and how old are they?

Dylan is 9 and is at KCJA, Hannah is 13 and is at McKinley Classical Leadership Academy (feeder middle school for KCJA).

What other schools did you consider for your kids?

None for Hannah; and, Dylan went to Wilkinson for pre-K and K.

What was the key decision point was for KCJA?

The key point was having good schools throughout the magnet gifted school path from Kennard to McKinley and then Metro. At that time there was automatic continuity between them and no McKinley High School. Though not automatic anymore, the possibility (or probability), is still the largest single factor.

How do you sign up for the school?

You first apply to get on the magnet lottery list, then you have to take a gifted assessment. We did ours through the SLPS, but you don't have to.

How do the kids get to school?

We mostly drop off and pick up, with one child taking the bus home some of the days, depending on after school activities.

When asked to rank the following on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best, they assigned the following:

Safety = 8, teachers = 8, principal = 8, curriculum = 7, physical resources = 7.5, overall educational experience = 9

Regarding the 7.5 on physical resources:

This is difficult because a lot of resources have been provided by the PTO.

Are there enrichment courses available?

There are pull-out classes for math, and some enrichment through Springboard. we are taking more field trips due to the efforts of the PTO. We have two big family nights that orient around a theme like math and science. In fourth grade they go to Jefferson City, in fifth grade they go to the Lincoln Museum in Springfield, IL and spend a week at Camp Wyman.

  Are there extra-curricular activities?

There is an equations team, a chess team, girls on the run and scouts.

  What are the kids like?

The students are amazingly mixed in all regards. We don't qualify for Title 1 money, so our rate of poverty is lower than the rest of the school district, but still fairly high. I don't know the numbers, but the ethnic mix is wonderfully varied. Being a Magnet school, the kids are coming from all over the city and quite a few from the county, though not nearly as many from the county as used to be the case.

STL City Talk:  Here are the recent numbers for demographics:

As of 2011, the student body was:

46% male

54% female

52% white

40% black

7% Asian

1% Hispanic/Latino

29% eligible for reduced or free lunch (this really stands out as the lowest I've seen so far, meaning the majority of families are affluent, or more honest about their one checks up on you if you put low $ numbers for the cheaper lunch).

Total enrollment was 407 students (source)

Is there good parental involvement and accountability? 

The single biggest asset at Kennard is parental involvement, it makes a good school into a really special school. Kids and parents have a lot of school spirit.

Please tell me about the cons of KCJA.

Most of the problems we have with the school go back to the district. The resources, or lack thereof, the curriculum and the adherence to the testing regimen, poor communication, busing problems, the lack of enrichment and field trips. Another issue we have is that Kennard is a pretty buttoned-up atmosphere. Kids aren't allowed to run on the playground and the overall atmosphere is reserved. For boys and high energy kids, it can be a difficult situation.

As you can see, the O'Brien's are overall very positive about their experience and would definitely recommend Kennard to other families. It is a safe, viable option for public education in the city.

To all expecting parents and young families out there who love city living, please consider all your options, educate yourself, talk to people and parents and visit schools before vacating the city for suburban districts when your children reach school age.

The school has a full gym for basketball and volleyball and P.E.  There is a stage that is used for holiday programs, plays, etc.  There is also a newly refurbished playground/schoolyard with help from the PTO.  

The parking lot to the west of the school is routinely used by a group of young men who play stick ball in the yard.  This is a great scene, they have been playing here since they were kids. 

To schedule a tour of KCJA, send an email here:

To apply for KCJA enrollment in 2013/14, click here.