When it comes to closing the opportunity gap for learners, Kansas City’s University Academy stands out as an exemplar.

UA’s vision to “be the best K-12 college preparatory charter public school in the country, with an emphasis on college preparation, career development, community service and leadership” is more than a framed print on a wall.

Results confirm that this vision is becoming a reality. This year, UA earned a 100% on the state Annual Performance Report — a first and an achievement worth celebrating for the students and staff who are proving access to opportunity does in fact boost outcomes.

For context, only five districts serving K-12 students in the entire state achieved this score.

UA is not only a great college prep school, it’s a great college completion school. As alumni complete college, UA leadership has been able to monitor the ultimate finish line–college graduation.

We’ve shared 10 ways UA supports college preparation and completion including some unexpected and innovative strategies including sponsored foreign travel and cash incentives for keeping college grades up.

Superintendent Tony Kline said that the success of UA started with a clear vision from the founders and is driven by active goal-setting.

Set SMART goals. University Academy’s board sets goals that are specific, clear and measurable for each academic year. Sample goals include:

  • 55% of seniors will gain admission to top 150 colleges/universities in U.S. News & World Report rankings.
  • Average daily attendance will be 95% or higher.
  • Seniors will have an average ACT score of 22 or higher.
  • The Class of 2017 will earn a total of $4 million or more in scholarships.
  • Score as the highest performing public charter school in Missouri based on Missouri’s Annual Performance Report.

Make them visible. Board goals are shared with the school community and displayed prominently throughout the building.

Provide the resources to make goals attainable. The board and leadership support goal attainment by providing time and resources. Friends of UA raise funding to support foreign travel and college success.

Reward success. Half of the superintendent’s evaluation is based on goal accomplishment. If they accomplish 7 of 10, he gets a 70% for that half of his evaluation. (The other half of the review is based on board member evaluations and a 360 review from direct reports.)

The board chair and superintendent set goals each summer. At least two are stretch goals. Most goals flow from the five-year strategic plan. UA uses a Peter Drucker inspired evaluation system which gives each manager a set of personal goals that are relevant to the individual position and the organization’s goals. For example, if the district is supposed to have 95% daily attendance, each principal is going to be expected to get 95% attendance for their building.

Teacher practice is evaluated based on a thoughtful system constructed by the University of Missouri called the Network for Educator Effectiveness (NEE). Teachers also set performance goals. Feedback on the research-based model and goal attainment determines the size of annual raise. About 90% of teachers achieved the 5% maximum raise last year. Here’s a short clip from our recent University Academy podcast where UA Assistant Superintendent Rebecca Gudde shares more about NEE and UA’s teacher assessment process:

Maintain a spirit of collaboration. Overall, it’s important for everyone–teachers, leaders, students, families and the community to feel a sense of shared commitment to and responsibility for reaching these annual goals.

We’d love to see more schools expand access for students like the teachers, leaders and UA community continues to do for its more than 1,000 K-12 students. We believe that with a commitment like UA’s, your school can do the same for the students it serves.

This post is a part of a blog series in the upcoming “Getting Smart on Closing the Opportunity Gap” Smart Bundle produced in partnership with University Academy. Join the conversation on Twitter using #CloseTheOppGap. For more, check out:


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