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Chester Lewis, Gordon Parks Academy named Capturing Kids’ Hearts National Showcase Schools

Chester Lewis, Gordon Parks Academy named Capturing Kids’ Hearts National Showcase Schools

Capturing Kids' Hearts logoChester Lewis Academic Learning Center and Gordon Parks Academy have been named 2023-2024 Capturing Kids’ Hearts National Showcase Schools®.

This is the first time Chester Lewis received the distinction, and the district’s first non-traditional school to receive the honor. This is the fourth time Gordon Parks Academy received the honor.

Each year, National Showcase Schools undergo a meticulous selection process, evaluating essential performance indicators, collecting campus data, and seeking feedback from both staff and students. The outcomes reflect the successful integration of the Capturing Kids’ Hearts® Process, showcasing the unique culture and climate of each school.

Feeling welcomed at Chester Lewis

Leroy Parks, principal of Chester Lewis Academic Learning Center, which includes Wichita Alternative High School and the Towne East Learning Center, has been a proponent of the program since 2005 when he was the principal at Southeast High School.

“Several years ago, I had the opportunity to go to a national training for the program and it really impressed me,” said Parks. “As educators and leaders, we’re taught that in order to teach students, relationships are essential. This was the first training that helped me understand how to do that. It’s transformed my life and leadership skills.”

Chester Lewis was one of the WPS schools that participated in the Kansans Can School Redesign Project in 2018, and as part of that work, Parks had his staff become trained in the Capturing Kids’ Hearts program.

“We’ve missed being recognized as a school for the past three years by one data point, so we went back and made the improvements that needed to be made” said Parks.

The school has implemented a number of initiatives to ensure students feel embraced by the school. Their work has also decreased student behaviors and chronic absenteeism numbers and raised graduation rates.

“We went from 18-week classes to 9-week classes,” said Parks. “Kids were working at their own pace and now we’ve put come accountability into that. Through this change in the master schedule process, we’ve raised the number of earned credits 190 percent. In the 10 years I’ve been here, we hve continually increased the number of graduates on the comprehensive side from 18 to a high of 40 two years ago. This year alone, we had 100 graduates!”

Students are also welcomed to the school through a very intentional orientation process and spend an hour each day in an advocacy setting where students are taught social-emotional learning strategies and staff and student relationships are developed.

“I can go to any teacher and ask them about a student in their homeroom and because they’ve built relationships with these students, they can tell me what’s going on with each of them academically and, in some cases, personally, as it relates to a student’s absenteeism,” said Parks.

Parks also says the district’s rollout of restorative practices has helped reinforce the work his staff has done with Capturing Kids’ Hearts.

“The timing of the restorative practice training came at a perfect time for us because of how much work we’d done with Capturing Kids’ Hearts and being intentional about our school culture,” said Parks. “It really helped reinforce what we’d done. In my opinion, restorative practice is the science behind relationships and Capturing Kids’ Hearts is the ‘how.’”

Part of the Culture at Gordon Parks

Gordon Parks Academy, has earned the distinction of Capturing Kids’ Hearts National Showcase School for the past three years.

Principal LaTonia Kennedy says they have used several of the program’s non-negotiables to help transform the school.

“Each classroom must have a social contract that is collectively composed by the students,” said Kennedy. “Every morning teachers greet the students at the classroom door and the entry door, and each day students participate in an activity that allows them to share good things that have happened in their lives during the week.”

Kennedy says the national recognition has reinforced all the work the staff have put in to change the culture at Gordon Parks Academy.

“This year our school theme was ‘Legendary Year’ and being named a CKH National Showcase School for the third time demonstrates a legendary event not only for our school but also for our district,” said Kennedy. “This recognition solidifies the fact that we were able to change the culture of our school and positively impact the lives of our students.”