Ep. 46: Cool Schools with Urban Prep

April 24, 2018

In today’s Cool Schools episode of EdChoice Chats, our Director of National Research Mike McShane talks with Pastor Wade Moore, the founder of Urban Prep. Pastor Moore describes how he started the school and how it’s overcome many challenges in its first four years of operating.

Mike McShane: Hello, and welcome to another episode of EdChoice Chats. My name is Mike McShane, and I’m Director of National Research at EdChoice. Today’s podcast is part of a new series we’re embarking upon called ‘Cool Schools,’ wherein we will profile passionate educators around the country and the schools that they lead.

This podcast series has two goals. The first is simply celebration. Starting a new school or running a great existing school is hard work. Too often, it’s a thankless job. We want to celebrate people who are trying something new and different, and kick the tires on their ventures to uncover lessons that they’ve learned and can share with other educators around the country.

The second goal is to try and stretch folks’ mind about what is possible in education. As educational choice supporters, we at EdChoice spend a healthy amount of our time trying to promote educational options that don’t exist yet. We push for states to pass laws that create the conditions for great new schools to open in scale, but many people struggle to wrap their minds around exactly what that might look like.

In this podcast, we’re going to highlight some of those potentialities. With quality school choice programs, innovative models like the ones we talk about here could be coming to a city near you.

At the outset, I would like to say that we’re not going to try and use this podcast to adjudicate whether or not these are quote unquote good or bad schools. We’re not going to examine their reading and math scores, and ask them why their fourth graders aren’t up to snuff. We are going to ask about mistakes that they’ve made, lessons they’ve learned, advice that they would give, and related questions that should be helpful for anyone listening; even if you’re skeptical of their educational model or pedagogical strategy.

I’m always on the lookout for more cool schools to profile. If you know of one of those in your neck of the woods, please, let me know about it.

Today on the podcast, we have Pastor Wade Moore, who’s the founder of Urban Prep; a small private school in urban Wichita, Kansas. I think it’s going to be interesting. We have this diversity of school models, and school sizes, and school locations on this podcast. This is really cool to learn about a kind of small school that’s operating in Kansas, in good ol’ Wichita, Kansas.

Pastor Moore is the founder of Urban Prep. He’s also the senior pastor at the Christian Faith Center in Wichita. Without further ado, here is my conversation with pastor Wade Moore of Urban Prep.

Well Pastor Moore, I think it’s probably best to begin at the beginning with the story of Urban Preparatory Academy. Could you just give the kind of background, when and how did Urban Prep get started?

Wade Moore: Urban Prep Academy in Wichita, we got started fall of 2014. I had bought a closed public school building, and had did some classes in it over the summertime; and had a real passion for children in this underserved neighborhood. It was one of the schools that closed in a underserved neighborhood, and really had a passion to really do something for kids.

I traveled around, looked at different schools across the nation, kind of developed a model of what we would need here in Wichita; came back, put together a team and we formed the Urban Prep Academy. We started the school because I saw this real gap with children that we were wanting to really excel or really just be a part of the educational process. We started the Urban Prep Academy as a private school for low-income and working class families.

Mike McShane: Now how large is it now? How many students does it serve?

Wade Moore: Right now, we serve 52 students. We started with 13 students our first year. What was so amazing about it was when we put the word out that we were starting a school, and we did the advertising, we did the pre-enrollment, we had like 30-some families that were interested. Then, when it came time to enroll, we had like six students that had enrolled.

I’m like, “Man, what happened? What’s going on? What happened to everybody?” I got a little nervous there. I started making phone calls and talking to parents about why they were backing away from it. A simple thing, it was transportation. They could not drive over here. They couldn’t be at work on time. They didn’t know how they were going to pick their kids up. We solved that problem and we became the only private school in Wichita to offer transportation.

Mike McShane: Wow. That actually leads perfectly into the next question that I was going to ask you, perhaps maybe in addition to transportation. What makes Urban Prep different from the schools around it?

Wade Moore: What makes us different from schools around. First, we’re the only private school and the first private school that … again, low-income and working class families can attend. There’s a couple private schools … There are great private schools here, but the tuition is just out of range for working class and low-income students. That’s one and then the transportation. Then, what a lot of people around the city have saw is that this love that we have for students; to where we just love them right where they are. They know that they’re loved. They know that they’re taken care of. That’s another thing.

We test all of our children coming in to see what level they’re on. We develop a plan for each student. If they’re behind, we develop a plan to get them caught up. If they’re on task, we develop a plan to get them ahead.

Mike McShane: Now, tuition … having a school that’s designed for low-income, working class families, and providing transportation; that’s not cheap. How are you able to bridge that gap between making an education that’s affordable, but still offering one that’s high quality.

Wade Moore: How are we able to bring that gap, wow. We’re still working on bridging that gap. … Yeah.

Mike McShane: I guess maybe what is tuition at Urban Prep?

Wade Moore: Our tuition right now is $4,500. We started it at $3,200. Every student here is on scholarship except one. The family just offered to pay the full tuition, but every student is on scholarship. It’s $4,500. The way that we do it, we sit down with every family. We go through the worksheet. We show them how much everything costs. We show them we have some scholarships available. Generous people that will contribute help us with scholarships.

We sit down with every family and we say, “Okay, this is the cost. This is the tuition for this year. How much are you able to pay without it disrupting your family?”

Some of them say, “We can pay $45 a month.” Some say, “We can pay $200 a month.” Some say, “We can pay $100 a month.” Whatever amount they come up with, we accept that child, and we just work very hard to try to raise money to help us cover the cost.

Mike McShane: Wow, I imagine that’s an uphill battle. Are you looking within the Wichita community, around Kansas, around the whole nation to try and raise those funds?

Wade Moore: Yeah. Yeah, we’re looking across the nation to try to raise the funds. I’ve been able to reach into the community here. Then, now we’re reaching … friends have friends, which is a good thing. We’ve reached around the state. We’ve been trying to reach around the country, just to get the word out of what we’re doing here. Hopefully, we can pick up some dollars.

Mike McShane: Sure, sure. Well hopefully just everyone who’s listening, you hear you can go to the website and find out the information.

Wade Moore: Yeah.

Mike McShane: One question I’d have for you, you had mentioned giving students some tests when they come into the school so they can get an individualized learning plan. How do you as a school measure success? How do you know that what you’re doing is working?

Wade Moore: There’s a few ways, because success … I talk to our kids about this all the time. Matter of fact, we had a talk this morning about it. We measure success … Of course, we want our students to learn to read well, want them to learn math, want them to learn writing, want them to learn those things. But success to me is when the students come in depressed because of their previous educational journey and then they say … After a while, when they’ve been here at Urban Prep. They’ve experienced us. They’ve experienced the culture.

They begin to say, “I like school. I can’t wait to come to school. I want to come to school.” That’s success to me. I know we have to have them pass this test and that test, but real success to me is when they begin to enjoy their educational journey again.

Mike McShane: Okay, so now where do most of your students come from?

Wade Moore: Let’s see, the majority of our students come from right here in the neighborhood. Some come from all over the city. The majority of them come from right here in the neighborhood. I got to say this, right here in this neighborhood, there’s … in this area, one, two, three, four, … There’s about five elementary schools in this neighborhood. There’s four elementary schools that are within a mile of us. Now, all four of those elementary schools are on Kansas’ lowest 100 performing schools list.

Mike McShane: Wow.

Wade Moore: Yeah; we get children in whose families, they wake up around third or fourth grade and say, “My child is really struggling.” “My child can’t read.” “My child is way behind.” Some of them come from the neighborhood, and some of them come from all over.

Mike McShane: Wow, so now I have to ask as a kind of policy person myself, … I imagine in some ways, you have to interact with local policy, state policy, national or federal policy. Are there policies that make your life more difficult? That operating a school is more challenging because of policies either at the state level, or at the local level, or even at the federal level?

Wade Moore: Yes, there is.

Mike McShane: We got time. Feel free to list them all.

Wade Moore: Yeah. Again, I was so … I don’t want to use … I’d use the word, I was ignorant of all the educational laws. I had taught in education. I had taught in public education for a few years, had always been around it; but I didn’t know all the laws and all that stuff.

When I thought about starting a school, I said, “You know what? I’m going to start a charter school here. This is going to be a charter school.” Then, I started researching the charter school laws. I found that Kansas ranked in probably the bottom eight in the nation, as far as charter school laws. Then I found that they did not want any other schools except public schools to exist in this area. That became a challenge. Working with politicians; people that represent this area were against us trying to change charter laws, us trying to do anything to move children forward in education.

The laws were very restrictive, and they still are. They still are very restrictive. It’s getting legislators to really understand what a charter school is, what a private school is, what our mission is. I think that was a big roadblock. They were excited that somebody had got this building and opened it up; that it wouldn’t be an eyesore. But, they were not too excited when we said it was going to become a school.

Researching the charter laws, and I thought, “Wow, this is not going to work.” I even met with the district superintendent of Wichita. Wichita has got the largest student population, it’s the largest district in the state of Kansas. I met with the district superintendent and the president of the school local board, talked to them about some type of partnership, helping out, working together. They said they seemed to not have any problems; and basically told me to just go on down the road.

Mike McShane: Wow.

Wade Moore: Yeah.

Mike McShane: Now when you are recruiting families, or trying to get folks to participate in this, I’d be interested to hear their perspectives, what their wants, their concerns—viewing this process through their eyes. What, when you have an open house, what are some of the questions parents ask? What are they interested in knowing?

Wade Moore: Some of them, it’s curriculum. They want to know what we are … what we’re teaching, what their children are going to be learning. They want to know about safety. They want to know are their children going to be safe here? Again, that could do with the neighborhood.

Mike McShane: Sure.

Wade Moore: It could be with things in the past, whatever. They want to know about curriculum. They want to know about safety. Of course, cost is a big one. They sit here in this interview, and it’s like they hold their breath until the final number comes out on this sheet, what they’re going to pay.

Mike McShane: Wow.

Wade Moore: Because again, with it only been public school and the other private schools out of range, they have never had to financially invest in their child’s early education.

Mike McShane: Wow.

Wade Moore: It’s always been public school.

Mike McShane: Sure, sure. Now, if you were to look over this process, what would you say is the hardest thing that you’ve had to overcome bringing this school to life and keeping it thriving?

Wade Moore: Okay. Boy, that’s a list of things.

Mike McShane: Again, we got time. Feel free.

Wade Moore: Yeah. Okay, let’s see, the hardest thing that I’ve had to overcome … I’ll start with our staff. In the meetings and putting together the model before we even open the doors, a lot of our staff came from public school. That was a hurdle when I would share the vision with them, and the teaching philosophy. They always had this mindset of public education.

Whenever I would present something, they’d say, “That’s not the way to do it. That’s not how it’s done.” It was always that challenge. Getting them to change their mind about the way we do education. That was one.

Another challenge would be okay, I’ve hired these teachers. I know that everybody’s not going to be able to pay tuition. How am I going to keep this thing afloat financially?

Mike McShane: Sure.

Wade Moore: That was a big concern. We managed to do some things there. Another concern would be the families. How would they adapt to this? Because again, they’re used to putting their child on a bus, dropping them off, bus dropping them off at home. Everything’s fine. Or, you drop them off at school, see you later; but wanting the parents really involved. That was a challenge.

Now, this may sound kind of minute, but we have the students bring their lunch. They bring their lunch to school on some days. Some days, we’ll do lunch here. The majority of days, they bring their lunch. Now, this was a real challenge. After about a week, some of the parents were wanting to pull their children out of the school.

I said, “Well, why do you want to pull your children out of the school?”

They said, “Well, we don’t know what to fix for lunch.” I mean because they were used to public school, they get a free lunch. You don’t have to worry about lunch. They didn’t know how to handle the lunch issue. We got together and we worked them and showed them how to do lunch, how to do leftovers. We’d have microwaves. We did things like that, and showed them things like that. That was one.

Another we discussed was the transportation issue. We overcame that one.

Mike McShane: What are you all doing now?

Wade Moore: Yeah, we run two routes. We have two routes. We have a north route and a south route. We’ll pick up children in the morning from all over. Parents who can’t drive over, parents who want their children picked up. Then, we’ll drop them off in the evening. We have a van; vans that run.

Mike McShane: Wow.

Wade Moore: As far transportation. Another hurdle we had to overcome was the curriculum. One of the things that I believe, Mike, is that every child can learn. Every child does learn. Children, they can learn a song in a second. They can learn a dance in a matter of minutes. Every child can learn. Here I am in this underserved neighborhood. I bring in the most challenging curriculum I can find. I bring in for a math curriculum, Math In Focus, the Singapore approach. It’s Singapore math.

Mike McShane: Sure.

Wade Moore: Haven’t you heard of Singapore math?

Mike McShane: Yeah, absolutely.

Wade Moore: Yeah, so I bring that math program in. I bring in a good language arts program, which is Journeys  curriculum.

Mike McShane: Sure.

Wade Moore: I bring those in to this school. It drives parents crazy. It drives students crazy.

They say, “We can’t do this. We don’t understand this.” Now, I hired a math specialist in the beginning. I would something called Parent Academy. I’d have the parents come Saturday mornings at 10:00. I would have the math specialist teach the parents the basics of Singapore math. So they would be able to help their children with homework.

Mike McShane: That’s great.

Wade Moore: We took our time with that. Now, that that’s become our math program.

Mike McShane: Well, that’s wonderful. I want to close with two questions. One of these questions will be maybe looking forward, and one of them will be looking backward. Maybe we’ll start with the forward looking one. What I’m just curious is what do you think the next year, the next five years, the next ten years holds for Urban Prep?

Wade Moore: Yeah, wow. This is our fourth year, so we’re doing our fourth year. Next year will be year number five. When I came in, I had a five year plan. Then after a couple years, I did our ten year plan. Believe it, we’ve got a 20 year plan.

Mike McShane: Wow.

Wade Moore: Where we are right now is we’re year number four, so we’ll be in our fifth year next year. What I’m doing now is I’m in a capital campaign, and meeting with businesses and individuals to raise capital for year number five. Year number five, right now, we have 50 students. I want to go to 175 students next year in year number five.

Mike McShane: Wow.

Wade Moore: I want to jump to 175 students; because the need is there. I believe that they will come. We’re working on funding for year number five to do that. Then year number ten, we’re … We’ll be moving in the high school next year. We started K-5 and we grew it a grade each year. This is our fourth year, so we’re K-8 right now. Next year, we’ll be moving into the high school arena. By year number ten, year number ten, we’ll be ready to graduate … We will have graduated our first class. Yeah, by then, by our tenth year, our students will be sophomores in college.

Mike McShane: Wow.

Wade Moore: Freshman, sophomores in college. Then, our 20th year, I talked to somebody about that the other day. By 20th year, we’re looking at opening up another campus; to where we’ve got a campus here on the north side and we have a campus in South Wichita … that we’ve really expanded Urban Prep.

Mike McShane: That’s great.

Wade Moore: Yeah.

Mike McShane: That’s quite the ambitious vision. That’s wonderful.

Wade Moore: Yeah.

Mike McShane: Then maybe for my last question, we’ll sort of look in the other direction. I’d ask you, so you’ve been around for four years. If you could go back in time to four years ago when you started, and give yourself one piece of advice, what would that piece of advice be?

Wade Moore: I think that I would have started with K–3, rather than K–5.

Mike McShane: Interesting, why is that?

Wade Moore: When I start with K–5, students that were in the fourth and fifth grade, they came to me so far behind and they came with a different mindset. They came with a different attitude about education, because they had been in the system for four, five, six years if you count preschool and all that.

Right now, I see a real difference between students that came to me … Some students that are still here, that came in their fourth and fifth grade year. There is a big learning difference between those and the ones that were in first and second grade that came here.

Mike McShane: That makes a lot of sense.

Wade Moore: I would have started with K–3. That’s what my staff was trying to talk me into, but it’s a big dream that I’m going to save the world. Yeah, I would have started there. It’s not an easy task. I know it sounds great, what we’re doing, but it is work. It is challenging. It can be draining at times. Man, when you see kids and they’re enjoying coming to school. I mean, it’s worth it.

Mike McShane: Well, that’s great. Well, Pastor Moore, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today. I know I certainly enjoyed the conversation. I know our listeners will, too. Thank you so much.

Wade Moore: Thank you. Have a great day. I enjoyed it.

Mike McShane: Good, good.

Man, what a powerful conversation. I mean it’s really fun doing this podcast that we’re able to talk to all types of different schools, big schools, small schools, urban schools, online schools, the whole gamut; but really getting the chance to listen to Pastor Moore talk about the great need in the community that he serves and the details … and hearing things like, … students struggling to be able to provide lunch, families struggling to be able to provide lunch, and the transportation issues, and others.

I know just for me, as part of the conversation, it really tugs on your heartstrings, really affected me thinking about all those things. It’s great to know that there are passionate, intelligent, wonderful people like Pastor Moore who are trying to do something about it, trying to do the best that they can in that situation.

I hope you enjoyed that conversation. I really did. I’m excited to see what Urban Prep does moving forward.

As usual, if you want to get more wonderful Cool Schools content, please make sure to subscribe to this podcast. You can also sign up for our email list, that’s you’re allowed … You’re allowed. You are allowed. No, you are able to create your own kind of profile on our website to get all of the best content sent directly to you. We’ve got great research. We have all the kind of goings on in school of choice, and in education writ large. We’d love to continue that conversation with you.

As always, as well, if you have cool schools that I should know about and that I should be chronicling, let us know. Reach out to us at EdChoice. You can always … Probably the easiest way to get to me is just on my Twitter account; which is MQ_McShane. You can always reach out to us at EdChoice, or shoot me an email or whatever. It would be great to find more schools all around the country that are doing this.

To reiterate, subscribe to the podcast, sign up for our emails, let me know about cool schools. Thanks so much. Have a great day.