"Veni, vidi, vici" is not a phrase you see very often outside of Roman history, other than those T-shirts you get for free after stomaching a twenty-pound hamburger. The translation -- I came, I saw, I conquered -- is a pretty fearsome one for a charter school, but when applied to the idea of making it through college (and maybe some Latin classes to boot) the motto kind of works: Future students of the South City Preparatory Academy may have a Caesar-sized task ahead after the school opens its doors for the first time August 15.
But in the meantime, they at least have the funding to get there. South City Prep was recently awarded its second grant from the Walton Family Foundation, named after Mizzou alum/Walmart founder Sam Walton, giving them the $220,000 they need to fund the school's beginning stages.
The recent award follows a $30,000 planning grant from the same foundation and a $125,000 grant from the government. As the school nears operational level, the money will finance classroom equipment, special education and the professional development of its fifteen-person staff.
"We were confident that we were able to articulate our mission and our vision," Head of School Mike Malone says. "But without this money, it would have been really hard to open in the fall."
Malone, who previously taught high school and seventh and eighth grades, played a central role in the school's founding board, which came together two years ago to identify the niche the school will evolve to fit. Focused rather aggressively on guaranteeing all of its students make it through college, the school's motivation is a whatever-it-takes goal shrouded in a no-excuses attitude.
"We have a belief that every single kid, whatever color they are, whatever their background is, rich or poor, whatever their neighborhood is, can get through college," Malone says.
After exploring the educational approaches of other prep schools in Houston and Denver, among other locations, Malone and the other founders borrowed some of those schools' founding concepts. This includes a requirement that students start attending the school in grades five and six, not just showing up for high school. (South City Prep will add one grade each year until it spans the end of high school.) The list also means longer school days and extended school years, a plan intended to match the educational structures of international schools.
"We're keenly aware of how long these other countries are sending their kids to school," Malone says. "The world is becoming more flat, and we need kids prepared for that reality so that they are competitive on the global stage." If students attend South City Prep from grade fifth grade to twelfth grade, they will spend the equivalent of two-and-a-half more years in school than traditional public school students.
South City Prep's first-year student body will include no more than 150 total fifth and sixth graders. (To date, 71 students have enrolled.) Students who apply too late to make the first 150 will be placed on a waiting list. Each grade is capped at 75 students, which means the school's future maximum is 600. If the ideal number isn't met for the fall, the school board has contingency plans in place.
"We have a budget for 150, and we have a budget for less than that," Malone says. "Our pitch to families is that we'll do whatever it takes to get their kids to college. If we get less, we're still sustainable, but we hope for as many as possible."