New magnet school, Kenwood Leadership Academy, opens in Cedar Rapids

The magnet elementary school is the second in the Cedar Rapids school district

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CEDAR RAPIDS — The Cedar Rapids school district’s newest magnet school — Kenwood Leadership Academy — opened Tuesday morning for the new school year.

The school, formerly Kenwood Elementary, is the district’s second magnet, coming after the Johnson STEAM Academy opened last year.

The environment is electric,” Kenwood Leadership Academy Principal David Brandon said. “Kids are so excited to come back. There are so many changes and kids are really embracing it.”

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony, Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett, Superintendent Brad Buck and Kenwood students and staff said they were excited about the leadership focus, which will weave lessons about effective leadership with regular coursework.

Fourth-grade teacher Elizabeth Callahan said all students also will hold leadership roles in the school to practice those skills. In Callahan’s classroom, those roles include “technology guru,” supplies manager and library monitor.

“If it’s not directly related to teaching, I want to give it to them and let them have ownership,” Callahan said.

By focusing on student ownership in the classroom, Buck said to students, “we can significantly increase the opportunity that each of you will have” as they continue their education and join the workforce.

A year ago, Johnson Elementary in Southwest Cedar Rapids became Johnson STEAM Academy and focuses on science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

District officials have said they hope to open more magnet schools — which attract students from outside of a traditional, geographic boundary — over the next few years.

In a previous interview with The Gazette, Buck said the district’s strategy to open a handful of elementary, middle and high school magnets is an effort to offer parents more choice in their children’s education while keeping students enrolled the district.

Students living within Kenwood’s boundaries in northeast Cedar Rapids are guaranteed enrollment at the leadership academy — as they would be at a traditional public school — and additional students are admitted through a lottery.

Any student can be entered in the lottery. About 60 students were randomly chosen to join Kenwood’s student population, the school’s magnet coordinator Jillian Schulte said, making the total student population about 440.

Paula Wood, who attended Tuesday’s event, said she entered her second-grader in the lottery in the spring.

“We felt it would give a lot of different kinds of skills to our daughter,” Wood said. “And I really appreciate the diversity of the school.”

To be eligible for some federal grants — including a $12 million grant though the Magnet School Assistance Program — magnet schools must be recognized as voluntary desegregation plans. The Cedar Rapids district has applied for that grant, and recipients should be announced in early October.

Carol Eilers, the mother of three children who attended Kenwood Elementary and grandmother of a Kenwood Leadership Academy student, said she’s excited to see how the new leadership focus will play out.

“You are going down as the first students of Kenwood Leadership Academy magnet school,” Principal David Brandon told about 400 students sitting on the school’s playground during the event. “You are paving the way for students here at KLA.”

As students headed back to class, Mara Budny, 7, said she’s excited about the changes so far.

She said she’s looking forward to becoming a better leader at Kenwood — someone who “helps other people become leaders, who shows people what’s right and what’s not right.”

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