Tribune Photo/Dave Thurman

By Janice Phelan

Hundreds of Lee’s Summit R-7 community members celebrated the grand opening of the district’s new Missouri Innovation Campus on Sept. 5. Thanks to a voter-approved bond issue and a trailblazing partnership involving the R-7 School District and the University of Central Missouri, the school opened during mid-August.

The new facility includes the Missouri Innovation Campus program, a nationally recognized program reshaping the way students experience education; Summit Technology Academy (STA), a unique high-school program that prepares students for careers in areas such as engineering, computer science, health care and creative sciences; and UCM-Lee’s Summit, the university’s main off-campus learning facility, offering graduate- and undergraduate-level completion programs to metro-area students. Students enrolled in Summit Technology Academy as well as the Missouri Innovation Campus are from 14 metro-area school districts.

“This Missouri Innovation Campus is a shining example of what happens when organizations and individuals work together for a greater good,” said Dr. Dennis L. Carpenter, Lee’s Summit R-7 superintendent and a speaker at the Sept. 5 opening. “Thanks to our partnership with higher education and the support of our community, we are able to save money for taxpayers and, most importantly, better prepare our students for success in life.”

“The opening of this new facility really represents game on,” added University of Central Missouri President Charles Ambrose. “Now our challenge is to take something we have demonstrated is actually possible and make sure it is accessible, not only to students and their families who take full advantage, but for future talent across our region to make Kansas City more competitive.”
The Sept. 5 grand opening celebration included presentations by Dr. Carpenter and Dr. Ambrose as well as Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens; R-7 Board of Education President Bob White; UCM Board of Governors President Dr. Gus Wetzel; Dr. Kimberly Beatty, Metropolitan Community College chancellor; and Ashionna Morehead, Missouri Innovation Campus student. Following the ceremony, a Lee’s Summit Chamber of Commerce ribbon cutting was held on the school’s main stairway.

During the governor’s visit to the school, he met with Dr. Carpenter and Dr. Ambrose and watched a demonstration in one of the school’s nursing labs. In addition, the governor heard from the following Missouri Innovation Campus students as part of a student roundtable: Quinn Cosgrove, an MIC graduate from the program’s first cohort; Jeffrey Scarborough, a second-year MIC student in the cybersecurity program; and Ashionna Morehead, a third-year MIC student in design and drafting who also spoke during the grand opening ceremony. Andy Cole of DST and Abby Ventrillo from VML represented business partners during the roundtable, and Dr. Beatty also participated.

The Missouri Innovation Campus program is a progressive collaboration between the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District, Metropolitan Community College (MCC) and UCM. By engaging business partners and community organizations, the MIC offers an accelerated program that shortens the time it takes students to complete a four-year degree, significantly reducing college debt and providing job-ready skills that are highly sought after by business. The MIC program was highlighted by President Barack Obama during a visit to UCM’s Warrensburg campus in 2013.

Through the groundbreaking partnership, the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District and UCM joined forces to construct and operate this state-of-the-art, cost-saving facility. Under a plan developed by the two educational institutions, Lee’s Summit R-7 is paying for approximately 40 percent of the new school with UCM paying the remaining 60 percent. Through this agreement, Lee’s Summit R-7 is the sole owner of the facility with UCM paying its portion of costs through lease payments.

The R-7 School District’s portion of the facility’s cost is funded through a no-tax-increase bond issue, approved by approximately 80 percent of voters in 2015. This $40 million bond issue is also funding renovation and maintenance projects that are positively impacting each R-7 school.

The new two-story building totals 135,000 square feet and is designed so that Lee’s Summit R-7 and UCM will share interior learning and conference spaces as well as parking, saving money for both organizations. The two partnering organizations have also worked collaboratively on procurement to help generate additional savings on furniture, fixtures and technology. Groundbreaking for the new school was held during March 2016, and the facility was completed within budget and in time for the first day of classes for the 2017-18 school year.

Through the MIC program, students begin their junior year of high school while attending Summit Technology Academy. By approximately the same time they earn a high-school diploma, they will have completed an associate degree from MCC, finishing their four-year bachelor’s degree from UCM two years later. The graduates will also have completed three years of paid internships with prestigious Kansas City metro-area companies, which helps defray the costs of their education. Many students who complete the MIC program land permanent jobs with these companies. In all, the MIC program is linked with 40 corporate partners with industry representatives assisting in development of curriculum that prepares students to immediately succeed in the workforce.
The new school features 60 classrooms including shared spaces for the school district and university programs as well as spaces designated for each organization. The facility takes advantage of exterior light with corridors that can double as additional learning areas at some locations. The Missouri Innovation Campus also features medical school-caliber skilled nursing labs and simulation rooms; professional quality digital media technology; high-tech engineering, biomedical and computer science instruction areas; and an international studies area with state-of-the-art distance learning technology. A testing center is located on the second floor and will provide everything from GED to computer software certification testing as well as electronic monitoring of individuals taking the exams.