New arts-oriented private middle school opening in downtown Overland Park next year

Dr. Stephen Aspleaf, executive director and principal of the the Metropolitan School of the Arts.
Dr. Stephen Aspleaf, executive director and principal of the the Metropolitan School of the Arts.

A new, private middle school oriented toward providing an intimate, nurturing environment for budding artists, dancers and actors is expected to open next summer in downtown Overland Park.

The Metropolitan School of the Arts plans to enroll 80 sixth, seventh and eighth graders its first year in the lower level of a building at 8001 Conser St. Ultimately, its expected to grow to 600 students, offering an arts education through 12th grade.

“I wanted to do something fun and exciting, and that’s my personal motivation for getting this school set up and running,” said founder Stephen Aspleaf. “There’s a need for small schools and arts-based education.

“Families I talk to say their kids don’t feel connected in a regular school situation. An arts-based school draws emerging artists who want a safe, nurturing environment to develop their art whether its visual, dance or theater.”

The initial program will be housed in about 10,000 square-feet in space formerly occupied by the InterUrban ArtHouse. InterUrban is relocating in a larger building nearby, and students at the School of the Arts will study there as well.

In fact, many of the faculty and advisors at the new middle school will be professionals in their creative fields. Aspleaf said instructors will come from such cultural institutions as the Kansas School of Classical Ballet, Theater in the Park and the Starlight Theater.

“The whole premise is to honor rigorous studio practice alongside strong academics, connecting young creatives with working artists in practicing studios,” Aspleaf said. “The school combines the long tradition of apprenticeships with modern scholastics.”

In the morning, the students will take regular academic classes and the afternoons will be dedicated to their arts curriculum. Aspleaf said all the teachers will have a passion for the arts and the two programs will reinforce each other.

Aspleaf has an extensive background in arts education. For 20 years, he was an administrator at the Kansas City Public Schools where he was principal at the Middle School of the Arts (Paseo) and later at Lincoln Prep High School.

In early 2015, he pursued the idea of a private high school for the arts for space formerly occupied by Congregation Ohev Sholom at 75th and Nall in Prairie Village. That proposal was shelved after backers decided it hadn’t been fully developed.

“We stepped back and decided to focus on the middle level,” Aspleaf said.

Enrollment already is underway for the new middle school and interested parents and students may find information at the school website. There also will be a parent information session Nov. 28 from 7-8 p.m. at the new school space at 8001 Conser St.