Kansas City Man on a Mission to Create a Recovery High School

Kansas City businessman Louis D. Steele is the sort of person who sees a problem and immediately starts looking for a solution. He contacted ORN with a request for assistance in establishing a recovery high school in Kansas City. Recovery high schools are public schools where students can earn a high school diploma and are supported in their recovery from alcohol and drug use. The high school is simply one component of the Be Free initiative, founded by Mr. Steele and others, to create a recovery system for Kansas City.

Kansas City is a complex area involving two states—Missouri and Kansas—and multiple counties, said TTS Deborah Richardson, who is assisting Mr. Steele with this request. It is also an area that has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic, though an increase in the use of naloxone appears to have decreased the number of fatal overdoses. Kristen Kelly Harper, M.Ed., a national advocate for recovery high schools, was brought in as a national consultant and is assisting in the process. “Mr. Steele has a great passion for this,” Ms. Richardson said. “He will get this done one way or another.” One challenge, Ms. Richardson says, was limiting immediate expectations and creating a realistic timeline for the project. Mr. Steele’s passion comes from personal experience. His daughter, now in recovery and doing well (she is clinical director of a treatment facility), struggled with addiction when she was in college. “The trajectory for this disease is far outstretching our resources,” Mr. Steele said.

The Recovery High School would be part of a Kansas City metro-wide initiative to help those in recovery stay in recovery. The logistics of creating a high school that would draw students from two different states—with two different statutes for paying for student tuition—is challenging, Mr. Steele admits. “It’s a gigantic challenge” and one the Be Free organization is working to resolve by working with state legislatures. While Mr. Steele would like to break ground on the high school as soon as possible, he recognizes the steps outlined by STR-TA consultants must be instituted to realize his vision. One day, Kansas City will have a wide range of recovery support, including the high school and college support, housing, career and family counseling—all the components needed to make recovery successful.

The first step to seeing Mr. Steele’s vision become a reality was to create a needs assessment for the high school. ORN helped Mr. Steele find someone locally to conduct the assessment, which they expect to be completed by mid-December. “Working with the grant allowed us to advance our efforts. It’s a resource we wouldn’t have had otherwise,” Mr. Steele says.