Journey of a Superintendent: A Victory for Kansas Kids and Public Education!

Dr. Cynthia Lane, Superintendent of the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools

Dr. Cynthia Lane, Superintendent of the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools

Today, the Kansas Supreme Court issued their ruling in the latest school funding lawsuit in Kansas, Gannon vs. State of Kansas. The Court found schools must be financed to ensure every student, regardless of the property wealth of the community in which they live, is receiving an equitable education. The Court did not determine the level of funding, as they have in past cases. Instead, the Court directed our legislative leaders to follow our Constitution. Said another way, the Court directed our leaders to do what is right and just.

Today, every parent, every teacher, every student, every citizen is reminded of the critical importance of public education. Our Supreme Court reminds us that access to quality public schools, funded equitably for all children is not only essential, but also required by the Kansas Constitution. Journalist and TV News Anchor Tom Brokaw sums it up best,

“There is a place in America to take a stand: it is public education. It is the underpinning of our cultural and political system. It is the great common ground. Public education after all is the engine that moves us as a society toward a common destiny. . . It is in public education that the American dream begins to take shape.”

I am encouraged, as well as reassured, that our determination to ensure quality schools for all 460,000 children in our state is at the very heart of who we are as Kansans. Every community in our state depends on strong and vibrant public schools to educate its citizens, and to improve the future of our state. I am hopeful that this reminder will encourage our leaders to work toward solutions. Solutions that are right, just for all citizens, and essential for our prosperity. It truly is Up to Us.

 

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Do the Right Thing, Dagnabbit!

Lane Headshot (small)“We need to start paying attention to the unfunded stuff and stop worry about the funded stuff.” – Dr. Christopher Thornberg, economist

So many tragic events call into question whether we are paying attention to things that matter. Consider the meaning of Thornberg’s words (above) as they pertain to the contaminated water in Flint, Michigan. I must confess, I have not been able to get the Flint crisis out of my mind. Now, I don’t know the reason for the catastrophe, but I am struggling to comprehend that this type of tragedy can happen in America, in the 21st century. However, one thing is clear: The impact on the citizens of Flint, and especially on its children, will be felt for a generation or more. Who was paying attention? How many people who could have acted, turned away because they were somebody else’s children?

And what’s worse, Michigan has a state budget surplus of $575 million dollars! And yet, in order to save money, they were willing to literally poison an entire community . . . to damage an entire generation of Flint residents.

And let’s be honest: Michigan is not alone. I can’t help but think about the generational impact that decisions being made right here in my home state of Kansas are having on our kids. Thank goodness we are not facing the realization that our children have been drinking poisonous water! But we are creating our own generational crisis: In Kansas, we are facing a long-term de-investment in our children’s education. For many, this de-investment will have a life-long impact.

As we spend our time and resources bantering about buzz words like “efficiency,” “money in the classroom,” “consolidation,” and “transparency,” citizens need to understand what is really meant by these catchy phrases. “Efficiency” means spending the least amount of money for schools so we can justify having cut taxes for some wealthy individuals, regardless of how those cuts will impact the whole (community). “Money in the classroom” equals discrediting local board decision-making about how to serve their students, and pretending that students don’t need to get to school, eat while there, access libraries or physical education, or receive any support services. “Consolidation” means setting arbitrary limits on school district size, in order to justify fewer resources to support the needs of schools. “Transparency” equals, well the nicest way to put it is that in Kansas, we get to do whatever the #@!% we want, despite the implications for the next generation!

There are so many issues sitting right in front of us that must be addressed. We could fill a wall with the recent events, any one of which should sound a loud siren of distress. Collectively, we are not paying attention to the things that make for a quality life.

Thornberg reminds us that buzz words won’t jumpstart our economy, or improve communities. It’s people. Plain and simple. It’s not about tax policy, efficiencies, consolidation, or whatever the latest buzz is. It’s people who are seeking quality of life, quality of education, and quality communities with strong infrastructure.

Seems simple enough. Yet, our current system is rapidly moving away from these basic values. Decisions are being made that are sacrificing our collective future. President Lincoln reminds us: “You can’t escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” I pray we begin to listen, and to do the right thing. It’s Up to Us!

 

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We Need Your Constructive Feedback

   “Success is never owned, it’s only rented – and the rent is due every day.”

Community and Staff Survey photo   Rory Vaden, best selling author and consultant, shared this comment in a presentation I heard a few years ago. These words have stayed with me as we strive each day to provide our students with a quality education.

Partnerships and feedback are critical to any organization that desires to be among the best. We have made tremendous progress over the last few years, and now it’s time to ask for constructive feedback.

Please take the time to provide us with feedback by participating in an online survey. http://kckps.org/survey. We want to hear from parents, staff and community members.

The results will be used in our continuous improvement planning and decision-making. We are committed to continuing to “pay our rent” to ensure our forward progress continues. “It’s Up to Us.”

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Personal Sacrifice

Lane Headshot (small)Congressman Emanuel Cleaver shared an experience as a young man that resulted in a powerful lesson for him. The tradition in Rev. Cleaver’s family was that washing dishes following dinner was rotated among his siblings. His number came up on Thanksgiving day. The table was set with his grandmother’s prized china. In an effort to be as efficient as possible, young Emanuel decided to utilize the tablecloth to carry the all dishes into the kitchen. The quicker the dishes arrived in the kitchen, the sooner he would complete his assigned task.

Young Emanuel folded the tablecloth carefully around the china and proceeded on his way. After only a few steps his strategy began to fail as the load became too heavy. You can imagine what occurred next! Emanuel found himself at the bottom of a pile, with grandmother’s prized china crashing to the floor. Grandma ran into the room, thinking first of Emanuel’s safety, then of her prized china. Emanuel expected a thrashing and yelled out “I am so sorry! The dishes were too heavy!” Grandmother, realizing Emanuel was ok, but her china was destroyed replied, “Emanuel, just because the load is heavy, doesn’t mean you can drop it!”

“Just because the load is heavy doesn’t mean you can drop it!” The load of raising our children and ensuring each child receives a quality education can sometimes feel very heavy. Grandmother’s wisdom reminds us that we must find a way to continue on, no matter the weight of our burdens. It is in this spirit that I want to thank the employees of KCKPS, who are sacrificing personal income as a part of the district response to the most recent reductions in funding for our schools.

KCKPS lost $2 million in the move to the Block Grant system of funding public schools in Kansas. This is before factoring in any increased costs for health insurance, utilities, etc. After seven years of reductions (totaling $56 million in KCKPS), we are forced to furlough (days off without pay) employees as many as four days this year, in order to prevent further cuts to our educational programs. In other words, our employees are carrying the burden caused by the state’s failure to adequately fund public schools.

I want to express my appreciation to the employees of KCKPS, who carry a very heavy load, all the while remembering that “just because the load is heavy, doesn’t mean you can drop it!” It’s Up to Us!

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Journey of a Superintendent: “The Sky is the Limit – Seize the Sky”

I make it a habit to remind my students and our great staff at KCKPS: If we want something bad enough, we have to push past our doubts and perceived limitations, and just go get it. Well, I had the chance to walk my talk this week when I was invited to fly with the Blue Angels.

It is a high honor (no pun intended) to be invited to participate in a flight with one of the Blue Angels. I knew I couldn’t say no. But, I did not actually believe I could make myself get into the plane, let alone stay in it as it taxied down the runway! You see, I am inflicted with a severe fear of heights. I avoid roller coasters and most tall structures. As a kid, I could not ride Cindy Blue Angelsin the back seat of an automobile without some very unpleasant reactions. My lifetime inability to conquer these limitations has left me on the sidelines, disappointed to lose out on far too many experiences. Even simple pleasures like enjoying the view of the Great Lakes from one of the magnificent lighthouses on their shores has eluded me over the years.

So how in the world could I accept the invitation to ride with the Blue Angels? I said yes, telling myself, this is no big deal, but I was filled with trepidation. I watched videos of others’ experiences, and those videos just elevated my concerns. The night before, I seriously considered bailing. But I pressed on.

When I walked into Kansas City’s downtown airport, I discovered the Angels had arranged for an alternate for me, just in case. Well, that was the final push. It’s one thing to doubt myself, but when someone else doubts my ability or determination, I get filled with the, “I’ll show you” attitude. I am ever so grateful I did.

I had an amazing experience flying with an extraordinarily talented crew and pilot. I must admit, when we took off at a 45-degree angle and made an immediate sharp left turn around downtown KC, I wanted to scream! I may have for all I know. But when I looked out, the view was absolutely gorgeous! We climbed, turned, and went through a few of the acrobatic moves. We could have done more, but I was hesitant. At the end of the day, I know my flight wasn’t the most aggressive. But the mere fact that I pushed past my fears was so rewarding. As we climbed and turned, I reminded myself of a chant I often do with our students, “I can become anything I chose, focus and effort is what I must do.” I pushed myself to focus on the moment and enjoy every minute of the experience.

Thank you, Blue Angels, for such an amazing experience! I will forever keep this adventure in the forefront of my mind as I face the day-to-day challenges in my job and in life. Thank you for your service to our great country. The professionalism and expertise demonstrated by the Blue Angel crew is a model for us all. The Blue Angels have a motto that I plan to adopt: “The sky is the limit – seize the sky.” And remember, reaching our dreams and conquering our shortcomings, well, “It’s Up to Us!”

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Gutsy

Lane Headshot (small)My grandfather was a large imposing man. At least that is what I was told. By day, he was a fisherman; in the evenings, he was a boxer.   I grew up hearing stories about this quiet man. He was determined that his family would have all the things that are really important. These things weren’t riches or creature comforts; rather, they were the ideals that build strong character. Grandpa Francis did not speak many words, but his actions made clear what he expected. “Primeiro a familia” (family first), “trabalho duro” (hard work), and “servir a Deus e ao próximo” (serve God and your neighbor.)

The influence my Grandpa Francis’s legacy has had on my life may be showing up these days. I certainly embrace the values he taught. Perhaps the fighter is showing up in me as well. I would like to think of my response to the school finance challenges that we face as “just doing my job.” Still, Yael T. Abouhalkah, a columnist for the Kansas City Star, called me “gutsy.”

The gutsy descriptor had me thinking of the lessons I learned from by grandpa; not the quiet soft-spoken side of him, but rather the man who entered the boxing ring every night.

I tell my students that it is critical for all of us to stand up for what we believe. I believe strongly that public education is critical for all citizens to have access to the American dream. I live by straightforward, open, and transparent communication. If that’s gutsy, ok, I’ll accept that characterization.

Standing up for what you believe isn’t always easy. Education is so vitally important to every citizen, to our economy, and to thriving communities, that it’s worth stepping into the “ring,” even when you’d much rather be napping on a beach somewhere. I am proud to follow my grandpa’s example. I have but one prayer: “Lord, please don’t let me end up with those cauliflower-shaped ears!” Remember, “It’s Up to Us!”

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Teacher Appreciation Week

Lane Headshot (small)Years from now, our students may forget what we have said, but they will not forget the way we make them feel. Our students carry forward the impressions left by educators with them for a lifetime. Educators in Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools (KCKPS) truly inspire our students to reach toward their promising futures. I see it each and every day. If you could walk with me to witness first hand the impact, you would not only see, but also you would feel the commitment, dedication, and deep care and concern of the KCKPS team. Our educators push their students to work hard, develop strong literacy and academic skills, and form a deep sense of who they are and who they might become. Educators in KCKPS truly embrace the “It’s Up to Us” attitude.

Earlier this school year, a few of our extraordinarily talented staff accepted the challenge to compose and arrange a song that would capture the spirit of KCKPS. I want to share this song with you during Teacher Appreciation Week. The song speaks to our hopes and dreams for every child we see. Every child comes to us full of promise. Together, we provide our students the tools to help each and every child succeed. This song captures the essence of who we are and the meaning behind our mission to “Inspire Excellence: Every Grownup, Every Child, Every Day.” You can listen to it and watch the music video here.

I imagine this song will move you, as it does me every time I hear it. If you are interested in obtaining your own copy, you may do so at CDbaby. Funds raised through the sale of this CD go toward supporting our Diploma+ program. To learn more about Diploma+, click here.

As we celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week, I encourage you to join with me and thank an educator for the impact he or she has had on your life. Education is the gateway to the American dream. The educators in KCKPS, are above all else, committed to excellence, and understand the “It’s Up to Us” attitude it takes to make a difference in the world.

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Journey of a Superintendent: The Rest of the Story

Dr. Cynthia Lane, Superintendent of the KCK Public Schools

Dr. Cynthia Lane,
Superintendent of
the KCK Public Schools

Some will recall the famous talk radio personality Paul Harvey. Mr. Harvey was known to be a conservative, but nonetheless, through his reporting, he reached people from all perspectives. He had the uncanny ability to tell stories that narrated history and questioned our present circumstances, to which all generations could seemingly relate.

I wonder how he would tell the story of what is important to Kansans? If one simply follows the news releases, or Twitter feeds, it would be easy to conclude that lower corporate income tax, relaxed gun control, and smaller government are priorities. Somewhere down the list, education would be mentioned, but not as an economic driver. Education was once touted (and for many of us still is) the reason to live, work and raise a family in Kansas. Today, the political sound bites admonish education for consuming too much of the state’s budget and reportedly not producing college and career ready citizens.

I would imagine that Mr. Harvey might tell us “the rest of the story.” Education in Kansas is ranked fifth in the country, while spending is 34th. What is worse, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, since 2008, Kansas has reduced spending on public education by an inflation-adjusted $950, more than all other states except Alabama and Wisconsin. Mr. Harvey might remind us that education is the number one economic driver for any thriving community or state. He likely would be quick to point out that the public education system is a reflection of the health and well being of the economy of our communities and state.

What does the recent decision to fund schools using a block grant system say about the health of Kansas? The block grant is not a grant at all; rather, it is a cut to essential revenue we count on to fund schools across the state. The block grant left us dealing with a $500,000 reduction in the current fiscal year. The block grant means we won’t receive additional funds for the increase in enrollment we experienced this year, nor for any increases in the next two years. KCKPS has grown between 200 and 800 students a year for the last five years. This year alone, we grew by 400 students. That is close to $3 million that we did not receive for students we are currently serving. To put it simply, the block grant ignores the growth in student population, and eliminates any provision to provide additional funding to support the special learning needs of at-risk, bilingual, or career and technical education programs.

Listening to the rhetoric, one would believe schools across Kansas are receiving increased funding. The truth is that any increases have gone not into classrooms, but rather into the public employees’ retirement system, and into statutorily required property tax relief for taxpayers. It’s certainly critical to fund the pension funds, and residents of Wyandotte County deserve property tax relief, but let’s not call these funds an increase to public education. Mr. Harvey might say . . . “and now you know – the rest of the story. Good day.”

It’s Up to Us!

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Journey of a Superintendent: Is the Value We Place on Education Changing?

Dr. Cynthia Lane, Superintendent of the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools

Dr. Cynthia Lane, Superintendent of the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools

I recently began reading Paul Taylor’s The Next Generation. The premise of the book is how swiftly our country is changing. In his book, he wrote, “ . . . the America of the near future will look nothing like the America of the recent past.” As I began reading The Next America, I was transported back to my childhood. I was born during the age of “Sputnik.” You will recall, or surely have read that in 1957, the Soviet Union launched the satellite Sputnik, and the space race was on. The Soviets’ triumph jarred the American people and sparked a vigorous response to make sure the United States did not fall behind its Communist rival. Leading our response was President John F. Kennedy, who began a dramatic expansion of the U.S. space program, and committed the nation to the ambitious goal of landing a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Instrumental to the success of achieving our goal was our educational system, the foundation of which is public education.

Education has been behind most of our great accomplishments as a nation. Looking back through history, our leaders have reminded us of the importance of nurturing and protecting our educational system. Adlai Stevenson said, “The free common school system is the most American thing about America.” John F. Kennedy lamented that “our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education.”

Right now in my state of Kansas, as you listen to all the debates about the efficiency and effectiveness of public education, the language we hear seems to be sending a very different message about the degree to which we value public education. Unfortunately, here in Kansas, instead of feeling celebrated, our teachers have felt under attack:

  • In Kansas, “what” our teachers are teaching is in question.
  • In Kansas, our funding has been declared “out of control,” even though the levels we receive are equal to what we spent on education in 2001.
  • In Kansas, our standards of college and career readiness have been described as “big government take-over.”
  • In Kansas, we seek to make the elections of our boards of education partisan, or party-driven, and not elections based on the interests of the entire community.

The reality that education is critical both to the development of citizens and the strength of our economy, seems to be lost behind the cloud of political rhetoric. Perhaps our country is changing in ways that go beyond our changing demographics. Perhaps what is really changing is the degree to which we value our education system. If that’s so, how will we respond to whatever the “Sputnik” is for our children’s generation? I hope it’s not with “duck and cover,” which some of you will remember was a pretty widespread response for my generation. The answer is, and must always be, “It’s Up to Us” to decide.

 

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Journey of a Superintendent: The Piano

“Once to every man [woman] and nation, comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side . . .”

 From the Hymn, “Once to Every Man and Nation,” words by James R. Lowell

 

Dr. Cynthia Lane, Superintendent of the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools

Dr. Cynthia Lane, Superintendent of the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools

Recently, the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools (KCKPS) has been under attack for replacing a 50-year-old piano, one that was used every day in instruction. Our critics contend that we are wasting taxpayer money. In fact, some have gone so far as to say that our purchase of a grand piano is justification for cutting funding to public schools, and is a reason to change how schools are funded in Kansas. No, I am not kidding! Our piano purchase is under attack. Someone watching all of this grandstanding from afar, might interpret this to mean, stop buying pianos for schools and the state revenue shortfall will be solved!

Here is the truth – about the piano, about the tax cuts, about the future of Kansas: The 50-year-old piano we replaced served tens of thousands of students with valor. There comes a point when an instrument, used by high school students over five decades, can no longer be patched and repaired. So the Board of Education replaced it with a new instrument, considered by the experts to be a good piano, but far short of the Cadillac it has been compared with. The real truth is that our state leaders appear to put the “March to Zero” tax reduction plan (which benefited mostly the wealthy, along with business owners) in front of funding for schools, or any other service that is part of state government’s responsibility. It’s not about a piano, or any other expenditure that supports education of our future workforce. It’s about the future of Kansas.

Every generation has a pivotal moment, when we have to figure out where we stand and what we value. For us, here in Kansas, we are at one of those pivotal moments. All of us are going to have to decide: Are we going to continue to sit on the sidelines, and let decades of commitment to excellence in education for all students be destroyed? It seems to me we need to ask ourselves if we are going to allow the blame for the budget problems to be placed on school districts, districts that are working in a fiscally-challenging environment to ensure students receive high quality education? Or are we going to have the courage to stand up and acknowledge that the problem is our tax policy? Are we going to allow our system of public schools to devolve into one where a few are able to get what they need, and everyone else is left with the scraps?

It has been reassuring that in the midst of all this rhetoric, one of our students wrote, and other students signed, a letter to the Governor, asking him to put actions in place that support education for all students in Kansas. We also received a wonderful letter and a small donation from a teacher in Wichita in support of our decision to value arts and music education. I have received dozens and dozens of emails, texts, and tweets in support of public schools. These actions give me hope that education continues to be a high priority for Kansans.

As leaders, we must recognize that good intentions do not always turn out as we hope they might. It reminds me that when I was growing up, I was taught that when you make a mistake, you own that mistake, and you work hard to make things right. Now is our moment to decide, and to urge our legislators to fix the mistakes they have made, and the problems they have created. “It’s Up to Us.”

 

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