Are we closer to solving the Kansas School Funding Crisis?

Funding for public schools in Kansas has been the subject of litigation for more than three decades.  The issues are both simple and complex.  Citizens in Kansas recognized the critical importance of education to achieving a quality life, and in 1962 voted to add the provision of “suitable finance” for public schools to our state’s constitution.  Suitable finance has been defined by the courts as “equitable” for all students regardless of where they live in the state, and “adequate” in amount to meet the standards (noted in state law).

The issue really is that all kids deserve access to a quality education, no matter their circumstances or wealth of the communities they live.  I recently watched this video and thought FINALLY a resource that explains the issues in a clear and matter-of-fact way.  I want to share the link to see what you think.  The video is produced by @loud_light, an affiliate of the Mainstream Coalition.  Let me know what you think.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L12qeoIGM_Q

We are back at the Supreme Court for a hearing on the most recent school finance lawsuit on May 22, 2018.  Let’s get this issue to the finish line for the benefit of all students in Kansas! “It’s Up to Us!”

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“To everything, there is a season…”

In recent months, the words To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…” have brought me both comfort and a sense of sadness as I face a time in my life of transition.

This school year marks my thirty-sixth year as an educator, thirty of which I have served here in the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools. During my time in KCKPS, I have worked alongside a committed board of education, outstanding teachers, dedicated administrators, and passionate support staff. I am inspired by the work we are doing in the district. I am proud of our commitment to engage in bold initiatives to help our students succeed. It has been an honor to be part of a learning community that has fully embraced these values, and believes in continuous improvement and growth for students and staff.

The last several months, I have been in a period of deep reflection. I have reflected over the decisions that have led to positive change and strong collaborations, as well as the many struggles and challenges we have faced. The words of scripture, “for everything there is a season…” serve as a poignant reminder to me that for each of us, there is a time to learn, to grow, to take risks, to lead, and a time to let go. I know now that I am in the winter of my time serving as superintendent in KCKPS. Now is the time to create space and opportunities for our next generation of leaders. I do so with confidence that new leadership, working closely with our board, will move Diploma+, and all the work we have done to help our students reach their dreams, to the next level of success.

It is with overwhelming gratitude to the board, my colleagues, my students, and this community that I have announced my retirement, effective June 30, 2018. Whatever may occur on the road ahead, I will continue to be a strong advocate and supporter of KCKPS. Together, our team has moved the school district from a good urban district, to a district held up as one of the most innovative and student-focused districts in our state. It certainly hasn’t been easy, but it has been right. Diploma+ will carry our students forward with vital skills and credentials they need to step into the next phase of their lives.

Over the next several months, we have much work to do. Our students are counting on us to continue to stay focused on our goal of graduating each student Diploma+. As we continue to focus on the present, while planning for the future, I encourage staff, students, families and community to continue to believe in yourselves, and to support each other. At the end of the day, remember: We are KCK, and we are better together.

It’s Up to Us.

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Gratitude

Just before winter break, the Clay Blair Family Foundation came together with our health and wellness partners – CBIZ, Benefits Direct, Garmin, and Guardian – to provide every Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools (KCKPS) employee with a Garmin® Vivofit® 3, an activity tracker that staff can use to set fitness goals, track progress, and motivate themselves towards better health.

“Why?” you might ask?  Gratitude. These amazing organizations wanted to ensure our employees know that the work they do each day to help our students reach their dreams is noticed and appreciated. This gift of a fitness device is also a reminder that, just as our employees care for our children, they also need to care for themselves.

I had the privilege of seeing the faces of many of our 3,700 employees as they received their gift.  Some asked “What’s the catch?”  It was joyous to be able to respond, “The only catch is that you promise to care for yourself!”

I am so grateful to our partners, whose actions celebrate our employees. It’s wonderful to begin a new year knowing that the sacrifices made by the employees of the school district are recognized and appreciated. It’s also a powerful reminder that “it’s up to us” to allow our gratitude for what others do for us to energize us for the challenging work that lies ahead in the new year!

Thank you KCKPS employees for all you do for our children and community.  Take care of yourselves along the way.  You give us all hope for a bright future!  Happy New Year!  It’s Up to Us.

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“This Is Not Right…”

“This Is Not Right…”

It was, at once, an expression of grief, a plea for help, a cry of desperation, from a young woman who had no other words to express the pain and anguish she was feeling. Her friend was gone, and nobody in that room could argue with her; not his teammates, not his coach, not his friends, and certainly not me.

How does a mother prepare to bury her son, who had gone to work at a laundromat at night to help support his family? Where does a wrestling team stuff the grief that comes when they realize why their beloved teammate didn’t show up for practice on Saturday morning? What does a school do, when staff have come to know the district Crisis Team members by name?

“This Is Not Right…”

December Htoo is the fourth young man lost to gun violence this school year who attended the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools, the second one from Harmon High School. His friends, his teachers and coaches, his teammates, his classmates are all heartbroken. December had been with us since he was six years old. His family is Burmese, and came to us from a refugee camp. He was doing everything we could hope a young person would do. He was a leader in the school, involved in choir and wrestling, concerned about his grades and studies. December is described by all as a compassionate and caring person, who loved to laugh, and was concerned for his family, friends, and acquaintances at school.

And still, despite his doing everything we could ask a young man to do, we who are left have to find the courage to bury yet another young man, gone too soon. And let me be clear: This is not just about December alone; it is about LeAndrew Vaughn, and Brandon Browne, and Adarius Barber, names that I have held close to my heart all semester. All of these young men, cut down, just as they were coming into the prime of their lives.

“This Is Not Right…”

In fact, there is something terribly wrong. No community should have to feel this pain. No community should have to bury so many promising young men and women. And no group of young people, at Harmon and across the city, should have to suffer in the silence that seems to envelop this community, whenever another young life is lost. This is not right, and it is not the kids, it is us. And until we change, until we speak up, and speak out, until we stand up in defense of our kids, they and the adults who love them will carry the massive weight of this carnage on their shoulders, alone. And it will crush them.

My phone should be ringing off the hook, with voices offering ideas and support. I am waiting…This is not right, and It Is Up to Us!

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Board of Education Election Results

On November 7, 2017, voters in Kansas City, Kansas elected four new members to the Kansas City, Kansas Board of Education, and reelected one current member. The new members are:

  • Harold Brown – Businessman and foster parent
  • Maxine Drew – Former teacher in KCKPS (35 years)
  • Wanda Brownlee Paige – Former teacher in KCKPS (30 years)
  • Dr. Stacy Yeager – Business owner and parent of KCKPS students

In addition, Janey Humphries, a community volunteer and current Board member, was elected to a new term. Ms. Humphries and Mr. Brown were elected to finish two-year terms. Ms. Drew, Ms. Paige and Dr. Yeager were elected to four-year terms.

I would like to express my congratulations to each of the new members of the Board. The district looks forward to working with them to continue the work of Diploma+, as we advance our goal of graduating each student prepared for college and careers in a global society. We look forward to their new perspectives and insight.

In addition, I would like to congratulate Janey Humphries on her reelection, and express my deep appreciation to Rev. Rick Behrens and Irene Caudillo for their service. Rick and Irene, you have given generously of your time and wisdom, and been a powerful voice for all students, including those in the community with the least voice. We look forward to carrying your work forward, and I know that you will continue to be involved in our schools, and in advancing our community.

The terms for the five members elected yesterday will begin in January, 2018, and we look forward to their service.

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The Clock Is Running

The most recent Supreme Court ruling on school finance affirmed, once again, that the system to fund public education in Kansas remains unconstitutional. I have been intimately involved in advocating for equitable and adequate school funding for years, and I have read many of the previous Supreme Court decisions. This ruling stands apart from those prior rulings in that it expresses clear impatience with the fact that we continue to have a school funding system that is unconstitutional. The Court wrote:

“…[T]he education financing system has been judicially declared to be inadequately funded for at least 12 of the last 15 years…the demands of the Constitution cannot be further postponed…[W]e [the Supreme Court] will not allow ourselves to be placed in the position of complicit actors in the continuing deprivation of a constitutionally adequate and equitable education owed to hundreds of thousands of Kansas school children.”

Could they possibly have made it clearer that the clock is running down?

Since the ruling, I have been thinking about the hard work that remains in front of us as a state. Our legislators worked tireless this past Spring to reverse many of the tax cuts put in place in 2012. After the Supreme Court ruling, I heard reactions from a few legislators who stated that another tax increase would not even be considered. After the hard work the Legislature did last Spring, I guess I understand.

But still, the clock is ticking…

I wonder what would happen if we worked together to re-frame the conversation? Fully restoring the tax rates in place before 2012 is just that – restoring tax rates – and not raising taxes. Focusing on key services, such as education and health care, as investments to drive our economy might help us to look at our challenges through a new lens.

I remain hopeful that we will heed the words of our Justices, and not be complicit actors in the continuing deprivation of a constitutionally adequate and equitable education for our children.. It’s up to us to work together to end the cycle of litigation, and ensure schools have adequate and equitable resources to educate our future workforce. A clear deadline of April 30, 2017 has been laid out, and we will be challenged to meet it. Still, I remain confident that, working together, we will be successful. The education of our students is too important to the health and well-being of our state. It’s Up to Us!

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Success Is Only Rented, and the Rent Is Past Due!

Today the Supreme Court of Kansas issued its ruling in the school funding case known as Gannon v. State of Kansas. This latest ruling, known as Gannon V, is one in a long line of court cases that have embroiled our state for the past fifteen years. The ruling today reminds Kansans, and in particular our elected officials, that the Legislature has the power and duty to create a school funding system that complies with our Constitution. Reading the ruling, I was reminded of the words of Rory Vaden, who said “Success is never owned, only rented – and the rent is due every day.”

The rent is actually past due when it comes to funding schools in Kansas. As the Court said in its ruling today: “Suffice it to say that in our view the Kansas K-12 public education system has been inadequately funded for far too long.”  Not mincing words, the ruling further stated “…[W]hile we stay the issuance of today’s mandate through June 30, 2018, after that date we will not allow ourselves to be placed in the position of being complicit actors in the continuing deprivation of a constitutionally adequate and equitable education owed to hundreds of thousands of Kansas school children.”

The courts have clearly articulated the timeline, and provided the Legislature with guidance on what must be done. Public schools in Kansas made many positive gains during the 2017 legislative session. The willingness of our elected officials to work together for the betterment of our schools, and the economy of Kansas, leaves me confident we can meet the Court’s deadline. The tireless efforts of advocates, families, and leaders from across the state affirm that we can be successful, working together. The rent for providing our children an equitable and adequate education, no matter where they live in Kansas, is past due. It’s Up to Us!

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Change and Progress

The change of seasons always has me thinking about change. Isn’t it interesting how time seemed to move slowly when we were kids, and as we get a few miles behind us, nearly everything seems to be changing rapidly? I am old enough to remember using a pay phone, watching black and white television, and handing the clerk actual money to make a purchase, not just a plastic card. I admit I can recall when FM radio was the new thing, and remember spending hours in school learning to write in cursive! Can I get a witness? Much has changed, and I dare say much of the change is for the better.  Tony Robbins reminds us that “Change is INEVITABLE. Progress is OPTIONAL.”

Progress is not optional for the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools, or for our students. Progress requires innovation, and that’s exactly what KCKPS is all about. How so, you might ask? Let me share just a few examples. It’s been 10 years since we began our 1-1 Laptops for Learning program in our high schools. KCKPS stakeholders recognized a decade ago that technology was and is a driver of innovation in our world. Today, beginning in kindergarten, our students utilize technology resources every day to apply what they are learning in real world situations. Learning to write no longer means practicing the formation of letters; rather, writing is about communicating, producing, researching, and more.

Progress means our curriculum and school experiences have been redesigned to ensure each student is prepared for college and careers in a global society. Prepared means our students graduate with their high school diploma, plus one or more endorsements (www.kckps.org/diplomaplus), validating that our students have the skills they need for future success.

Progress means our high schools are transforming into Academies, aligning the way our students learn with what is required in industries, and student’s future career aspirations. Our classrooms are “noisy” with conversations about the learning. Questioning and exploring is commonplace. Talking between and among peers is encouraged. Students work together to produce research, and work on projects that demonstrate shared learning of the concepts. Teachers design projects, informed by business needs, to give our students real-world and relevant experiences. Our students are not asked to find the “right” answer, but to generate multiple solutions to a problem, test their hypotheses, and write and speak about their learning. Field trips are now career exploration excursions. Lessons and assignments actively teach collaboration, teamwork, technical reading and writing, leadership, flexibility, innovation, solution orientation, and problem-solving skills.

Classroom environments are rapidly changing as well. “Flexible” seating permeates our learning environments. Comfortable seating, stand-up desks, desks with no legs, bouncy balls, and “wiggle” chairs (that look like mushrooms) are emerging at all levels. Tables are arranged for collaboration, students work together in teams, and they share their work through technology platforms (like Google Docs).

Today, schools in KCKPS are profoundly different than they were a generation ago. They are no longer simply about preparing students for more school. Rather, Diploma+ is about preparing our students both for post-secondary education, and for the high-demand careers and jobs that will be the foundation of our future prosperity. I am proud of our KCKPS team, and the many partners who support Diploma+.  Innovation is what we do. Producing leaders for today and tomorrow is what we are all about. It’s Up to Us!

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Dreamers, We Stand With You!

I don’t know any other way to say this: When I heard that the administration planned to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allowed almost a million young people who came to the United States without legal documentation to come out of the shadows and reach for the American Dream, my heart broke. That in 2017 we are still acting in ways that target specific ethnic groups is almost more than I can bear.

You have to understand: In my community, Kanas City, Kansas, we are a tapestry of cultures. Before white men and women entered the territory, there were a mixture of native American tribes: Delaware, Shawnee, Wyandot. And as the city grew, we established a patchwork of neighborhoods: Argentine, Armourdale, Armstrong, Fairfax, Quindaro, and Riverview. We have always been a mosaic of different races: Black, white, Hispanic, native American, north African, southeast Asian, eastern European.

In the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools, diversity is who we are; it is our strength! It is through our diversity that we are raising truly incredible children. Children and youth who are contributing each day to the betterment of their families, our community and our nation. Let’s be frank: Whether they were born here or brought here, our kids and their families are looking for many of the same things that each of us is pursuing. A quality life, filled with more moments of joy than sadness; a life filled with more opportunities than obstacles; and a life filled with more hope than despair. We are all “dreamers!”

I feel deep sadness, and frankly disgust, at the decision by the Administration to end the DACA program. Has my country changed so much that we are no longer standing behind our nation’s creed of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all men (and women)? Are we really willing to discard 800,000 youth, who believed in our promise that America would do what is right by them? Our country invited these children to come out of the shadows, to register, stay in school, maintain a job and contribute to the economy. In exchange, we would issue work permits and afford these individuals the opportunity to openly pursue the American Dream. America used to be a country that stood on the principle that our words meant something. “Dream, young people,” said our nation. Well, that dream is about to become a nightmare for nearly a million young people.

What makes this so difficult to understand is that the action to end DACA targets our most vulnerable youth, while failing to acknowledge that our history is filled with examples of individuals who came to this country outside of an official immigration process. Remember all those who came, shackled in chains, on slave ships? And nobody talks about the 1929 Registry Act, which allowed “honest law-abiding alien[s] who may be in the country under some merely technical irregularity” to register as permanent residents and pay a $20 fee, if they could prove they had lived in the country since 1921 and were of “good moral character.” Of course, the vast majority of those who took advantage of that act came from Europe.

What I want my students and families to know is this: We value our diversity. It does not matter to us in KCKPS if you were born here or brought here. You matter to us. We will do everything in our power to ensure you are safe, and that you receive a quality education. We will advocate for you and with you. I pray Congress moves quickly to do what is right for these youth, and for our country. We are facing yet another defining moment in our history. This moment will either advance our standing as a nation of compassion and reason, or… well you get the point. “It’s Up to Us!”

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Tapestry of Cultures

We opened the doors to a new school year on August 11. As I visited schools to greet our students, I was once again reminded of the rich diversity that is our community. The faces of our students represent the faces and cultures of the world.

Sadly, the tragic events which unfolded in Charlottesville, VA this past weekend serve as a grim reminder that far too many people in our country are threatened by the very diversity that is the fabric of our community and our schools.

I was horrified as I watched and listened to the news reports that showed the disgusting displays of racism, of men chanting hateful slogans, illuminated by torches. Has it been that long? Have we forgotten about the terror that those symbols inspired? Have we lost our empathy for those who were the targets of that hatred? Have we not yet figured out that “they” are “us”?

I kept thinking back to remarks made just a few months ago by New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu as confederate monuments in his city were being taken down. In his speech, Mayor Landrieu asked: Who among us can tell an African American child that she has promise, and a positive future in our country, when every day she has to walk past a monument that stands for slavery and white privilege? “Can you do it?” he asked. Well, can you?

Landrieu’s remarks were still on my mind when I heard a reporter interview a father, who shared that his 6-year-old son asked him if what was on the screen was a documentary from another generation. We should all be sickened by the fact that the answer to his question is “No!”

No, we can’t justify why any symbol, monument, or outward display of racism is considered acceptable in our country in 2017. This is the United States of America, a country founded on the principle that all men (and women) are created equal. No, we have not yet fully realized the promise of this founding principle, but we can’t allow ANYONE, or ANYTHING, to move us backward from the progress we have made.

As Americans, we hold dear the right to speak our truth. God save us if our new truth is bigotry and hatred based on race, culture, gender, religion, sexual orientation, immigration status…you get my point. We teach our students here in KCKPS that hard work and effort will get them to their dreams, to the American dream. We teach our students to salute a flag and recite a pledge that this is “one nation, under God, indivisible…” If these actions and our words mean anything, it is that it is time to stand united against bigotry and hate.

I saved a photo of a man holding a sign that states “If you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything.” I will stand with my students, my community, and my schools, which are the tapestry of the world. We stand for diversity, in all forms. We embrace divergent thinking. I encourage our teachers to engage in authentic learning on the issues related to tolerance, race, and culture. Education will be the only thing that ensures our nation lives up to the principles on which it was founded. “It’s Up to Us!”

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