Journey of a Superintendent: American Education Week

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“In the United States, every young person deserves access to a world-class education. In classrooms, lecture halls, and laboratories across America, high-quality education helps unlock the limitless potential of our Nation’s students and creates pathways for their success. It prepares them for the jobs of tomorrow and the responsibilities of citizenship. A strong school system bolsters our economy and strengthens our democracy, and it is at the core of the American belief that with hard work, anyone can get ahead. During American Education Week, we celebrate the devoted educators who instruct and inspire students of all ages, and we continue our work to provide every person with the best education possible.”

-        President Barack Obama

November 14, 2014

Well stated, Mr. President!  This proclamation is a clear reminder of just how essential education is to the well-being of each and every citizen.  His message resonates with me, and with my school district.  We are determined provide each and every student access to a world-class education. The most essential ingredients for a world class education are the educators and support staff who work tirelessly each and every day to instruct and inspire our students to reach their dreams.

Join me in celebration of our educators during American Education Week, November 16 – 22, and each and every day of the year.  I invite you to hear directly from staff about why they have are part of KCKPS.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PdCh96-VmL8

It’s Up to Us!

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Journey of a Superintendent: The Real Thing

car for blogI grew up surrounded by brothers who always had loud cars and were NASCAR fans. I am sure their influence is why I love the sound of big engines. My first car didn’t have a big engine, but it had a glass-pack that made it hum. Well, to tell you the truth, my big brother bought my first car. It was a Falcon.

I was so excited that I could not wait until he got home from his part-time job to install a new battery. Instead, I found a way to drag the battery from the garage, and with all the determination I could muster, I installed the battery myself. I learned all about polarity and positive and negative circuits that day. Unfortunately, my learning came at the expense of the electrical system in my Falcon! So I went from a car that had old-school style and a V-6 engine, to a 1974 Vega, a far cry from the muscle car of my dreams. The glass-pack at least provided me a constant reminder that I would have to learn more, and work harder so I could one day drive the real thing.

I imagine each of us has a “real thing” that drives us each and every day. I would like to think I have moved past dreaming of fast cars and getting excited when I hear the roar of an engine, but that would not be 100% true. However, most of my energy is now consumed by my obsession to support our students to create pathways to their dreams.

We can learn a lot from those who drive fast, loud racecars for a living. Success in anything takes preparation and extreme focus. NASCAR drivers like Jennifer Jo Cobb have shared with me that holding your line and never losing sight of your goal is essential to success. When things get challenging, and they will, we must hold our line, never losing sight of our goal (dreams).

Right now in Kansas, there is a lot of talk about school finance. The loudest voices have revved their engines to roar with the message that public schools lack efficiency and are not producing a capable workforce. They remind me of my Vega with a glass-pack that was pretending to be something it wasn’t. These engines twist and turn the facts to distort what is really happening in our schools. Seems to me that before we can decide if schools are efficient with their resources, we might want to be clear about what we are trying to achieve. I wonder if we are all in agreement with what we are trying to accomplish with our education system in 2014 and beyond.  What does it mean to be an educated citizen in Kansas? I suspect we would all agree that an educated citizen today is a whole lot different than when my 1962 Falcon was state of the art.

What outcomes must we achieve in order to prepare our students for their futures? Let’s agree to take off the glass-pack, remove personal and political agendas, and have meaningful conversations about what schools must accomplish to prepare our kids, and improve our economy. Our obligation is to make sure the future taxpayers that are now in our classrooms, are fully prepared to achieve their “real thing.” It’s Up to Us. Are we willing to have the real conversations or will we continue to install glass-packs and pretend we support public schools?

 

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Journey of a Superintendent: Banana Seat

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

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

Growing up in the 19__s in Parsons, Kansas, every kid dreamed of having their own bicycle.  My favorite bicycle was a Schwinn Stingray Fast Back.  It was purple, and had a long seat that we referred to as a “banana seat.”  That elongated seat glistened and sparkled in the sunlight. The seat was long enough for two riders, or to hold me as I stood up on the seat cruising down a hillside, shouting “Look, no hands!”

I remember being so excited when I was surprised with my very own bicycle.  It was shining and new, with black sidewall tires.  I thought this bike the coolest thing I had ever seen.  I also recall that it came equipped with training wheels.  I wasn’t crazy about those training wheels – those where for babies!  But, at that moment in time, I wasn’t prepared to balance my way to my destination. It wasn’t long before I discovered how to remove those extra wheels, and wiggled and wobbled my way down the street.  Removing those training wheels represented freedom and sense of pure trust and confidence in my own skills.  I was anxious to set off to discover new things, and find my own way.  That bicycle represented my independence, my ability to direct my own course, and I trusted that I was prepared to handle any obstacle or challenge I would face.

I found myself thinking of that old Stingray as I was thinking about the students who are about to graduate from our school district. I am confident that our graduates have the skills necessary to be successful in the next phase of their journey. We have nurtured, encouraged, and pushed our students to achieve.  They have developed strong literacy skills, mastered complex content, and have learned the importance of working in teams.  Many of our students will go directly to college; others will complete their technical credential, while some will start their own businesses.  Our students are ready.  We have prepared them well.  Yet, as any parent can tell you, it’s worrisome when the training wheels come off.  We must trust.  Trust that we have guided and prepared our students.

What I wish for our graduates, as well as all who will follow, is the joy I felt when standing on that banana seat coasting full speed down the hill with no hands.  People watching called me foolish.  It was, but I trusted my skills and knowledge to avoid the pot holes and curves in the road.  I can still remember the pure joy I felt during those moments.  Following your dreams can be risky, but there is no better feeling than pursuing what you love.  Graduates: Prepare, put forth the effort, trust your skills, and focus on the road ahead. Stand up on your own “banana seat” and go for it! It’s Up to Us!

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Journey of a Superintendent: Celebrating Our Teachers

“We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.

- Cynthia Ozick

We celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week the first full week of May, but teachers, and those who dedicate their lives to education, deserve our thanks, praise, and recognition every day of the year.

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

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

Still, it is fitting that we recognize our teachers during early May. This time of year, schools celebrate the accomplishments of the year, prepare students to be on-track for the next level, and send graduates off to college and/or to begin their careers. Teacher Appreciation Week reminds us not to take for granted the very individuals who empower us to learn, to grow, and to stretch our limits so that we can accomplish more than we ever thought possible.

In the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools, we are fortunate to have extraordinary teachers who work tirelessly each and every day to ensure our kids have the best education possible, providing them the tools they need for a successful future. Our teachers take on any learning need. If a young child needs to learn things as basic as putting on their clothes, blowing their nose, or making it to the bathroom on time, our teachers are all over it!

Our teachers open our kids’ minds to becoming readers and writers, problem solvers, strategic thinkers, and scientific explorers. Our teachers inspire students, through academic preparation and hard work, to become doctors, lawyers, mechanics, engineers, health care providers, nurses, construction workers, athletes, musicians, debaters, artists, actors, and entrepreneurs.

Our teachers ensure students master complicated mathematical processes, develop skills as writers, and provide opportunities for students to discover the power of oration.  Our teachers create pathways for students to see themselves as college and career ready, and to understand what it takes to succeed. And each and every day, our teachers give their time, talent, and spend their own resources, to ensure obstacles are overcome.

Gratitude is the least we can offer to our teachers, who literally change lives each and every day. Thank you, KCKPS Educators! We believe in and value all you do.

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Journey of a Superintendent: Are You Faster Than a 5th Grader?

Are You FasterAre You Faster Than a 5th Grader? Seriously? Well this well-seasoned lady is faster than some of our 5th graders. The winner of our two-mile race this year was a speedy young man from M.E. Pearson Elementary School. He finished the race in less than 14 minutes! Awesome! I had the privilege of placing medals around the necks of the 15 fastest runners. With each medal, I encouraged them to keep running. We may have a future Olympian or college track star in our midst. After all, Maurice Greene, who once was the fastest man in the world, is a graduate of F.L. Schlagle High School!

This was the third year for our two-mile race and academic relay. Each of our 30 elementary schools selected up to 15 of their fastest kids to run the two-mile race. An additional team of four participated in the academic relay. In the relay, students answered a question from the 5th grade curriculum, took the baton and ran 100 meters, and passed the baton to a teammate for their turn.

Schools brought busloads of classmates and other supporters to cheer on our kids. It was so wonderful to see our students, teachers, administrators, and parents come together for this event.  It’s all about modeling for our kids that, with hard work, determination, and effort, you can become anything you choose. I like to share with the students that no matter how old we become, we must prepare our minds and bodies, and nurture our spirits, in order to enjoy a successful life.

Are You Faster Than a 5th Grader is just one more way we celebrate our kids, schools, and families. The participants take this run very seriously. Kids and grownups alike set goals, encourage each other, and push themselves to do their very best. The experience only happens because of the many volunteers from across the district, our partnership with the Kansas City, Kansas Police Department, and this year, tremendous support from Schlitterbahn Water Park and Sporting KC.

Thank you, KCK, for inspiring our kids and modeling that, “It’s Up to Us!”  Next year, my goal is to finish in the top 50!

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Journey of a Superintendent: Education – A Right, or Just Rhetoric?

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

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

Growing up in Kansas, my family, as perhaps many of your families, has long held the belief that a quality education system is a fundamental right we expect as Americans. A right that we have never taken for granted, but one that we achieve through hard work, determination, and effort.

In recent years, many of us have come to feel that the common value in education as the number one priority of the state has been placed at risk. It seems the very values that have made this state a great place for families, communities, and businesses is under direct attack. Education has become a political hot potato. While everyone claims to support public schools, many actions appear to say just the opposite. Funding for schools has been cut by millions of dollars, and state revenues are declining as a result of the most dramatic tax reductions in Kansas history.

Where did we lose sight of the fact that education is key to a strong economy and strong communities, and critical for thriving businesses? The New York Times published an editorial about Kansas in early January titled, “What’s the Matter with Kansas Schools?” I want to ask, “What’s the Matter with Kansans Valuing Tax Cuts above Education?” Really? Have we considered the ramifications of these actions on our communities and way of life? Perhaps Kansas is comfortable accelerating a system of the “haves” and “have nots.”

Well, just when my neighbors and I were discussing that Kansas may not be a place we want to continue to be a part of, the Kansas Supreme Court restored my hope. The Supreme Court, on March 7, ruled in favor of Kansas school children, reaffirming that all children deserve access to quality education. Specifically, in the Gannon vs. State of Kansas school finance lawsuit, the Court ruled that funding for K–12 education must be equitable for all children. The Court ordered that all districts must receive funding that is equalized with that which is available to the wealthy communities in the state. This was a great ruling for children across the state.

However, the Court stopped short of ruling on what determines adequate funding, and sent the question of adequacy of funding back to the lower court for further deliberation. My hope now rests on the difficult decisions that are before our elected officials. What will the legislature do in response to the order for equity for school finance? Following the lower court ruling, what will our leaders do? The answer is not yet clear. What I do know is that victory has been claimed by parties on both sides of the issue. Supporters of education as a fundamental right have celebrated the Court directing the legislature to provide– through structure and implementation – a system that is reasonably calculated to have ALL Kansas students meet or exceed the educational standards established in Kansas law. On the other side of the issue, the talk is about taking funds away from schools serving large numbers of children considered at-risk for academic failure, in order to avoid allocating additional money for K-12 schools. That’s like taking money out of our left pocket and putting it in our right pocket, and telling the Courts and the people of Kansas that “all is well now.” Or to put it another way, it’s like Eddie Haskell in Leave it to Beaver saying, “That’s a lovey dress you’re wearing, Mrs. Cleaver!” (Some of you will have to “Google” that to understand it, but let me just say if you buy that, I have a bridge to sell you.)

All of this leaves me continuing to wonder: Is education a fundamental right in Kansas, or is that just rhetoric? What I do know is that Kansans need to carefully consider the implications of the decisions that will be made as a result of the school finance debate. Preparing our kids for their futures is clearly at stake. It’s Up to Us.

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Journey of a Superintendent: The $250,000 Classroom

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

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

I’m sure many of you have heard the term “the $250,000 classroom,” which has been in the news lately. It’s a term Governor Brownback used in his state of the state speech referring to the amount of money Kansas provides for a typical classroom of 20.

John Heim, the executive director of the Kansas Association of School Boards, wrote a blog recently where he talked about this term and how it leaves out the cost of serving high needs students. I couldn’t have said it any finer, so I wanted to share his comments.

Outside the Averages: Some Very Special Students

By John Heim,                                                                                                             Executive Director                                                                                                             Kansas Association of School Boards

A good friend of mine has two lovely daughters that are about the same age as my sons. When one of the girls was very young, a tumor began to grow and wrap itself around her spinal cord and the base of her brain. This caused developmental delays and physical issues that continue to manifest themselves as she has matured into her 20′s. I had the honor of bestowing a diploma on her for her good works in high school. She is quick with a smile, loves computer games and hates it when the Royals lose. She works at a job during the day and with her parents support is happy and as healthy as can be expected. She has been successful because she has a loving family and she got a free and appropriate public education.

I have been thinking about my friend as I hear politicians talk about the $250,000 classroom. In a throwaway line in the state of the state speech, the governor did a quick math problem and said an average classroom in Kansas gets $250,000 a year. Some have claimed this number is inaccurate, others say it is a sign of inefficiencies. But is it? (For more on this see The Quarter Million Dollar Classroom http://www.kasb.org/wcm/Advocacy_Research/Key_Issues/Classroom_Costs/wcm/_Advocacy_Research/Key_Issues/Classroom_Costs.aspx )

Averages are tricky and by definition don’t tell the whole story. We have all heard the story of the man with his head in the oven and feet in the freezer who, on average, is very comfortable.  So too it is with per pupil, or classroom funding.

Although I have been in all kinds of classrooms in my career, I popped in for a visit at a nearby school for a reminder of some of the challenging students like my friends daughter schools are called upon to educate.

Let me stop and challenge every board member, patron, or policy-maker who has not done so recently to visit one of these classrooms in your local area.  

When you visit you will be struck first by the joy that exists in these classrooms. It is a reminder that we provide educational services to all children not because it is the law, but because it is the right thing to do. You may not recognize the educational goals, but you will recognize the joys and frustration of teaching and learning. I visited after lunch and saw one child who was working on a developmental goal of sitting upright in her wheelchair for 30 minutes. (A requirement because of her feeding and breathing tubes.) The teacher was patient and the girl worked hard while growing tired and frustrated.

You will also notice the adult to student ratio is very high. In the classroom I visited for grades 1-5, only one student had complete bathroom control. All others were learning. Two students were in wheelchairs and had feeding tubes. One student required being aspirated by her full-time nurse. All of the students had a wide range of needs that were being met.  I asked the teacher how many adults were involved in providing services to these students. Her response:

  • Adaptive PE teacher
  • Speech and Language teacher
  • Occupational Therapist
  • Physical Therapist
  • Vision and Hearing impaired teacher
  • Nurse
  • Special Education Teacher
  • Social worker
  • School Psychologist
  • Counselor
  • Administrator
  • Four full-time paras

There were five students in the classroom, and while the first words out of the teacher’s mouth were “I love my job,” I challenge anyone to keep up with the level of activity that I witnessed in that room. Not so obvious is the specialized training that each staff member has to have, based upon the individual student’s needs.  From CPR and first aide to emergency feeding and medical services, to instructional tech, these educators are all highly skilled and trained.

A visitor will also notice that the physical accouterments of this classroom are very different from the typical elementary room. There is a large bathroom with a changing table and area. There is a shower room that doubles as a sensory room for students who need a break from bright lights. The teachers use iPads and computer programs as instructional tools, and there are various apparatus for enhancing student mobility such as wheelchairs, carts, machines that help with standing, and others that help with crawling. Large notebooks line shelves and each contains a daily record of medical issues experienced.

When asked about the requirements of educating special education students, the KASB legal staff often cite a case in which the judge said schools are expected to provide a Chevy, not a Cadillac education. The room I visited was not a Coupe Deville, nor was it Cobalt, more like a nice Chevy Impala. So how much does that classroom cost?

It’s hard to say. One full-time teacher and four aides would be about $140,000. Services provided by the other adults are based upon the individual education plan for each student.  An educated guess would put the other adults at about $60,000.  Add to that the other costs provided in the KASB study (http://www.kasb.org/wcm/Advocacy_Research/Key_Issues/Classroom_Costs/wcm/_Advocacy_Research/Key_Issues/Classroom_Costs.aspx ) and you have $375,000; include extra expenses for special transportation requirements and room and equipment needs, and my best estimate is closer to $400,000. For these five students, at about $12,000 per student, the district receives $72,000 in total state funding.The remaining $328,000 must be made up from the district budget.

The mid-sized district I visited has three of these classrooms. There are thousands of high needs students being served in Kansas schools. Students that up until ten years ago were served in state hospitals were returned home to be educated in their public schools. Public schools proudly serve all students: your children, your grandchildren, your neighbor’s children, and my friend’s child. And in my opinion, it is worth every penny. Go visit and see for yourself.

 

 

 

 

 

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Journey of a Superintendent: Nobody is Going to Make Money by Misusing Our Data

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

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

Remember when you were in junior high school, and a friend would come and tell you that someone was spreading lies about you behind your back, saying things that weren’t true? Do you remember how frustrated and angry you would get? Well, this week, I felt a wave of those feelings rise up inside me, when I learned that a website had listed four of our high schools as being among the worst schools in the nation!

I have to tell you, I may not be very tall, but I grew up with a lot of fight in me, and I went straight into “fight” mode. How DARE they, a website located halfway across the country, put up a list that deliberately misuses data, in a way that slanders our students, our staff and this community! ARE YOU KIDDING ME? (See, I’m mad again . . .)

Let me back up and explain what they did. I have told you before in this space that our goal as a district is that “Each student will exit high school prepared for college and careers in a global society . . .” When we learned a few years ago that some of our students who were scoring proficient on the state exam were still not prepared for college (and were having to enroll in remedial classes) we decided we needed to find a more rigorous test, one which would be a true measure of college preparedness.

We selected the ACT test, the same test that colleges and universities across the country use to ensure that students are prepared. We asked for and received a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education, and now we use that test as our state accountability test for high school students. To do this, unlike almost all other districts across Kansas, and most districts across the country, we test ALL of our students on the ACT (including students who had not previously planned to consider going to college).

When we made this decision, we knew that, at least initially, the number of students who scored “proficient” on the ACT (which we set at a score of 21, the level required for admission to Kansas universities) was going to drop. Our Board of Education made the decision that this would be acceptable to start, since we would know we aren’t excluding any students, and that we would be testing them on a real measure of college preparedness. We would have fewer “proficient” students than other districts in the state, but since our students were taking a much harder test, our scores couldn’t be compared to other districts in Kansas.

Or so we thought . . . I have to tell you, in my wildest nightmares, it never occurred to me that a for-profit company would take data from the state website, ignore the clear warning that students in KCK take a different test and their proficiency scores can’t be compared with other districts, compare that data anyway, and label some of our schools as among the worst in the nation.

What frustrates me most is that it feels like we are being slandered for doing the very things our parents taught us to do. We learned that we should always do the right thing, which we are doing, by giving students a meaningful test that will accurately assess how well prepared for college they are. We should always tell the truth, which we are doing by giving a rigorous test, even if it makes it harder for students to reach proficiency, and be open and honest about what our data is, and what work we still have to do.

When we chose to go down the path of more rigorous standards, we described it as an expression of belief in our students, in our staff, and in this community. Those beliefs haven’t changed. And let me be clear: Nobody is going to make money by misrepresenting the hard work of our students and staff. When you misuse data in order to take a cheap shot at us, we will swing back, hard.

Oh, and one more thing: I want to express my deep appreciation to all those, including students, staff and community members, who stood up to defend the district when they saw this website posting, knowing that it had to be incorrect. There are those outside this community who expect the worst from students who are mostly low-income, mostly black and brown, and many of whom are English language learners. Many of you know better, and spoke up to defend our schools. You have truly taken to heart the point I try to drive home every time I post on this blog: “It’s Up to Us!”

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Journey of a Superintendent: Why Common Core?

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

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

The debate about Common Core Standards continues across the nation, and is in full swing in Kansas. Opponents suggest that Common Core Standards are an attempt to have a national run education system. A few say these standards are going to “dumb-down” American education. When I hear these comments, I wonder if the opposition is based on rational thought or simply based on political interest. What I do know is that if you ask a business leader (many of whom were at the table to develop the Common Core Standards), and you ask an educator, these standards are necessary for our kids to be competitive for quality jobs. Right now, American schools are falling behind. This doesn’t mean that our educational system is not quality, it’s because we have been aiming as targets (state developed standards) that do not translate into knowledge and skills needed in our global economy.

Standards, defined by Webster, are “something accepted as a basis of comparison.” Standard of living is defined as “a measure of quality.” Don’t we want an educational system that is striving to attain a certain quality that is reliable no matter where you live or operate your business?  So for me, the conversation should be about what our students need to know and be able to do to have successful futures in this global economy.

Two very important factors have risen to the top of our priorities here in KCKPS. When we think about what our students need, we first recognize that our students must be highly literate individuals. This means that each student must be able to read, write, speak, and reason (think deeply) with whatever content or challenge he or she is facing. Second, we have committed to a singular goal that each student graduate prepared for college and careers in a global society, and that at every level performance is on-track and on time for success. The short version could be simply stated, that our students graduate prepared to fill the jobs of today and tomorrow.

So what are Common Core Standards and how do they help us prepare our students for the jobs of today and tomorrow?  I found this video by the Council of the Great City Schools and I think it does a nice job of describing the Common Core Standards and why the standards are essential for our students.

http://vimeo.com/51933492

We need Common Core Standards in order to do the difficult work necessary to give our kids a leg-up in the competitive world we live in. Bottom line, it takes all of us – schools, parents, community members and businesses – working together to prepare our kids for their futures. It’s Up to Us!

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Journey of a Superintendent: Time to Reflect

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

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

One of my favorite children’s books is Shel Silverstein’s, “The Giving Tree.” The story begins… “Once there was a tree… and she loved a little boy.” Every day the boy would come to the tree to eat her apples, swing from her branches, and slide down the trunk. The boy grows older, and the visits to the tree are less frequent. One day the boy returns, now a man. His is no longer interested in play, but is seeking what the tree can provide so he might support his family.  The tree gives the man (boy) all she has to give, including her fruit, branches and her trunk. As the story continues, the boy, now an old man, returns to the place where the tree once stood. He no longer is seeking to play, asking for guidance, or material items. The old man (boy) has come to reflect and be grateful for everything the tree provided that shapes his life.

This time of year I always think of “The Giving Tree.” The parable speaks to the gift of giving and the capacity to love and care for others. Each day in the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools, I have the opportunity to watch so many grownups and students caring for and giving so much to each other. It reminds me of how special it is to live and work in KCK, a city that is a true community. To say how grateful I am to our students, staff, and community really seems to fall short. So if I share with you that KCKPS is like the gift of “The Giving Tree,” maybe that more aptly describes how I feel. “It’s Up to Us.”

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