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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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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