Journey of a Superintendent: All of Us Must Support the Education of Our Youth

Dr. Cynthia Lane, Superintendent of Schools

This is an interesting, thought provoking, and challenging time to be an educator. Consider that almost every time we have turned on the news the last few weeks, or listened to a commentary, someone has been talking about public schools. Generally, the discussion is critical of schools and teachers, and it certainly has not been supportive of school administrators. I applaud the conversation. As my grandmother would say, “It’s high time we take responsibility for…” ensuring that each child has access to the best education possible in this great country of ours.

What I worry about is that the high profile conversations seem to suggest a single answer to providing quality schools. It’s the “Waiting for Superman” thinking. We just need to do “X,” and all will be better. We know in our hearts and minds that there cannot be a quick fix, don’t we? But in a society where we have “on demand” everything, quick fixes can be seductive, so we should not be surprised at Hollywood’s suggestions on how to improve education.

My belief is that each grown-up has a responsibility to weigh in on the conversation about the type of schools we want for our children. And then, when all the talking is said and done, we each must be willing to do something to help all schools improve. You may have heard me say that we don’t have a crisis in public education today. Our crisis is that many adults fail to take responsibility for our children, and fail to make the education of children our number one priority. Unfortunately right now, we, all of us, deflect the responsibility to educate our children to someone else.

The very idea that we all must take responsibility for the education of our children is at the heart of the mission of the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools. We have committed to “Inspiring Excellence: Every Grown-up, Every Child, Every Day.” Each and every day, the grown-ups have to focus on improving what we do, so that our children have access to highly-effective teachers, leaders, and staff. We aren’t looking for a quick fix that someone else is responsible for doing. Rather, we are examining our practices, putting in place high expectations, and supporting the learning of each and every one of our kids.

When we speak about the improvements our schools need, and can in the same breath offer solutions that work, we will be making progress. All schools do need to improve, whether they are public, private, charter, suburban, and urban, if we are going to move from islands of excellence to a land of opportunity. We can all improve our work. And I believe one of the first steps is to clearly identify what we expect, and to put the resources behind those expectations.

The commentary of the day seems to suggest that teachers will work harder if the right incentives are in place. There are a couple of deeper issues implied in this line of thinking: that the reason our children are not more successful is because teachers are not working hard enough, and that teachers are not working hard enough because they lack the motivation. I need to tell you that nothing could be further from my experience here in KCK. Our teachers are working hard every day. It is our job as administrators to make sure they are working at the right things, and have the resources and support they need to be successful. In addition, teachers can’t be the only people working to educate our children. To improve education today, we need to have all adults, parents, businesses and the broader community fully engaged in supporting the education of our youth.

I also strongly believe that teachers and the teaching profession should be compensated at the level equal to our expectations. Time and time in my life I have learned that old adage, “you get what you pay for.” If we want quality education for all, we must be ready to pay for quality. But education is more than a score on a test. Higher pay is needed, absolutely. But pay alone won’t ensure each child is prepared for college and careers.

We, the “public” in public schools, need to figure out what we want from our schools, and for our children, and then roll up our sleeves and get to work. We will never get the schools we want, if we leave that work up to pundits, politicians, or documentary filmmakers. And we can forget “Waiting for Superman;” he’s not coming! The song that was sung during the Civil Rights Movement got it right: “We are the ones we have been waiting for.” It’s up to us!

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7 Responses to Journey of a Superintendent: All of Us Must Support the Education of Our Youth

  1. Anne-Marie says:

    Thank you for expressing that our “needs” are not a quick fix. We need to be reminded of that fact daily. I see my teachers put their heart and soul into their work. They have 41 minutes of time during the day to plan, call parents, debrief with kids, create lesson plans, and extend their learning. Donald Quinn was quoted, “If a dcotor, lawyer, or dentist had 40 (or 19) people in his office at the same time, all of whom had different needs, and some of whom didn’t want to be there and were causing trouble, and the doctor, lawyer, or dentist, without assistance, had to treat them all with professional excellence . . . for nine months, then he might have some conception of the classroom teacher’s job.” I applaud my teachers for their intent, effort, and long hours. We are making progress.

  2. Ginger A Mansaw says:

    Dr Lane has presented a challenge to all of us and that includes parents and grandparents. I am a grandmother with six grandchildren in the district.
    As I visit the schools for the district I notice the involment of the the grandparents
    in the schools and the benefits of having them in the schools. This is what it takes
    along wth Dr. Lane’s hard work to meet the goal of “Inspiring Excellence.” Maybe
    this will stop some of the flight of our students to other school districts if parents and grandparents see what Dr. Lane and all of the KCK School District staff is trying to accomplish. What made me think of this is when Dr. Lane quoted from her grandmother.

  3. Andrea Richardson says:

    I too would like to applaud our teachers and the efforts being made to reach each student academically. I see the challenges that teachers are faced with each day and finding strategies to meet these challenges can be difficult. There has never been a question as to the value of our teachers but to the gaps in learning. Thanks to Dr. Lane and others putting ideas into place, such as check points, we will be able to identify the gaps and fill them in. I must say that I feel much more a part of an “educational community” rather than a part of a “school district”! We are on the right track to becoming a top 10 school district.

  4. jacquie says:

    i fully agree that we as parents need to take responsibility for our childrens education. i’m a parent that stays involved. but i do have issues with the way some of the childrens needs are met . i have a child that has major problems and has since he started school. but i cannot get anyone is the schools to listen to me. i was actually told by a teacher that she could handle my son because she had a college education. i laugh at teachers with that thought because not every child is the same and not every child responds the same. so i still struggle every year and every year is worse then the year before. so yes while some changes have been made, not much has really changed.

    • Dr. Lane says:

      I have been thinking about your experience many times over the last several days. I want to encourage you not to give up. Keep working with the teachers to meet the needs of your son and hear your suggestions. What I have learned is that working together we always have a better result than going at it alone.

  5. Donna L. Smith says:

    Would it be possible to have a “grandparents day” districtwide. The students could invite their grandparent(s) to have lunch with them. I know this is very successful at the parochial schools. It’s a really good way to get the grandparents involved and to make them feel their input is appreciated. Their feedback is invaluable.

  6. Dr. Lane says:

    Thanks for the suggestion. I will share it with the staff. In the meantime, please know parents and grandparents are welcome in our schools any time, any day.

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