(The following letter of thanks and praise was sent out to all staff on the last day of school, June 1, 2011.)
As we come to the end of my first year as your superintendent, I wanted to take a few moments to let you know how grateful I am for all of your hard work this year. This has been quite a challenging year. We have adopted new, more rigorous goals, as we strive to graduate every child ready for college and careers. To reach these goals, we have revised our curriculum Pre-K to 12th grade, and aligned it to more rigorous standards.
All of this has made our work even more challenging, and has been all the more difficult because there has been no blueprint for us to follow, and we have been learning as we go. The beginning was exciting, as we imagined the possibility of moving from being a good “urban” school district to being one of the top ten districts in the nation. Yet as we set out into the pre-dawn darkness, it was hard to not be able to always see the path in front of us, and in the dim light, we ran into some obstacles we didn’t know were there.
However, as we pause at the end of the year, if we strike a match and look around, I think there have been some really bright moments in our journey, and much for us to be proud of. We have all been clearly focused on excellence, and on student achievement as our primary goal. Many of us have taken to heart the notion that, if we can improve our instructional practices, our students can achieve at higher and higher levels.
This year, we have moved an entire system to adopt the powerful notion of checking in, every 4.5 weeks, on where our kids are. This has been a collaborative effort that has involved many partners, but it has been our work, shaped to fit the needs of the students here in Kansas City, Kansas. This collaboration has included continued work with NEA-KCK, including meaningful conversations about what it means to be a highly-effective teacher, and the on-going work of the professional development council.
As a result of this work, we have seen significant gains on the state assessment at the elementary and middle school levels, with more than 70% of students reaching proficiency. And while we have yet to see the same gains in our high schools, we are seeing early indicators of progress, such as more than 50% of students exiting high school with college credits, and are confident that our changes are bearing fruit at that level as well.
One thing that continues to be true is that our work gets better when we work together. Our teachers and principals have been working together to organize what we want kids to know and be able to do, and we are implementing a college-preparatory curriculum across the system. Indeed, we have begun to create vertical conversations, between preschool, elementary, middle, high schools and beyond, that we never had before. At the same time our operational functions have begun to think about what it means to be “in service to” our schools.
All of this has been happening during a time when we have had to face a number of severe challenges, including the on-going press of not enough time to get it all done, and a deteriorating financial situation, which have forced us to cut another $8 million from next year’s budget. This has been painful, and we know that some of our team members have had to suffer, as a result of the decisions that had to be made.
As we conclude this first year of our journey towards excellence, we have achieved a lot, and we have learned a lot. I appreciate on a much deeper level what it means to commit to this work, and to becoming a top-ten school district. True commitment to excellence is exceedingly difficult, and yet, all over the district, staff are stepping up to that commitment. And we are learning that, when we reach for excellence, our students reach with us, and sometimes even move past us, towards their destiny.
I am really proud of the work we have done this year, and grateful for what we have been able to do, together. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your work this year. I hope you are able to take time this summer to refresh and restore yourself, and I look forward to seeing you in August, as we set off on the next stage of our journey, inspiring excellence, every grownup, every child, every day.