Journey of a Superintendent: Aim High. Choose Excellence. No Excuses.

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

“Aim High. Choose Excellence. No Excuses.” There is so much discussion in the media and on the national level about the quality of public schools. I often read or hear comments from critics suggesting that public schools are not succeeding. What I wonder about is this: Is it the schools that are not succeeding, or rather, is it a conflict between tradition and the rapidly changing job market? As I spend time in schools, I wonder how education can keep pace with the skills needed in today’s job market, let alone predict what skills and knowledge will be needed in this rapidly changing environment in five to ten years.

What I do know is that in the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools, we are working hard every day to help our kids learn to be problem solvers, strategic thinkers, producers of quality work, and collaborators. This is a major shift for public schools, which have been driven in recent years by performance on assessments that have little to do with the skills the job market is demanding. It is becoming more and more apparent that schools must change in order for our kids to be competitive in their world.

In KCK, part of that change is our belief that schools have been held to the wrong targets. We, like all other good public schools, have been focusing on assessments under No Child Left Behind, which have been held up as measurements by which we judge school quality. Unfortunately, those assessments are not meaningful to our students, and in addition, they fall short in measuring the types of skills and knowledge students will need in college, technical careers, and the job market.

We need to focus on what really matters to our students. We have chosen to aim high and change what and how we teach. We are also changing how we will measure success. We are choosing excellence over “adequate,” so our students will have the skills needed in this rapidly changing world. It’s the right work for our students. Aim high, choose excellence, and make no excuses. Our students are ready and will rise to the expectations we set.

Today, I spent time in classrooms where students were examining their thinking, discussing problems posed by their teachers, and capturing their solutions through writing. It struck me that these are the exact skills that I hear employers and business leaders speak of that are so necessary for success in the workplace. These students are proving they can live up to these much more rigorous expectations.

There are many challenges and obstacles before us. The question is: Will we allow those obstacles to prevent us from doing what is right for our kids?  In this school district, we are taking a stand. Aim high, choose excellence, no excuses. Fellow grownups, “It’s up to us.” Our kids are ready and waiting.

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