Journey of a Superintendent: Inspiring Excellence

Dr. Cynthia Lane, Superintendent of Schools

“Waiting for Superman.” Once again, Hollywood has painted a picture of public education.  Educators: Whether we like it or not, everyone is an armchair educator. We can spend our energy debating and defending our practices.  Or we can choose to focus on continuing to improve outcomes for our children. I choose our children. 

I am proud of the work we are doing here in the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools.  In 1996, the district looked into its collective mirror, (long before No Child Left Behind), and said, “We must change!” At the time, the district was failing its students with only 540 of the 19,000 students meeting state standards in mathematics. Reading performance wasn’t much better, with 2,300 kids performing at or above the standard on state assessments. Commitment from district leadership and the School Board lead to an overhaul of the way schools were structured. These changes have led to dramatically improved results. While much work is still needed, 14 years into a systemic reform, more than 60 percent of students are meeting or exceeding state standards in math and reading, and the graduation rate is approaching 80 percent. Many “urban” districts would celebrate these gains, and we are proud of our work. It shows that, when the adults are focused and willing to make sacrifices and do their work differently, public school can work.

At the same time, I like to think about our recent history as the prologue to the real story. The real story is just beginning, and has yet to be written. For the next phase of the journey, “striving for excellence” has to be our mission. Now, you might be thinking: “How can ‘excellence’ be the next step, when KCKPS continues to have nearly 40% of students not meeting standards?” Well, you told me that “excellence” is what this community wants, and what our children deserve. I have listened to students, parents, community members, teachers, principals, and staff over the last several months, and the next phase of our journey has become clear to me.  We are ready to strive to become one of the top school districts in nation. 

Yes, in this time where it’s in vogue to criticize public schools, we are taking the steps necessary to provide every student with an excellent educational experience. I know, there are plenty of people who doubt our ability to succeed. It’s almost easier to be skeptical and a non-believer, than it is to believe. But I have confidence that we will be successful.  For me, the key to our success is really quite simple. The key is recognizing, “It’s up to us!” 

That’s it. We must recognize that, if we are going to provide each and every student with an excellent education, we must be willing to look at our own practices, and do whatever it takes to be better at what we do as adults. Yes, I know that many of our kids walk through our doors with incredible challenges (90% of our students qualify for the free or reduced price meal program). But I refuse to spend my time and energy talking about things we don’t control. Rather you will hear me talk about the power of educators to help our students overcome their challenges, if we do our jobs well. The research is clear – highly effective teachers and leaders can provide educational experiences that overcome poverty, crime, neglect, lack of family involvement and a long list of other life-altering circumstances. 

At the same time, I don’t want to leave you with the wrong impression. Educators can and must do a lot to change live outcomes of children. But the responsibility to mold our youth doesn’t just fall on the shoulders of educators; it belongs to everyone. Educators, families, and community, we all have a part. In fact, we have a moral obligation to do whatever it takes for our kids.

In this space, I will share my journey as the appointed leader of a good urban school district, as we move toward becoming an excellent school district. Join me as I reflect on our work to ensure that every student exits high school fully prepared for college and careers, and at every level performance is on-track and on-time for success. Engage with me as I share our work to ensure every student has access to a highly-effective teacher and a fully-implemented college preparatory curriculum.

You see, we can spend our time “waiting for superman,” or can realize that our mission is to “Inspire Excellence:  Every Grownup, Every Child, Every Day.  Remember, “It’s Up to Us.”

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15 Responses to Journey of a Superintendent: Inspiring Excellence

  1. Teresa Boose says:

    Just breaking the ice to encourage further comments and test how this works. 😉

    Thanks for the new communication tool for interacting with staff and the community.

    • MAP says:

      Thanks, Dr. Lane, for the use of technology to share your thinking and your dreaming. Thanks too for getting all of us to keep at least our toes on the edge of 21st Century media.

  2. Steve Rose says:

    I agree. With all of us pulling together as a team of one we can achieve the goal of becoming one of the top ten urban districts in the country.

  3. CJ says:

    I think what makes Dr. Lane so effective is she says what she believes, in her heart. It’s very difficult not to be inspired in her presence. I recall one simple question she asked after an energy-filled discussion on NCLB. She simply asked, ‘What child would you choose to leave behind.’ That was enough.

    Dr. Lane won’t just guide this district to victory….she will lead them. If you need to find her she will be at the front of the procession. I am no longer a member of the USD #500 team, but my heart will never wander very far. It is especially exciting for me because I know just how effective Dr. Lane is in every thing she puts her heart into, and it’s been education as long as I can remember. USD #500 is blessed to have such a captain at the helm.

  4. I’m the web manager for the St. Joseph School District in St. Joseph, Missouri. I was browsing other districts to compare web sites, and stumbled across Dr. Lane’s blog. I am very impressed with the statistics from 1996 to now. Way to go KCKs! My husband was a 1968 graduate of Washington HS, and it’s good to know that you are leaving no child behind!

  5. Billy says:

    As a teacher in KCK I see this immense challenge of pursuing excellence as an inspiring way to work. Thank you for leadership that challenges the educational system to go beyond cynicism.

  6. Love My Kids says:

    I’m a teacher in KCK and I love the direction the district is taking. Our children in KCK deserve a quality education just like my own kids do in SMSD. I would like Dr. Lane to respectfully consider building in more “Time” in our days to plan, teach, analyze and reteach with the new checkpoints. This is a year of change and maybe some thinking needs to take place with regards to how we spend our Wednesday professional developments. I would really value part of our Wednesday’s to be spent at my building meeting with my grade level and evaluating and planning for checkpoints and our teaching. We can be a SUCCESSFUL district!!!!!!

    • Dr. Lane says:

      We are truly blessed by our Board of Education with the time for professional growth and learning every Wednesday afternoon. The time is designed for professional learning communities to meet, examine the pacing guides, examine classroom and formative assessments (we call “Checkpoint Assessments”) and to plan for instruction. From your comment it does not appear you are having these type of experiences. I wonder how you might work within your building to shape the time provided? I agree completely, we need time to be thoughtful and plan to reach our goals.

  7. MAP says:

    I love the analogy to the bicyclist standing up and pedaling up the steep incline. In Butte, “The Richest Hill on Earth”, I was known for my prowess of up hill pedaling.

    Here is my caution for our system, because I do applaud the rigor and the accelerated pace of instruction. My caution is that we cannot expect first graders with training wheels to ride a 26″ bike. Translation: First graders at the beginning of first grade just beginning their reading instruction are truly not able to read passages written for 2nd graders regardless of how hard they pedal. But a first grader with training wheels can pedal as hard as they can on a first grade hill.
    Rigor is found in the task given (riding up hill) not in the difficulty of the passage read (the first incline of the Rosedale Hill)

  8. Mom of 4 great kids says:

    I am new to the district this year, although I have grown up in the KC area. I am thrilled to be a part of the changes that are taking place to make the KCKPS programs excellent. All changes are hard before they are easy, and as a core teacher dealing with the checkpoint assessments it has been hard to get all the resources needed in a timely manner. It has also been challenging to find the time to evaluate all of the data. However, in the long run, I strongly believe this HARD change will bring about some great improvement. I am also THRILLED to see the district taking NECESSARY steps in getting textbooks (and technology support) for the classroom. This will aid greatly in assuring that NO child be left behind.
    Thank you for your strong vision, Dr. Lane.

  9. Ruth says:

    As an educator that has been blessed with the opportunity to work with wonderful students, parents, teachers and administrators in the KCK district, it is indeed so refreshing to witness the sincerety that Dr. Lane has shown in the development and implementation of the vision that she has for the district.

    Our students deserve the best and it is up to all of us to see that it happens. It will take hard work, but for those of us that are willing to give of our time and effort the “Race to the Top” can certainly be achieved for ALL of our students.

    Parents and community members should be encouraged and welcomed into our schools, because it does take a village. No one person or group can do this alone.

    The work of our students should be celebrated in all of our schools, not just athletics, but science, math, forensics, etc.

    God Bless Dr. Lane and staff.

  10. isamar gallardo says:

    The argentine middle school students feel like we need a break in order for our brains to function correctly for next year’s challenges. for this reason we would like our break to start march 10. thank you for your time

  11. justice simmons says:

    the kids at argentine middle school are thrilled that the state test is coming up but we think we need a longer spring break

  12. marisol r says:

    i feel that argentine middle school should have a earlier summer break in order to get rest and be healthy so we can be prepared for next year thank you for your time

    god bless america

  13. debra dixon says:

    I have a kindergarten grandson and a third grader at New Chelsea. They came into the district in January. So now kindergarten’s must know how to read and add and subtract and multiply and divide. This is a bit much from previous what was known as kindergarten. I realize they are in school all day from what was a half day in kindergarten. But to have expectations so high what in the hell are they going to learn in first grade. I AM not happy with the grade card saying he is not up to par with reading, when he does not know how to read!!! I am shocked and amazed to see kindergarten taking spelling test. As far as I am concerned this is to much to put on a kindergarten. I will not be revoting for this superintendent with over excedingly expectations. This is not New York, where parents compete to get their children in Head Start so they can get into the best schools, Missy we are in the MidWest!!!

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