The Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools is truly on a journey. Our destination is a place where every student graduates fully prepared for college and careers. You know, when you’re traveling and you have a fabulous destination in mind, and you’re focused, sometimes you can miss some amazing views that you pass along the way. Life is too short not to stop and smell the roses, or to look at the world’s largest ball of twine, or the Elvis Presley wax museum! So I want take a moment to pause, and point out some absolutely amazing things that have happened the past couple of weeks here in Kansas City, Kansas (KCK).
First, more than a year ago, Google (yes, that Google!) chose KCK to be the first city in the nation to receive high-speed fiber that would connect every home, school, and business at speeds 100 times faster than we currently experience. Thousands of communities competed to be chosen, and the fact that they chose KCK was a tremendous honor, but also a wonderful validation.
Those of us who live and work here feel strongly that KCK is a very special place. KCK is a remarkably diverse, hard-working community. We may not have some of the things other communities have, or the geography about which other communities can boast. But what KCK does have is a strong sense of pride and community spirit, a belief that, if it’s to get done, we will have to roll up our sleeves and do it ourselves. This spirit allows us to tackle things that might seem beyond the reach of other communities, and helps us achieve more than the outside world expects us to.
We were thrilled to be chosen for high-speed fiber, but for the past six weeks, we have faced a challenge. Google’s promise of high-speed fiber came with a caveat – for a neighborhood to be wired, a certain pre-determined percentage (5, 10 or 25 percent, depending on the neighborhood) would need to pre-register for the service, and pay a $10 fee. As of a few weeks ago, a significant number of neighborhoods in KCK were well below their pre-registration targets, and in danger of missing out (as were the schools that were in those neighborhoods). For us, this presented a huge dilemma: How could we embrace something that threatened to increase the digital divide? Six years ago, we began providing every high school student a MacBook laptop computer, in order to close that divide. Would Google Fiber reopen this gap, by leaving some neighborhoods and schools stuck in the soon-to-be painfully slow world of broadband?
Well, there were a lot of voices in this community that refused to accept what felt like the inevitable. The story of their work would make a fabulous sociological study, but essentially they, with significant support from Google, worked tirelessly to “rally” their neighborhoods. This past weekend, we learned that every neighborhood in KCK was successful, and our entire community will be wired! What an amazing achievement for this community, and especially for our young people and their families! Our youth will truly be the ones who take advantage of this amazing opportunity, and teach us about the potential and the promise of high-speed fiber!
And speaking of young people, yesterday we learned that KCK has been named one of America’s 100 Best Communities for Young People! This award can be attributed to the school district, community, and government officials who put the needs of our youth at the top of all priorities. Our community realized that education is the number one economic driver and is the only way to stimulate sustainable prosperity. It was so rewarding to gather together a group of leaders from youth-serving organizations from across the city to draft an application for this award, which is given by America’s Promise, the organization founded by retired General Colin Powell. For those of us who were involved, the process of talking together about the community, and the community’s efforts to support the growth and development of young people, was as valuable as any award we might receive. With hundreds and hundreds of communities across the country competing for that honor, we had no expectations that we might be receive it.
So, imagine how excited we all were to learn that we have been named one of America’s 100 Best Communities for Young People! This comes from the America’s Promise website: “A first-time winner of 100 Best, Kansas City, KS was recognized for its dedication to improving educational outcomes for area youth.” I wish you could have heard the roar that exploded in the district’s central office when we got the news! It feels good for our community to receive this recognition, and this is something that the community, teachers, schools, and civic leaders can be proud of.
So all in all, it has been a great couple of weeks. In addition to Google and being named to the 100 Best Communities honor roll, our high schools received an amazing gift totaling $650,000 from AMC – Wanda Entertainment Holdings Inc. It was certainly Christmas in September when each high school received a semi-truck load of supplies and materials donated by a company that believes in community and its youth. But I promise you, no one in this town is going to spend too much time celebrating. There’s too much work to do, and too many young people who are counting on us to create the conditions that allow them to reach for their dreams. Remember: It’s Up to Us!