Journey of a Superintendent: Voices of Our Youth

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

This has been an extraordinary week in the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools! It began when the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced that Bobbi Jay-Nay Lowery, a senior at F.L. Schlagle High School, was one of only 1,000 students from across the nation who were selected for the Gates Millennium National Scholarship (more than 54,000 applied)!  Congratulations to Bobbi for the hard work that led to this extraordinary accomplishment! And there is more…

Sumner Academy of Arts and Science once again has been identified as the top high school in Kansas, and 64th best in the nation by the Washington Post and U.S. News and World Report. Twenty-two thousand schools from across the nation are rated, based on International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement College Courses completed, and performance on college readiness exams such as the ACT. Well done, students and staff of Sumner Academy! And there is more…

Tuesday, all of our high school juniors participated in the ACT college readiness assessment. KCKPS is one of three districts in Kansas that have been authorized by the U.S. Department of Education to administer the ACT as the assessment to measure student achievement. We know that the ACT opens doors to our students’ futures that include college admittance and scholarships. Our students also know the importance of doing well on the ACT. One only had to listen to the conversations of our students as they entered and exited the testing sessions to know the ACT has great meaning to them. Every high school in the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools is now an early college high school. We are proud of the hard work of our students (and the staff who support them), who are focusing on what matters most: their futures! And there is more…

Wednesday evening, I walked into the “Word Shop” at Washington High School, and found the room filled with teenagers engaged in writing. Yes, I did say writing! Teenagers choosing to be at school, on a beautiful spring evening, to write poetry! I will never be able to recreate the scene if you weren’t there. Try to imagine a classroom that formerly served as the wood-working class. You may picture a room filled with large wooden tables, scarred from hammers and saws,  the smell of saw dust in the air, large equipment waiting to shape a piece of wood into something useful (as least that was the intention). Now think of this same space, with clusters of teenagers with their laptops, smart phones, or the traditional paper and pen, fully engaged in moving their thoughts and experiences from mind to “paper.” The “Word Shop,” as the space is now named, has been converted into a space for teenagers and adults to share their ideas and thoughts about their own personal journeys through writing. On this evening, the room was bursting with young people writing, under the guidance of the “Louder Than a Bomb” Chicago artists Kevin Coval and Lamar Jordan, powerfully expressing their life experiences and challenging social constructs that we have all found ourselves rebelling against, at one time or another. Crowds who gathered to observe these emerging artists celebrated and affirmed them with applause, snapping their fingers in time with the expressions that filled the room with poetic rhythm. What a week! And there is more … So much more.

Our students have so much to share. Their determination to succeed is all around us. I wonder how much better we would all be, if we, the adults, spent time each day really listening to their voices. I often share my belief that “it’s up to us” to commit to being part of the solution to our challenges. I still believe that, but I also must acknowledge that many of the real solutions will come from our youth. It’s Up to Us to listen to their voices.

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