The Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS) ends the 2014–2015 school year with sev­er­al chal­lenges to resolve and deci­sions to make. The most impor­tant issues and their impli­ca­tions include the fol­low­ing:

Turnaround vs. Tweaking. Continuing to game the accred­i­ta­tion scor­ing sys­tem may lead to enough points for the accred­i­ta­tion label, but that does not mean that stu­dents are get­ting a first class edu­ca­tion. It may only mean the cur­rent sys­tem is pre­served for anoth­er year. Accreditation does not assure teach­ing effec­tive­ness. The fun­da­men­tal ques­tion: Are we going to be bold enough to put into place a strat­e­gy for a new and very dif­fer­ent school sys­tem? There is alto­geth­er a fail­ure of imag­i­na­tion about how our school dis­trict can still exist but look dif­fer­ent­ly than it already does. Schools being empow­ered to make deci­sions at the build­ing lev­el based on their knowl­edge of their own stu­dent base is a def­i­nite trend hap­pen­ing across the coun­try. That might mean a total­ly dif­fer­ent edu­ca­tion­al estab­lish­ment, chang­ing the pow­er struc­ture, elim­i­nat­ing old jobs and cre­at­ing new ones, and build­ing a new cul­ture based on account­abil­i­ty and com­pe­tence. Real change can be painful because you have to give up some things to get new ones. Are we will­ing to give up some sacred cows?

The super­in­ten­dence. As Kansas City seeks a replace­ment for Dr. Green we urge the school board to look for a super­in­ten­dent who under­stands the nature of our stu­dents (urban, minor­i­ty, often poor, many from chal­lenged home sit­u­a­tions), has a proven track record and a bold plan to help them succeed—fresh approach­es rather than rely­ing on the same old meth­ods that have not worked. We need some­one who can unite the com­mu­ni­ty behind a vision and who has the man­age­ment expe­ri­ence to oper­a­tional­ize that vision. This vision can­not depend on one per­son alone to real­ize it; over the years we have been too depen­dent on the super­in­ten­dent-sav­ior to fix every­thing. This strat­e­gy has not worked.

Board Governance. We need a board that pro­vides bold lead­er­ship, inno­va­tion and account­abil­i­ty, not timid fol­low­er­ship. In over-react­ing to past crony­ism we have arrived at a sit­u­a­tion in which board mem­bers con­fess pri­vate­ly to being out of the loop and depen­dent on the admin­is­tra­tion to know what is going on. And worse, being in a reac­tive rather than proac­tive mode when it comes to chart­ing the course of the dis­trict. The board is account­able for the district’s effec­tive­ness, and vot­ers should hold its feet to the fire.

Building con­nec­tions. Public edu­ca­tion is suc­ceed­ing in set­tings in which there is a coali­tion of schools with var­i­ous spon­sors, emphases and fund­ing sources with each held account­able for the suc­cess­ful edu­ca­tion of its stu­dents. This is an era in which build­ing bridges is lead­ing to suc­cess, not cut­ting off oppor­tu­ni­ties for groups to work togeth­er. This will be a sys­tem that no indi­vid­ual or inter­est group owns. It is not a time for cir­cling the wag­ons to keep every­one else out. We have the option of either invent­ing a new open sys­tem of col­lab­o­rat­ing schools or wak­ing up one day and find­ing that the exist­ing school dis­trict has gone out of busi­ness.

Some cit­i­zens and some media need to quit applaud­ing “turn­ing a cor­ner” and start ask­ing what we are doing dif­fer­ent­ly. There is talk about turn­ing the cor­ner because there is sta­bil­i­ty, but no one ques­tions the what or how.

It is time to pro­vide our stu­dents a real­ly out­stand­ing edu­ca­tion that will equip them for the future.

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