Report of the June 27, 2012 KCPS Board Meeting

Do the Right Thing for Kids board watch­ers paid par­tic­u­lar atten­tion to fac­tors impor­tant to pro­vid­ing stu­dents the qual­i­ty of edu­ca­tion they need and deserve.  These includ­ed:

  • Strong focus on aca­d­e­m­ic achieve­ment and full accred­i­ta­tion vs. inter­nal process­es, pub­lic image and minor issues;
  • Commitment to a real turn­around strat­e­gy to over­come a cul­ture of low per­for­mance, lack of pro­fes­sion­al­ism and crony­ism vs. a busi­ness as usu­al men­tal­i­ty;
  • Strong lead­er­ship to the admin­is­tra­tion and the com­mu­ni­ty vs. a reac­tive fol­low­er style;
  • Full and hon­est report­ing to con­stituents of impor­tant infor­ma­tion about dis­trict issues vs. “man­ag­ing” the news.

At board meet­ings, we hear lip ser­vice and see data about achieve­ment but observe few bold steps to improve it.   It seems much more busi­ness as usu­al.   Discussions men­tion the hope of achiev­ing five points on the DESE accred­i­ta­tion rat­ing scale with four of these points hav­ing noth­ing direct­ly to do with aca­d­e­m­ic achieve­ment.  None of the informed cit­i­zens in the dis­trict with whom we have spo­ken think that mar­gin­al pro­vi­sion­al accred­i­ta­tion is a wor­thy goal.  Graduates need strong read­ing, math and cit­i­zen­ship skills.  We learn there are no des­ig­nat­ed read­ing spe­cial­ists in the dis­trict (con­trary to prac­tice in oth­er dis­tricts), but not to wor­ry, read­ing assis­tance is pro­vid­ed by vol­un­teers.  In what way is that a demon­stra­tion of com­mit­ment to achieve­ment?

The dropout rate is 50 per­cent with 1 out of 3 stu­dents who can­not read by sec­ond grade and 40 per­cent by third grade.  Is the sav­ing of $1.2 mil­lion from reduc­ing the bus sched­ule from a 3-tier to a 2-tier sys­tem being devot­ed to these issues?  

It is wide­ly under­stood in many seg­ments of the com­mu­ni­ty that decades of a cul­ture of low expec­ta­tions, lack of com­mit­ment to pro­fes­sion­al stan­dards, per­son­al rela­tion­ships that trump per­for­mance and an almost total absence of rig­or­ous per­for­mance eval­u­a­tion lie behind the cur­rent fail­ure of the dis­trict.  Until these issues are con­front­ed and resolved there is unlike­ly to be major change.  We hear descrip­tions of future plans to improve per­for­mance eval­u­a­tion but talk with teach­ers who have not had a real eval­u­a­tion in many years.  Nothing strong­ly attests to “the spir­it of trans­form­ing pub­lic edu­ca­tion”— the words of the board pres­i­dent.  Very strong lead­er­ship from the board will be required to over­come the admin­is­tra­tive and edu­ca­tion­al iner­tia that has plagued the dis­trict and con­tin­ues to do so.

A good deal of time at the last board meet­ing was tak­en up with issues impor­tant to some peo­ple but not direct­ly relat­ed to achieve­ment: renam­ing a school, a new diver­sion pro­gram and a stu­dent infor­ma­tion sys­tem.  The board needs to be care­ful that meet­ings do not turn into show and tell ses­sions with pub­lic rela­tions val­ues but lit­tle long-term pay­off.  Also, such dis­cus­sions eas­i­ly lead to micro­man­age­ment. 

We view as ill advised and inef­fi­cient the empha­sis on con­stituents play­ing a key role in devel­op­ing pro­ce­dures for eval­u­at­ing the admin­is­tra­tion.  Best prac­tices in the field and expe­ri­ence of neigh­bor­ing suc­cess­ful dis­tricts would be much more help­ful than advice from cit­i­zens with lit­tle or no expe­ri­ence in pro­gram eval­u­a­tion but vest­ed inter­ests in cer­tain pro­grams.   Is the goal bet­ter eval­u­a­tion or PR?  Who is dri­ving this effort?

We admire the good inten­tions of the board and admin­is­tra­tion and hope they can rise to the occa­sion and pull the dis­trict out of its spi­ral of dys­func­tion.  It is going to take much stronger lead­er­ship than we are see­ing.

View the agenda/minutes of this meet­ing
(will open in a new win­dow).

One Response to Kansas City Public Schools Report — June 27, 2012

  1. Parent says:

    Well said.

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