December 1, 2011
Dear Commissioner Nicastro,
I would like to thank your office for the leadership shown in the past few weeks by personally visiting with residents and civic leaders to hear our concerns. Our future success depends on a positive coalition of state actors including the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), the General Assembly and the Governor’s Office, all working together to assist the local community regain the mantle of student achievement.
The continued failure of the Kansas City Missouri School District (KCMSD) to adequately educate every child in the district has enormous implications for the social and economic fabric of this city. An undereducated populace directly correlates to increased crime, an under-prepared workforce, and joblessness, all of which adversely impact the financial wellbeing of the community.
Therefore, there are fewer jobs, less social mobility and a greater need for social services and public assistance. On a more basic and moral level, it is simply immoral for us to fail to do all that is necessary to prepare the children of this community to compete in what is clearly a more complex global economy.
Therefore, I, in conjunction with a diverse group of over 30 community partners, have prepared this blueprint for future action concerning the loss of accreditation for the district. This group, consisting of educators, parents, business and community leaders, and elected officials, all have a vested interest in seeing the students of the KCMSD succeed. The discussions were not meant to address educational programming, strategies or resources. Rather, we targeted our discussions towards the single issue of governance systems to be employed to effectively operate KCMSD.
Leave the current elected board in place and proceed as before the loss of accreditation. This proposal has support from a small segment of our community and may spur legislative action to simply abolish the district.
This option is widely considered the “nuclear option” in the community because it has the potential to create a long-term “social scar” on our City and the students, past and present, who live here. If the District is abolished, a plan will still be needed to address the root causes and issues of underperforming urban, minority students. Furthermore, districts receiving the KCMSD children would have to be prepared to deal with what could be a new set of challenges for them. Additionally, the arrival of such students in the receiving districts could have negative impacts on the districts’ “Adequate Yearly Progress.” and other indicators of accreditation.
According to this model, the KCMSD would remain intact as a school district, however; the State Board of Education would establish a State Advisory Board (SAB) with powers to replace the elected board. The State board would decide on the Interim Superintendent and contract with suburban schools to operate most of the KCMSD schools, except Lincoln Prep Academy, Paseo and Manual. The boundaries of the KCMSD would remain intact and buildings would continue to be owned by KCMSD. In this scenario, the receiving districts would send the education to the students via their selected teachers and using, presumably, their educational programs as used in the current and existing schools of the receiving district.
This form of state take over could create more political problems than it solves and might be a catalyst that creates the very type of unpredictable student migration the receiving districts fear.
This model is a more collaborative version of proposal 5 above where the State Board acts in conjunction with the Mayor to select and appoint the SAB and Superintendent. In this scenario, the Mayor, elected citywide and by a broader base than the school board, would provide local control and accountability while the State Board would address the education issue.The “buck stops here” approach makes accountability clear and can provide the educational team the political cover needed to make real reform. Furthermore, mayoral involvement also encourages different partnership opportunities with the business and philanthropic communities that might easily elude a State control model.There is evidence governance models featuring mayoral involvement offer as much potential for producing academic achievement success as elected board models, both of which are superior to the pure State control models. Further, a State Board, by nature and function, relies on indicators in assessing performance but is powerless to address structural, social issues that affect student performance.
7) SCHOOL DISTRICT GOVERNED BY MAYORAL LEADERSHIP.
Under this model, the Mayor would lead an administrative team of three professionals, all of which possess a unique skill set, to carry out school district operations.
First, the Mayor would select a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) who may or may not be an educator, but MUST be a leader with an unassailable reputation. An education background, in some respect, is an obvious plus and bonus. The job of the CEO is to be the visible leader of the district and administrative team. They set the tone for “Academic Achievement: First, Foremost and Always!” and they work with the business and philanthropic communities to gain input, buy-in and solicit additional resources.
The CEO then selects the Chief Academic Officer (CAO) and the Chief Business Officer (CBO) with the advice and consent of the Mayor. The CAO must be an educator and would serve as a superintendent type with the clear and express focus of “Academic Achievement: First, Foremost and Always!” This professional’s role would be totally focused on achievement, teacher training and other issues directly related to student performance. The CBO must have extensive experience in school finance, as they would be responsible for the financial health of the district.
As in option 6, the Mayor, in this scenario, is the primary source of accountability to the community. Voters will use the performance of the school district as a factor in determining whether or not the Mayor should remain in office. The State Board and Mayor could also collaborate in naming an advisory board to serve with the administrative team that is devoted to “Academic Achievement: First, Foremost and Always!” The members of this board must possess a passion for children of all ages and learning styles, have proven successes in leadership, and have the time and willingness to serve the district.
The difficulty facing us when examining these seven possibilities lies in evaluating which proposal is the best option in light of the totality of the circumstances. One way to evaluate the proposals is to measure each against the principles or goals sought to be protected and achieved. During a recent meeting, the group of stakeholders present was able to articulate that at least the following principles and goals are important to this discussion:
1. Establish ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT as the primary goal in all discussions and actions;
2. Maintain the CONTINUITY of the KCMSD by keeping the district BOUNDARIES INTACT with LOCAL CONTROL;
3. Streamline and centralize AUTHORITY and ACCOUNTABILITY;
4. Measure all RESULTS based on FACTS and DATA;
5. Ensure all district decisions are made by PROFESSIONALS with SUCCESSFUL EXPERIENCE managing large organizations;
6. Develop a LONG TERM APPROACH while delivering SHORT TERM SOLUTIONS;
7. Acknowledge REGIONAL CONSIDERATIONS and impacts on ADJOINING SCHOOL DISTRICTS; and
8. Design a clear and comprehensive RE-EVALUATION STRATEGY.
Rationale – An important consideration for the students in the district is that there is a smooth and seamless transition. For this to occur, there must be more than one month’s time to prepare. According to state law, parents of current KCMSD students, as well as parents of students in private and charter schools, will be allowed the option of transferring their children. The monetary impact on the district due to tuition and transportation costs would quickly bankrupt the district. For this plan to be successful, it is important that the district remain financially sound.
The date of July 1st coordinates with the district’s budget deadline.
Action Step 3 – Change the structure of district governance from an elected board to one based upon mayoral leadership.
- The Mayor of Kansas City, Missouri will be in charge of the district. The Mayor’s first responsibility will be to select a Chief Executive Officer to oversee the district’s academic, financial and operational activities.
- The Chief Executive Officer, in partnership with the Mayor, will select two other senior administrators:
- The Chief Academic Officer
- The Chief Business Officer
- In addition, a Parent Advisory Board will be created with a structure as outlined in Appendix A of this document.
- Meetings with stakeholders
- The CEO, the CAO, and the CBO, the PAB chair and AFT President will meet quarterly to discuss district issues and concerns.
- Following those meetings, the CEO, the CAO, the CBO will hold a public meeting. These meetings will:
- Provide an update on the operations, academic progress and financial condition of the district.
- Allow for public comment.
- The Mayor may create additional advisory boards, as he deems necessary.
Rationale – The problems facing students in the KCMSD extend beyond the classroom. Social challenges of high unemployment and domestic destabilization are often the leading contributors to a lack of student achievement. While I recognize that the Office of the Mayor cannot solve these social ills single handily or overnight, the wide purview of influence afforded to the elected leader of the city is the best platform from which to address the many challenges. The Mayor’s ability to leverage his relationships within the artistic, business and philanthropic communities can yield both financial and in-kind support for this reform effort. This being said, the Mayor’s Office will forge a collaborative partnership with the Commissioner of Education and the State Board throughout the duration of this governance structure.
Streamlining the decision making process increases efficiency and centralizes accountability. The benefit of improved communications will be a result of centralized authority. Please see reference in Appendix B for supportive data.
In the past decade, 12 of the 70 largest school districts in the nation have adopted a governance structure with mayoral leadership. Those cities include New York, Chicago, Boston, Cleveland and Los Angeles. While many of the efforts remain ongoing, there is ample evidence of positive traction for student achievement.
Action Step 4 – Provide adjoining districts certainty that their cooperation in absorbing students will not have a negative academic or financial impact.
a. Work with the State to request a waiver of NCLB graduation requirements for students transferring from an unaccredited district for a period of three years.
b. AYP waivers – Districts receiving students who have transferred from the Kansas City School District will continue to have a 3 year waiver in which the MAP scores of those students will not be factored in the district’s AYP determination.
c. Allow the receiving district board to set student to teacher ratios for capacity considerations
d. A “stay” provision for any Jan 1 transfer requests until the July 1st designation of unaccreditation.
Rationale – The surrounding school districts have indicated a willingness to partner with the KCMSD to assist in this time of need. It is important to recognize that each district has its own voter approved operating levy providing resources from residence’s property taxes to educate the children living within the boundary of that levy. The levy and bonds were not designed or passed with the intention to educate children in surrounding districts.
Because a portion of the MSIP evaluation is based on MAP test scores in meeting AYP, an influx of new students could potentially penalize the district if the incoming students did not have the benefit of the receiving districts’ instruction and curriculum. Many of the surrounding districts have made significant gains in student achievement, and any plan which would require them to accept incoming students should acknowledge the potential impact with certain protections.
Action Step 5 – Submit language for legislative action by the General Assembly.
Rationale – The implementation of this plan in relation to a change in KCMSD governance will require enabling statutes enacted by the General Assembly and signed by the Governor. The Kansas City Caucus is united in our effort to swiftly move a bill through the General Assembly with an Emergency Clause to take effect upon the Governor’s approval.
Action Step 6 – Re-evaluation Strategy.
On March 1, 2019, this plan will be re-evaluated based on the progress of the district. At that time the State Board of Education will make a recommendation to:
- Continue mayoral leadership of the district
- Allow for an elected school board to control the district
- State Takeover
- Allow the voters in KCMSD to determine if they want to continue a school district under mayoral leadership or return to an elected board.
- Other feasible options
Rationale – Any plan adopted should have a re-evaluation component to consider the progress and for a continuation or change in strategy.
Although this plan will completely transform the governance of our school district, I believe it is the most appropriate course of action for our community and I respectfully request your support in its implementation. The dire circumstances we find ourselves demand a bold and carefully calculated plan of action.
The stakeholders who support this plan all realize the serious implications of making this shift in school governance. However, we also believe the students in the Kansas City Missouri School District deserve to have at least one constant in their lives and that should be a safe, stable, and high-quality school district.
Thank you again for your commitment to finding a community-driven, results-oriented solution to raising student achievement in our school district.
Sylvester “Sly” James
Mayor of Kansas City Missouri
Parent Advisory Committee
Each school will have one parent who will serve as the PAC representative. This representative will:
- Meet monthly with the school’s parents.
- Closely communicate with the staff and parents in the school through:
PAC representatives will:
- Elect an executive board with a chair, vice chair, secretary and treasurer.
- Meet monthly
- Report school issues and concerns:
- Discuss and identify specific recommendations to resolve issues.
Kenneth K. Wong, Brown University and Francis X. Shen, LSS