Kansas City School District Reforms

Today, I sent the following letter to Missouri’s Commissioner of Education, Chris Nicastro.
It represents nearly a month of meetings with stakeholders that included parents, teachers union representatives, legislators, education experts, community and business leaders, superintendents from surrounding school districts, and  other community touchstones.

This is the summation of serious, concentrated and difficult discussions amongst a group whose sole focus was improving the education of the students of the Kansas City School District.

The proposal is a starting point, not an ending point. It does, however, propose a bold and significant change that I, and others in the community, believe is necessary to serve the students and save the district.I, nor do any of the 30-plus community members who worked on this plan, take what is proposed lightly. I look forward to hearing your feedback.

The letter, as it was sent to Commissioner Nicastro, is below:

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.

There are a number of proposals that are being considered to address the current situation.  Some of these proposals are more viable than others, however; I think it is important for you to see the breadth of proposals being presented:

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.

In short, abolition of the KCMSD could create an educational “whack a mole” game that no one wins in the end.

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 proposal reconstitutes the dual board type of arrangement our community experienced under the Desegregation Monitoring Committee.

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.

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;


8.  Design a clear and comprehensive RE-EVALUATION STRATEGY.

After weighing all governance options against these guiding principles, the group found that one option consistently performed better – governance by mayoral leadership. Let me be clear, I have no personal agenda to satisfy here.  I did not ask for this responsibility, but I will not shy away from it if this group, a cross section of our entire community, believes it is in the best interest of our children.  My objective is to raise student achievement in the KCMSD.  Indeed, I want nothing less for any of the 14 districts that lie in whole or in part in Kansas City.  I am willing to play any role (or none) in order to achieve the single most important goal of ensuring academic achievement for the children of this city.

The group recognizes that this governance model is a drastic change and drastic change can be difficult.  However, the KCMSD is at a crossroads.  As a community, we can move forward together and address the difficult issues that have plagued our school district for years.  Or we can continue down the path that led us to where we are today.  The later, for all of us, is not an option.In my opinion, the best governance structure for the school district is one that simultaneously addresses academic achievement problems while minimizing the political issue of local control.  We cannot allow political in-fighting between adults to hinder our children’s academic achievement.I believe the group’s plan detailed below will increase academic achievement while reassuring our community that accountability will be vested locally. I recommend the following actions steps to implement this plan:

Action Step 1– Request that any recommendations to the State Board concerning the KCMSD be postponed until March 1st, 2012.

Rationale– Although we understand the urgency felt by the community, it is critical that we have a quality plan that will address the academic needs of our students. By delaying the announcement of a plan, we believe that this additional time will be valuable in two ways.First, it will allow time for the appropriate legislation to be drafted, considered by the Legislature, and if passed, signed by the Governor. This is an important step that will help alleviate the possibility of litigation.Second, it will allow time to fully develop implementation details of the plan.

Action Step 2– Delay the date to classify the district as unaccredited to July 1st, 2012.

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

Appendix A

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:
    • Conversations
    • Email
    • Surveys
    • Other

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.
The PAC Chair will meet monthly with the CEO to discuss issues, concerns and recommendations to resolve issues.

Appendix B

School Takeover: Evidence of Impact and
Conditions for Success
prepared by
Kenneth K. Wong, Brown University and Francis X. Shen, LSS
Evidence of Impact:Politics of Grantsmanship.

Related to revenue streams, when we don’t control for the duration of the takeover, we find a positive relationship between takeover and the percentage of revenue from state sources. In both models, takeover is inversely related to the percent of revenue from local sources. When we control for duration, however, it is not takeover per se, but the duration of the takeover that is positively related to state funding. This may suggest that states are more willing to provide funds as mayoral takeovers establish legitimacy. Although we cannot specify the mechanisms using the data in this study, the increase in state funds may still indicate a “politics of grantsmanship” at the state level as mayors demonstrate over time to state officials that mayoral appointed boards can be successful.Staff Re-allocation to Improve Teaching and Learning.

Mayoral takeover appears to be linked to a greater percentage of staff allocated to teaching and student support. This shift in staffing allocation may suggest a broader reform strategy. From the mayor’s office, which takes into consideration the interest of the city as a whole, failing schools are constrained by broad community and institutional context, such as gangs, crimes, health, etc. In order to turn around failing schools, mayoral appointed school boards are likely to allocate more supportive staff to combat social problems in the immediate school environment. At the same time, takeover is also positively associated with increases in the percentage of staff categorized as supervision. This may be an indicative of the centralized nature of takeover regimes.Cities with mayoral appointed school board seem to be enjoying improved student performance in the elementary grades.

Some of the findings which support this conclusion include the following. In four of the five districts, elementary schools are improving their standardized test scores in both reading and mathematics. Only Detroit, the most recent case of mayoral control, showed mixed results in student performance. In Boston the percent of students who met proficiency in the MCAS rose in both 4th and 8th grades for both reading and mathematics. For example in reading, 4th graders who met proficiency increased from 5% to 29% between 1998 and 2002. In mathematics, 8th graders who were proficient increased from 17% to 23% during the same period. In Chicago, the percent of K-8 students at or above national norms on the reading ITBS increased from 37% to 43% during 1998 and 2002. In mathematics, the improvement was from 39% to 47%. In Cleveland, reading proficiency for all 4th graders improved from 23% to 33% and for all 6th graders from 17% to 22% during 1998 and 2002. In mathematics, improvement was even greater: 22% to 38% in 4th grade and 12% to 24% in 6th grade.Cities with mayoral appointed school boards also report gains in high school student performance.

In Boston, the percent of 10th graders who were proficient in the MCAS increased in both reading and mathematics. In reading, 10th graders improved their MCAS performance from 23% to 41% between 1998 and 2002. In mathematics, the improvement was from 14% to 30%. In Chicago, TAP reading performance for 9th and 10th graders slightly improved from 32% to 34% during 1999 and 2002. In Cleveland, reading proficiency at the 10th grade improved from 76% to 86%, while mathematics proficiency rose from 41% to 52% at the 10th grade.Gains in achievement in the mayoral appointed districts are especially significant for the lowest performing schools.

To examine whether the achievement gains occurred in the lowest performing schools, we conducted a more detailed analysis in Boston and Chicago, the first two districts with mayor-led accountability reform. School level data for this analysis are from 1998 to 2002 in Boston; and from 1994 to 2002 in Chicago. The lowest performing elementary schools are making significant improvements, while the lowest performing high schools showed smaller gains in standardized test scores.We are thus able to construct a data set containing data from the 100 largest urban school districts, from 1992 through 2001. The timing of the first mayoral takeover (Boston in 1992) coincides well with the starting points for the two national data sets. We make adjustments for inflation in order to make all dollar figures constant in 2001. To make these adjustments, we use the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Constant Dollar Employment Cost Index. Because the majority of school district expenditures are used on salaries and wages, we use the index for State & Local Governments’ Educational Services. To adjust for geographic cost differentials, we use the geographic cost of education index (GCEI) developed by Chambers (1998).

28 thoughts on “Kansas City School District Reforms

  1. Mayor Sly James the proposals, steps, options and rationale for such proposals as set forth above are all excellent.

    Thanks for your genuine concern for the “scholars” of our District and not the “dollars.” We must bring back the focus to the scholars in our District.

    Please advise if I can be of assistance.

    Sherrie T. Collins
    Former and Proud Elementary student in the KCMSD
    Concerned citizen residing in the Urban Core

  2. Takes courage to take on city kids’ education! This is as good an idea as any and deserves serious consideration. We adults need to step aside and let the kids succeed.

  3. The plan eliminates an elected school board in favor of a strong mayor-through-appointed- surrogates model. As an interim measure, it has merit. It would be preferable to implement this plan, now, rather than experience the havoc and disruption of a state takeover, especially given the less than desirable St. Louis takeover model. Good Luck! Mayor James!

  4. What about the issue of taxation without representation? The School board members are elected by the residents of the school distrcit and the school board sets the property tax rate. The residents need to have a say in how the district is operated bacuase we fund it. This is a slippery slope to have the Mayor in direct control of this money.

  5. Changing how our schools are administered at the upper levels will do nothing to change the quality of education our students receive unless and until those changes have a direct and immediate impact upon what is happening between the teachers and students in EVERY classroom.
    The following link will take you to a report by a Special Appointed Committee (SAC) of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to determine whether their State Appointed Board (SAB) had improved student performance over 4 years following the State takeover of the St. Louis Public School System in 2006. The SAC relied solely on MAP scores to make their decision in 2010, even though the MAP is being phased out in favor of the EOC (End of Course Exam) by DESE. In 2011, DESE didn’t even have enough money to hire staff to score the written portions of their MAP, and relied solely on multiple choice questions to determine student achievement and teacher performance. The MAP is strictly administered according to DESE guidelines and scored by DESE, Yet, after consulting with numerous experts and citing a variety of scholarly studies, the SAC claimed it did not have sufficient or reliable data to determine whether gains had been made in student achievement in the St. Louis schools over a four year period. Ironically, it does not appear this oversight committee visited a single classroom.


    If DESE does not have enough money to score an end of year test, which they have admitted is critically flawed, yet upon which they rely as the only annual grade that counts for every student and teacher, how can they hope to change what happens between students and their teachers in every classroom in the KCMO district? Learning happens in the classroom, not the board room, and this is where we must start if we are sincere in our determination to educate our kids.

    These are the issues Kansas City must address to change student performance:
    A. Transience of the student population and the absence of any sense of community. Our schools should be focal point of activities, events and resources for the surrounding communities which they serve. Parents and members of the community should want to come to our schools, and they should want to keep their students in their current school.
    B. Support for students and parents outside the classroom in terms of educational resources and help with their homework. Learning must occur and be reinforced outside the classroom. Parents who have not been adequately educated struggle to help their own children learn. The KCMSD has failed to educate our students’ parents. Those schools in Missouri which are succeeding on the MAP have the luxury of presuming their students have access at home to the internet and technology which supports what happens in the classroom. After school access to these resources must be provided AT THE SCHOOL for those students who have no other alternative.
    C. Control of student behavior in the classroom so that teachers can spend time teaching and student learning is not disrupted. Students who only want to disrupt a classroom must be removed from it so that those students who want to learn can learn.
    D. Adequate training for teachers which prepares them to handle the problems and issues of urban students. The coursework in education completed by most teachers as they pursue their bachelor’s degrees presumes an ideal world in which every student has a laptop in every classroom, and every child sits obediently in their seat begging to learn. Our Universities have become so enamored with new technology that they are wholly failing to prepare new teachers for the realities of an urban classroom. Coursework at the master’s level, such as that currently offered by the University of Southern California, which helps teachers to cope with the immediate issues of students in the urban core, must be a part of the continuing education plan for every teacher in the KCPSD. The District can only recruit and retain qualified teachers who will inspire, motivate and nurture our students if it gives those teachers the ability to succeed. Teachers do not enter their profession because they want to fail their students.
    E. Ability grouping of our students so that teachers can focus on their immediate needs. When a teacher has students in a high school classroom working at the 4th grade level sitting next to students working above grade level, it is impossible to create materials and presentations that meet the needs of the class as a whole.
    F. Help for building principals, who should be our most important level of administration. Principals need to be IN the classrooms monitoring students and teachers, coaching and mentoring, and assessing those teachers who need remedial assistance to improve their performance, and transitioning those who need to find another career. Hiring qualified, hands on building principals who have been successful as teachers, and giving them enough administrative assistance in terms of mandated reporting requirements that they can actually leave their offices, will improve the quality of every school.
    G. Giving students a REASON to learn the material on the MAP. The MAP, which is given once a year over a period of three days, is the only piece of data which the State uses to assess the quality of education in Missouri schools. The MAP is, by virtue of its multiple choice, computer scored format, a trivia test because it is easier to test the trivia than mastery of processes and fundamental concepts. Teachers find themselves drilling their students daily on trivia and details, and instruction of fundamental concepts and processes is sacrificed. The questions on the MAP are taken directly from DESE’s Grade Level Expectations (GLE’s), a litany of content which students must master in each grade. (DESE is preparing to abandon their GLE’s for CLE’s, or Course Level Expectations, a process which they’ve been forced to delay due to their own budgetary constraints.) For example, at the 6th grade level, communication arts students must know the fine points of onomatopoeia, idiom and alliteration. They must also learn to “use apostrophe in irregular and plural possessives, and quotation marks in dialogue.” Students do not see any relevance in these isolated details, because they are unable to make any connection between the information on which they are being drilled and what THEY KNOW they must know to survive as adults. All teachers in Missouri are being forced to primarily teach to this test to preserve their jobs. It is the equivalent of trying to ice a cake before you make the batter. Teachers and principals must be given the courage and administrative support they need to teach the fundamentals first.
    H. Giving students a REASON to value education. This is the most critical issue facing the students of the Kansas City public schools, and it is the reason Mayor Sly James is in the best position to lead our school district. Our Kauffman Scholars succeed; we simply don’t have enough of them. Mayor James is in the best position to reconnect the City of Kansas City with its own school system. Currently, we have two cities. One is educated, sophisticated, successful, and primarily Caucasian. That city returns to the suburbs at the end of the work day, unless it is enjoying the many opportunities for entertainment and enrichment which the City offers after hours. Over a period of decades, Mayor James is the FIRST city official to have the courage to cross over the chasm and recognized that Kansas City must assume responsibility for educating ALL children who live within its boundaries, not just those who live on the suburban fringe. He is in the best position to interface with community and business leaders, all of whom can provide essential financial assistance and volunteer manpower to aid in improving our schools. Our students must be able to envision opportunities for success after graduation before they will see any relevance in what is being taught in the classroom. When those who have succeeded come into direct contact with those who want to succeed, hope happens and the paths to success are illuminated. Adding additional paperwork and burdensome reporting requirements to the daily workload of our teachers and building principals, while isolating further layers of administrative control from the classroom, will not improve education in our schools. A State appointed school board (SAB) will only create more highly compensated administrators disconnected from the classroom, who will rely on nothing more than MAP scores to determine whether the District should regain accreditation, and who will have every motivation to make excuses for lack of progress simply to keep their own jobs. Allowing the State to take control of our schools will only slow the process of change and increase expense as we waste instructional dollars on management, consulting groups, theories and excuses which do nothing to improve student learning.

    Our community has a unique opportunity, with Mayor James’ leadership, to light the path for our children so that they can see the way to achievement and success. It is my sincerest hope that DESE will give him the opportunity to take on this challenge.

    • This is so thoughtful and articulate! One comment I might add is priority to connect students with a love of learning in and of itself, as a joyful, inspiring, expressive process. Having a “reason” to get an education may function on some level to initiate focus, but as with all activities that emphasize the goal rather than the process itself so much is lost in the way of character development, adaptability, self-motivation, curiosity and so on, all the qualities that grow citizens into lifelong engaged learners. The way this could happen has a lot to do with some of your other points – such as investing in teachers and strengthening parental involvement – but it requires also a willingness to be on the cutting edge, to experiment with technological developments, arts integration, smaller class sizes and so on. This means a governance body that is committed to activities that go beyond stabilizing, regrouping etc – like research, pilot programs and active citizen input. In order to really get the process juiced up, I believe there should be a massive publicity campaign throughout the city to talk about the vital importance of education to all our futures – not just those who have kids in school. We need to talk about why schools have such a low funding priority, and why we are so reluctant to designate collective monies to such a desperately important part of our culture. There are many of us out here with skill sets and goodwill who would gladly contribute to such a conversation.

  6. I like it. In fact, I been always surprised that previous mayors did not take more of a role in helping the school district given its long history of problems. I applaud Mayor James in stepping to the plate. Even if this is not in his job description, the performance of a city’s school district does have a profound effect on any mayor’s overall job success. I think the approach is good, too. One source of accountability with the CBO and CAO for actual implementation and administration should nulify or reduce red tape and corporate black holes.

  7. I support a plan that is for the GOOD of the children in the Kansas City Missouri School District. On the surface the mayor’s plan is a starting place. There other plans I am not willing to support. The mayor’s plan has the feel of compassion for not wanting to see the district dismantled. These are our children, our city and our school district, get on board! Look at the data for a mayor controlled school district. Can it be any worst than what we have had in the past? We must not allow the Kansas City Missouri School District to be dismantled!

  8. I think the plan sounds great. We’re long overdue for a new approach to this on going problem. I am also impressed with the proposed strategies to “buy some time” in order to get it right. I applaud the Mayor’s humble and thoughtful approach. He has consistently embraced unresolved/on going projects, agendas and issues rather than imposing his own. Thank you for your willingness to take on this additional challenge.

  9. Lets see. Arthur Benson is against it so I must be for it. But the teachers unions are for it so I must be against it.

    Who will be your michelle rhee or joel klein? Will you support that person unconditionally?

    Have you reviewed the “saving 17000” piece the kc star did and compared and contrasted the current school district to the one that existed then.

    Follow the money. Who wins financially and who loses. and if your son has a job anywhere because of you running the school district, its a loser.

    Who judges whether or not the kids win if you get your way. this country can no longer afford to have uneducated kids dumped onto the streets of life. remember we are currently 32nd in the world in math and 16th in reading.

    I would prefer the new orleans “katrina” solution. fire everybody and start over.

  10. The Mayor take-over of the district is the best idea I have seen in a long time. My concern is that it does not directly tie the schools to city goals. This is an imperative when it is recognized that school performance is directly tied to neighborhoods and neighborhood revitalization is directly tied to school performance. This can be added easily by including neighborhood organizations and city planning to the governing mix for the schools. In addition, the separation of school finance and school academics into two separate areas of responsibilities can be a huge mistake. These two functions (and the neighborhood and additional identified future funding) need to be linked. Checks and balances need to be included. (As you know, it is sometimes easier to obtain funding for a large project rather than when that project is small and focused–i.e., transportation, infrastructure, etc.) Finally, oversight of this new governing unit is needed from the business community (both large and small; profit and nonprofit) and the media. I use Eleanor Ostrum’s idea of “holons” (2009 Nobel Prize Winner for Economics) to begin creation of a Graphic Organizer for the innovative types of organizational changes you are suggesting. Then I ask those I’ve invited to participate to assist in cleaning up and finalizing the plan…Overall, do not give up–It’s a good district and deserves to succeed!

  11. Any plan to reform this district is doomed to fail unless it aims to hold students accountable for their classroom performance and behavior. As someone who taught in the KCMSD through Teach For America, I was stunned to see that KCMSD students are simply not responsible for anything they do or say. I’ve watched as a handful of extremely violent, disruptive students prevented the rest of their class from learning day after day, all year long. They literally stole the education of their classmates–while students in suburban districts were actually learning.

    I don’t expect Sly James to understand this, and neither do I expect any so-called community leaders to understand it. They aren’t educators, and they don’t see what happens inside KCMSD classrooms. They have a skewed view because they’re observing everything from the outside.

    I have a bad feeling that this new management scheme is going to ignore the root causes of the KCMSD’s problems and instead be another focus on trend-of-the-day education “reform” plans and scapegoat teachers who are doing the very best they can.

    Nobody wants to say it, but besides the inept leaders of the KCMSD and the actions they’ve taken, the problem with the district starts in the lives of the students who attend it.

    If you really want to implement some real changes, here’s some ideas from someone who actually has worked there:

    1. Immediately hold all students accountable for their behavior and academics. Set clear, consistent, and fair rules that all must abide by, and send those who are violent or chronically disruptive to an alternative school. When there, they should receive support from trained professionals in dealing with the issues that have caused them to become violent, etc. When they’re deemed ready to come back to the normal classroom, then allow them to do so. If their behavior becomes so serious that they need to be expelled, then do so. The district should support these actions and not be afraid to defend itself in court.

    2. Fully fund the KCMSD classrooms–especially the science ones. As a science teacher, I had only $200 per year to purchase supplies for my classroom. How am I supposed to get what my students need with that pathetic amount of money? There is money in the KCMSD, but it sure is not making its way to the classrooms. KCMSD students should have access to world-class facilities and not be shortchanged on their education just because the district was too cheap to purchase even a basic microscope. That is totally inexcusable.

    3. Stop obsessing over test scores. The KCMSD students, on average, will never score as high as wealthier students on standardized testing. They show up to school far less prepared, and they live in a community that is not exactly ideal for raising children. This is just the way it is, and by obsessing over test scores we’re (1) penalizing them for something they cannot control and (2) giving them a narrowed curriculum instead of the rich, broad, and diverse learning experience they should have access to. I know students in the KCMSD who weren’t taught science since their principal used that time for extra reading and math test prep. How sad.

    4. Fully fund career training for students who are not interested in college. There are other districts around the country that offer world-class training for auto repair, graphic design, printing, and all sorts of other areas. In Des Moines, they have a school called Central Campus where students from all of the metropolitan and suburban districts can take specialized career classes. They even have a program at the Des Moines International Airport where students learn to work on actual airplanes (they have two very expensive commercial aircraft). Why doesn’t the KCMSD have this option?

    5. Give teachers more autonomy in their classroom. Currently, teachers are told every few years to start implementing some trendy new fad in education or the new reform efforts of whatever superintendent is in charge at the time. Often times these efforts are pushed with no understanding of the students’ needs. Teachers understand what they’re students need, and they must be allowed to design the curriculum and instruction that they receive. They also need to have full decision-making power on issues of discipline and classroom management. The current state of affairs has left many teachers burned out, tired, and feeling as if nobody respects the difficult job they do. We need to do away with all scripted/packaged/expensive curriculum programs and empower our educators to do what’s right for their students.

    6. Institute massive layoffs at the district office. There are too many non-educators working for the KCMSD, and frankly they don’t belong there if they aren’t directly impacting the students.

    7. Significantly raise teacher pay. How in the world does the KCMSD expect to attract quality educators to the district when its starting pay is around $33,000 per year? That’s pathetic. It’s even worse when one realizes that district leaders–who don’t even educate students–are making many times that amount. Why does the KCMSD pay people more money the further they get from students?

    Anyway, those are some of my thoughts.

    • very informative. i would be interested in more detail on what prevented you from effectively managing your class room and getting disruptive students removed from your class room and your school.

      and 1000% support you view on fully funding science

      • This all makes so much sense. Why is there such a gap between what good teachers KNOW from daily hands-on experience (and a genuine caring for their students’ best outcomes, whatever that may mean for each individual) and what most administrators implement?

        • Most administrators are all about compliance. They’re given directives from the district office, and it’s their job to comply.

          This goes back to the fact that the KCMSD, ever few years or so, has new leadership that’s often of a very political nature. John Covington, for example, came from the Broad Foundation and pushed a very political set of trend-of-the-day education “reforms”–many of which are already discredited or are sure to be shortly.

          Even if my principal wanted to enforce the code of conduct in my school, she would have received no support. For example, it was determined that one of our worst students–a 14 year old girl who did zero work and constantly screamed profanities, started fights, and disrupted class–actually lived outside of our school’s boundaries. Our counselor started the paperwork necessary to move her to the appropriate neighborhood school, and the principal signed off on it. Shortly thereafter, a district official was in our school screaming at my principal saying that this girl has to stay here and that she’s coming back. Clearly he had no idea why she needed to go, but that didn’t matter. The girl came back, and she walked into the office yelling “they tried to get rid of me, but I’m back!”

          This is why I’m skeptical of new district leadership. Yes, what we have right now is horrible (the school board is beyond terrible), but I don’t see Sly James or the state doing anything better.

          The problem is that nobody goes to the people who actually work in the schools when looking for solutions. Legislators, civic leaders, Gwen Grant (totally clueless), business leaders, the mayor, state education officials, “superstar” superintendents who move from one urban school to another every few years, and others simply have no idea what to do because they’re not in the KCMSD schools. They don’t work with the students, teach classes, and see on a daily basis what barriers exist to learning.

          If someone really wants to change this district, they need to speak with teachers, students, and support staff. Period. Anyone else is not going to understand the problems in this district.

      • It’s simple: I had zero authority as my principal refused to support teachers with discipline. For example, one day a teenage girl shoved me into my desk and five minutes later was back in class. The principal told me that I needed to call her mom. Even though the district has a code of conduct, it’s never followed by the principals.

        We even had a student who never once did any work in any class, threatened to kill multiple classmates, sexually harassed a girl and a boy, covered the hallways with gang writing, and had brought his brothers to school to jump other students. I reported him to the police for posing on Facebook with guns and making threats, and still our principal did nothing about him. We were told to keep a daily behavior record that would pass from class to class, and then give that to his strung-out mom at the end of the day. Of course, he continued the exact same behaviors. It wasn’t until he was put in a detention center for armed robbery on the Plaza that we finally got rid of him.

        When students like that are allowed to be in your school, it drags down the entire class. The KCMSD should be a institution of learning–not an emergency room for social ills. It’s not my job to “fix” kids like that.

        • William if the KC star is covering these comments your comments should be the lead comments. thanks for posting. without teachers being able to control their classrooms the kids who want to learn cannot.

          • Reread your comments again. i hope you are still in education. and you offered a fourth member of james team. the chief legal officer. agree with you

        • William – I pray your comments are read and taken seriously. Those students who refuse to function in the classroom must be removed from it and educated in an alternative setting. The Safe Schools Act must be enforced without exception. When any building principal allows a student to effectively take control of a classroom, learning stops, and the remaining students are robbed of their education. Of all the travesties we have sanctioned or ignored in the KCMSD, this is the greatest, and it should be the easiest to resolve, provided the “adults” in charge of the schools also learn to follow the rules.

  12. I completely agree with the comment written by Kathryn Nichols on 12/3 at 11:31 a.m., and I am willing to be part of discussions on how to create some solutions. AND I am appalled at the disrespect and non-compassion shown in the email from a teacher. If someone has a “strung-out” mom – how are they ever going to be successful in school without the intervention of teachers or other concerned adults?? We as an ENTIRE community are going to have to come together and come along side these kids, no matter what changes are made to the district or the schools. AND – the dissolution of the district and/or parceling out of the students to suburban schools is NOT the answer – all schools have issues, no matter where they’re located and that would definitely not be beneficial or add to the success of Kansas City students, to disrupt their school career by forcing a cultural shock on them!

    • Kim, thank you very much. In defense of the classroom teacher, I can only say that I can hear and sympathize with his frustration. There are limits to what any teacher can do to maintain control in a classroom. When you exhaust those limits, you have no choice but to send the student to the building principal. At that point, it is likely that the out of control student has already so disrupted your class that the attention and focus of the remaining students has been destroyed for the remainder of the period. When a building principal is so ineffective that he or she allows a student to return to a classroom on the same day that student has verbally or physically assaulted a teacher, a clear message is sent to every other student in that classroom. We, as teachers and administrators, can only expect students to follow the rules if we follow those rules which show we value them, we will protect them while they are in our schools, and we will defend their right to learn while they are in our classrooms.

  13. I have not read anything that addresses two very important issues.
    1) We have 1000+ students in our district that are homeless. Some living in cars, some with g’ma, some with auntie and most of them probably can’t read very well. We need a strong tutorial program to help our underprivilged. Churches such as Village Presbyterian have a strong tutorial program but we need many, many more churches to get involved!
    2) We have babies having babies. The only way we can slow this down is with Planned Parenthood’s programs. I know there are religious objections but this is a civic problem that needs to be addressed.

  14. The saga of the Kansas City Missouri School District’s descent into decadence shall not be resolved until the very salient factors of verbal and physical altercations between students and students and teachers and the disruptions caused by a significant body of students which causes chaos in the classroom and severely limits a teacher’s ability to teach. I base these observations on my tenure of six years as a long-term substitute teacher within the District and one year tenure as a contract teacher where I taught Basic Mathematics, Algebra, Advanced Algebra, Geometry and Trigonometry. I, myself, am a product of the District having attended from Kindergarten through High School graduation. The education I rceived served as a foundation for furthering my education at the undergraduate and graduate level. I was able to successfully attend the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Businness, and the University of Missouri-Kansas City Graduate School of Business. In addition, I served in the United States Air Force for ten years obtaining the rank of Captain and attendied the Air Force Institute of Technology and AIr Force University. Again, I credit the education which I received within the Kansas City Missouri School District as the basis of my future academic and professional accomplishments. Therefore, I was appalled during my very first day as a substitute teacher at the Chester Anderson Alternate Middle School. Many of the seventh grade students whom I was attempting to teach showed an utter disregard for my authority. They constantly cused aloud in the classroom and were totally disinterested and inattentive to my math instruction. When I would admonish the disobedient students I would be immediately involved in intense verbal altercations which in many instances, verged on the point of escalating into physical altercations. My initial thoughts were that since this was an Aternative School, which was the designation for certain schools for students considered incorrigible and had been expelled from other schools, things would get better. Was I ever wrong. In many of the other schools not so designated, it was much worse. Toward the end of my seven-year tenure I felt more like a corrections officer in a juvenile detention facility than a teacher. The physical violence in the schools was pappable. In one instance while teaching Algebra at the Paseo Middle School for the Performing Arts, I happened upon one of the other math teachers, a female, being brutally beatened by four seventh grade female students. I immediately intervened, the police was called and the students were expelled. Within the two High Schools which I taught, Paseo High School for the Performing Arts where I taught Advanced Algebra, and Northeast High School where I taught Algebra, Geometry and Trigonometry, I was personally involved on numerous occasions, in stopping vicious fights between students. Many times I was threatened by students and on two occasions physically assaulted. Once by a female student at Chester Anderson Alternative Middle School and by a senior male student at Northeast.

    When I was assigned to Northeast High School in 2004, it was nationally known for the academic achievements of its students and most notably, the fact that there were in excess of sixty immigrant lanueages and dialects represented with its student body. In the 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 academic years, the District started to bus more black students in from middle and south Kansas City, The change was immediate. Chaos, classroom disruptions, violence, verbal and physical attacks on teachers and most importantly, lowere academic expectations and achievement. These bussed students adversely impacted the entire student body. Many of the immigrant students started to emulated the thuggush way and manner in which many of the bussed students conducted themselves. Therefore, I was appalled, however, not surprised when I read in the Kansas City Star (April 3, 2011), that a student who had been expelled from the prestigious Lincoln Academy for bringing a pocketknife to school had been “banned” to Northeast High School as “punishment”. Apparently Northeast’s descent into decadence was complete to where it had become an “Alternate Sclhool”.

    So, any efforts to improve the academic performance of the students must address these important issues of threats, violence and classroom disruptions.

    Thank you.


  16. The school board and it’s so called leaders are a joke!!!! My kids were bullied throughout the school year and though I have had many meetings with the teachers and members of the board none of them cared to tackle the issues. They turned they’re heads while my kids were being bullied almost on a daily basis!! My 9 year old even got a concussion because the two teachers were busy talking to each other rather than supervising the children!! My baby’s worthless teacher even went so far as to blame her for having gotten a concussion, though she was sitting down on the mat while another child decided she wanted to turn flips and my baby got kicked in the head.

  17. According to Susan Taylor (former editor of Essence Magazine), now director of the National Cares Mentoring Movement, 86% of our African-American 4th graders are reading below grade level. For Dr. King’s dream to become reality, we must give our children access to the American dream. That dream is beyond reach when a child can not read. Perhaps, mentoring partners from corporate and community leaders should be part of the equation in providing a solid foundation for our children.

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