Raising Expectations Means Raising Stronger Leaders


One of my favorite things about being Mayor is having the opportunity to help increase the academic achievement of students all across this City.  That means visiting schools from south of the river to north of the river and everywhere in between and working with a wide variety of stakeholders to make great ideas flourish.Nothing makes me happier than being able to say that things on the local education front are trending in a positive direction.  At the end of the day, if our education system is crumbling, then all of our hard work in other areas will be for naught.Last month, when the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released new data, two local school districts about which some in the public were concerned – Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS) and Hickman Mills- showed promising improvement. Expectations were met and new expectations have been raised. That is as it should be. Accreditation is the baseline. World-class education is the goal.They say necessity is the mother of invention. Certainly necessity has spawned innovation in KCPS and Hickman Mills. Both have greatly expanded early childhood education programs to the benefit of three and four-year-olds in their districts. Hickman is the first school district in Kansas City to provide free, full-day pre-K services and transportation to all four-year-olds within its boundaries, serving approximately 600 children.  KCPS now operates two early learning centers, serving approximately 1,200 3 and 4-year-old children and their families.

Since taking office in 2011, I have worked to highlight the need for every child in the city to have access to quality early childhood education programs, so seeing these first steps energizes me to continue pushing down that path.  Wouldn’t it be frosty if families actually moved to Kansas City, Missouri because they knew their children would have access to unparalleled early learning opportunities?  Why not set that expectation for our schools and for our community?

Speaking of raising expectations, Dr. Carpenter, Superintendent of Hickman Mills, has clearly raised the expectations for his district and the students who attend.  Recently, 130 community stakeholders came together to develop a five year strategic plan for the school district.

Additionally, Dr. Green, the Superintendent of KCPS, has worked collaboratively to form a partnership with motivated, engaged parents to reopen the Hale Cook school to neighborhood children in pre-K to 2nd grade, with over 100 children enrolled. That collaboration has renewed the faith of parents in Waldo and surrounding neighborhoods to remain in Kansas City and keep their children in public education. What is just as important is that there is true diversity in the school which has tremendous social benefit in addition to quality education.

I’m also impressed with Dr. Green’s ongoing efforts to create a second International Baccalaureate (IB) school through a partnership with Academie Lafayette and Southwest High School. This collaboration would create a batch of new quality seats at the high school level to pair with those already in existence at Lincoln Prep.

In direct contrast to the optimistic visions and high expectations of Drs. Green and Carpenter, however, I have heard some parents, patrons and board members make arguments that seem to want to keep the bar low. Some have argued that a second IB program would destroy or harm Lincoln Prep. Seriously? I seriously
hope these individuals are not saying that there are only enough smart urban students to fill one such school. I have talked to others who say that entrance exams should be eliminated because their kids won’t be able to get in. Wow! Have we given up on our own kids without a fight?  I haven’t and am disappointed in those who suggest that urban students can’t cut it.

When it comes to raising expectations of our students, our education institutions, and our community let’s look at the long-term view as well as the short-term view. Innovative solutions driven by facts and data are critical to both.

We must set high expectations for our children and then empower them with the tools they need to succeed. There are plenty of smart, brilliant, urban youth but we have not always challenged them to use their gifts. More kids than we think can be an academic success story — especially when they have time to prepare and someone to believe in them and push them to succeed. And especially if they have quality early childhood education experiences that give them a good academic foundation from the start.

Our young people deserve a community that believes in them.  We should expect them to succeed, rather than expect them to just get by. We’re talking about our future leaders – the people who will inherit this City – and we should be doing our part to instill in them a mindset of achievement, success, and high expectations.

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