When the City rolled out its Blueprint 2030 plan this fall, it quickly became evident there wasn’t much community support for the district’s new plan. While the proposed enhancements to the district’s academic offerings went over well, members of the community weren’t willing to support the improvements if the price was closing 10 district schools.
While Interim Superintendent Jennifer Collier still believes data supports the need for major changes in the district, her recommendation to the Kansas City Public School Board is the immediate closing of just two schools along with the implementation of a community engagement process “Moving Forward Together” to help the district figure out “what’s next.”
“We’re still at a place where we’re going to figure out what is it we’re going to do,” said Collier at a special planning meeting of the KCPS Board where she announced her recommendation to close just two district schools.
Based on the quantity and passion of input she received from the public during the district’s recent community listening sessions, she feels it’s important to get the community involved in developing a plan to move forward.
Collier says the district hasn’t done a good job engaging the community in the past and as a result, there’s a lot of community mistrust of the district. She sees the new engagement process as a way to address both of those issues in a transparent way.
“We need them to be a part of this,” said Collier. “We need to be strategic and intentional about working with our community and in a meaningful way.”
For the engagement process to be a success, Collier is banking on the community’s continued interest in contributing their time to developing a plan to help drive the district forward. They showed up in large numbers to push back against school closures, but not that she’s not proposing an extensive list of school closings, will they go back to their homes and only show up again when the next round of closures is proposed?
“I do believe there are some people in this community that do actually care. It won’t be everybody But
Some people are going to come and some people are going to try to help provide some real solutions to help us through this process,” Collier said.
If nothing else. At the end of the engagement people will better understand why we may need to move forward with more closures, it that’s where we are at that time.
Collier’s proposed engagement plan calls for the creation of a large task force and several subcommittees to help develop a workable plan to move the district forward and past both its economic and financial challenges.
To make sure this is a group-led effort, versus district-led, she wants to appoint a parent, a community member and a KCPS executive team member as task force co-leads. Membership of the task force would include district staff, student leaders, family/parents, community members, neighborhood associations, alumni and business partners.
The task force would break down into smaller committees that will each focus on critical district issues or areas. The committees would develop recommendations in each of the following areas:
Academic and student performance This was the primary area covered in Blueprint 2030. This committee would be looking at what the district should be offering students academically
Safety in schools “I don’t believe our schools are not safe, but if that’s the perception we have to figure out how do we overcome that,” said Collier.
Enrollment/marketing If the district doesn’t increase its enrollment, they’re going to need to close more schools. This committee would look for ways to do just that. That’s a process Collier said must include both better communication with the community and better telling of the district’s stories.
“We have a lot of great offerings here at KCPS but clearly people aren’t aware,” said Collier.
Educational landscape This committee would look at the correlation between all Kansas City schools: public, charter, religious-based and private.
“It feels like many people don’t fully understand the correlation between charters opening and expanding and KCPS decreasing and closing,” said Collier. “I think charter leaders need to come and have these conversations with us. They’re here. How do we collaborate.?”
Economic development This is important because economic development within the KCPS boundaries can help increase property tax income – a main source of revenue for KCKPS – and also bring more residents and students into the district.
Bond The district has not passed a bond issue since 1967. A bond issue was proposed in Blueprint 2030 and would require an affirming vote by the taxpayers.
Collier believes the engagement process will help minimize potential long-term harm to KCPS.
“Let’s put the data out there; let’s talk through it; let’s be honest; let’s plan together. “
The plan calls for the formation of the task force in January with the main task force meeting every other month and the committees meeting monthly. Collier proposed a final report due in December 2023. Several board members said that was too long, especially since the plan would probably need a series of community listening sessions, adding more months before action would be taken.
Board member Rita Cortes said some of the issues need to be a higher priority with faster solutions. As an example, she said the district can’t wait until next December to begin a marketing campaign to increase student enrollment. “Where’s the sense of urgency? Without the sense of urgency, I see us moving right towards the cliff and the cliff is real.”
Collier said she had originally wanted to establish a six-month timeframe for the task force, but she was told that wasn’t long enough. Other board members seemed to support shortening the process.
The board may vote on establishing the task force at their Dec. 14 meeting.