Mary Sanchez

Rebuilding Kansas City schools from the grass roots

Updated: 2013-07-28T00:15:23Z

By MARY SANCHEZ

The Kansas City Star

The passage of time is beginning to nick away at what $2 billion of court-ordered desegregation plans did not accomplish.

New generations of families are planning their children’s futures within the boundaries of the Kansas City school district rather than fleeing to the suburbs or private schools.

A month-old Facebook page has generated more than 200 responses from families who are intrigued by the idea of starting a public community school, perhaps a charter, within the district’s boundaries. The families are young, white and middle class. They want their children raised in diverse communities and schools, close to the city’s core.

Hale Cook Elementary, a closed school near the district’s southwest border, will reopen next year because of similar sentiments. The families behind the Midtown KC Community School Initiative emphasize they are merely at the talking, researching stage.

But it is exciting to see new generations of white families join blacks and Latinos who have long fought for good schools within the district’s boundaries. If managed properly, these new efforts, along with some of the existing public schools, could further strengthen education within the district. A court battle this week is pivotal to how such efforts advance.

On Thursday, lawyers will argue to keep open a charter school that is as beloved as it is beleaguered. Gordon Parks could become the first casualty as the State Board of Education flexes muscle invested in it by the legislature. Only a temporary restraining order is keeping Gordon Parks’ charter intact. The legal questions have to do with governance, whether the state overreached its powers. The concerns are test scores.

The state board needs to align itself as less of a dictatorial overseer and more of a firm but guiding support to develop these schools. Fairly assessing schools with high numbers of children who enroll far below grade level is crucial.

Tax dollars are involved, and they can’t be wasted on schools that have good intentions but fail to educate children. Yet the impacts of generational poverty on education are complicated. If Gordon Parks had mastered a magic formula, it not only would have its charter, it would be heralded coast to coast.

Whatever happens, Gordon Parks’ experiences can help guide families newly interested in the city’s public education offerings. And they are eager to learn.

To reach Mary Sanchez, call 816-234-4752 or send email to msanchez@kcstar.com.

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