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Kansas City school district releases its own turnaround plan

Updated: 2014-01-15T06:16:23Z

By JOE ROBERTSON

The Kansas City Star

A day after a state-hired consultant proposed a school reform plan that could put Kansas City Public Schools administrators and board members out of their jobs, Superintendent Steve Green issued a reminder Tuesday.

Kansas City has a plan, too.

The document, released Tuesday, starts with the work the district has done with a state team over the past two years, blends in ideas in a reform plan from area superintendents, and adds detailed strategies to be further developed in community meetings.

What it doesn’t propose is the kind of complete overhaul heard Monday in Jefferson City, which would recast a dramatically slimmer central office as managers of a network of independent schools run by nonprofits. Those schools would control a vast majority of their money and classroom strategies.

“This plan (Kansas City’s proposal) is the way we would have liked to have been dealt with,” Green said. “It seeks to be restorative rather than destructive and advocating for dismantlement.”

The district believes recovery is a matter of intensifying its work and rallying more community support to build on the gains of the past two years.

The unaccredited district’s score on its 2013 state report card rose into the provisionally accredited range. But the state board followed Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro’s recommendation that the district needs to repeat its growth in 2014 before being considered for accreditation.

The state’s consultant, Indianapolis-based CEE-Trust, harshly criticized Kansas City’s academic performance in its report.

The district’s rise to a provisional-level score relied significantly on points earned for improvement in areas other than state test performance, such as college and career-readiness programming, attendance and graduation rate.

The district’s scores actually declined in English Language Arts, and in all subjects tested, roughly seven out of 10 students still performed below proficiency.

But Green argues there was growth in academic performance. Administrators and teachers followed strategies in collaboration with the state’s regional school improvement team.

Overall, the district boosted its score on state accountability measures from 19.6 percent of the possible points in December 2012 to 60 percent in 2013. A score between 50 and 70 percent can be considered for provisional accreditation, though the state board assigns accreditation.

“There is no denying we made gains against the benchmarks we were told to work with,” Green said. “And I think we are on a pace to achieve at that level and beyond this year.”

If Kansas City can sustain its score, Nicastro has said she would recommend provisional accreditation this fall and Kansas City could escape a state takeover.

But the state is hoping to agree on a plan by March on how the state will intervene in unaccredited school districts, and changes could begin this fall if Kansas City slips.

CEE-Trust’s proposal, which focuses on Kansas City but projects to be a statewide plan for unaccredited situations, would replace the superintendent with the executive director of a community school office.

An appointed advisory board would replace the elected school board.

The community school office would manage some centralized services like building management, transportation and enrollment, but its primary purpose would be to recruit nonprofit operators to run schools in their own ways as long as they met performance agreements.

Kansas City’s plan includes proposals in the “A New Path to Excellence” offered last fall by superintendents and the Missouri Association of School Administrators.

It calls for more intervention and collaboration with neighboring districts when a district first slips to provisional accreditation.

The accreditation process would focus school-by-school, rather than just districtwide. Buildings and districts that scored below a provisional level would be classified as “academically stressed” and come under more intensive study and intervention.

A school that remains academically stressed for three years would lapse and be reconstituted or closed, with its students transferred to well-performing schools in the district.

As ways to help schools improve, the district outlined increased measures in improving school climate, administrator and teacher training, and providing more services to support students and families inside and outside of school.

State school board President Peter Herschend on Monday welcomed all proposals as the education department plans public meetings over the next several weeks to gather ideas and reactions.

“From that will evolve what I hope,” Herschend said, “will be a proposal on the key question: How can we as an education community directly and quickly and effectively impact the education of the youngsters who are under our care?”

Proposals online

The Kansas City Public Schools’ plan is at www.kcpublicschools.org/kansascityplan. The CEE-Trust plan, as well as all other current proposals, can be found at www.dese.mo.gov.

To reach Joe Robertson, call 816-234-4789 or send email to jrobertson@kcstar.com.

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