The people who came to hear how Kansas City Public Schools aims to regain accreditation packed into every corner Thursday, gathering plenty of undaunted optimists.
Like Rogers Elementary kindergarten teacher Regina Conner.
People have been asking her, she said to a crowd that peaked at more than 100 people, “ ‘What’s the climate of your school? Are teachers giving up?’ ”
No way, she answered.
“Our feeling is our kids matter,” she said. “We’re doing the best we can for them. We’re working harder than we’ve ever worked before.”
For nearly three hours, state education department leaders and school district administrators laid out the status of the unaccredited district and its position for recovery, promising a chance to succeed where so many other recovery attempts have fallen short.
The collaboration between the state and the district will be a friendship that will be “brutally honest,” state regional director Tony Stansberry said.
Interim Superintendent Steve Green promised “transparent (and) courageous conversations” throughout the process, including the public reports that will now occur monthly.
Kansas City became unaccredited Jan. 1 and has, under current law, until June 2014 to regain accreditation, be taken over by the state or be dissolved. In the meantime, lawmakers are tangling over legislative proposals that could speed up the time in which dramatic changes could overtake the district if it falls short again.
The district in its last annual performance report made three of the state’s 14 standards. The district believes it is now meeting five standards and has a shot at reaching a sixth — elementary math performance — this year.
Six standards are needed for a district to be provisionally accredited, and at least nine to be considered for full accreditation — a decision that ultimately is made by the state school board.
A crowd dominated by district employees and state officials watched as administrators talked about improvement seen in tests that predict state test performance.
The district described how teacher training will focus more on their classroom skills rather than learning new programs, how curriculum is becoming more rigorous, how principals are being trained so more decisions will be made at the school level rather than top-down.
There are plans to battle truancy and dropouts. Plans for more timely recruiting of teachers, with principals more involved in deciding who works in their buildings.
Jan Parks and Al Waller, members of a community education task force with MORE2, said they were willing to give the district a chance.
“We need to keep it collaborative but still give the district the autonomy to do what it needs to do,” Waller said. “This is an opportunity for some stability. We need to let them implement their plan.”
Rosa James, who chairs the NAACP’s education committee, sees an encouraging swell of community support.
“We just have to keep on working together,” she said. “I have faith we can make it happen.”
The last speaker around the work table was East High School senior Azael Leon, 18.
“We want to go to college, we want to make a future for ourselves,” he said. “We want to work with you guys.”