September 4, 2013

KC school district makes pitch for provisional accreditation

The Kansas City school district is seeking provisional status from the state of Missouri to escape the potentially bankrupting effects of a student transfer law that could hit in 2014 if it remains unaccredited.

They met with executive entourages the size of football teams — Kansas City Superintendent Steve Green and Missouri Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro.

As promised, Kansas City got a chance to make its plea for provisional accreditation.

“We presented a compelling case,” Green said after the meeting Wednesday.

Kansas City, with the backing of most — if not all — of its neighbor superintendents, is seeking provisional status to escape the potentially bankrupting effects of a student transfer law that could hit the district in 2014 if it remains unaccredited.

Green brought along his entire cabinet, 10 members in all, to present the case that the district has made enough improvement to earn the higher designation, with the added concern that exposure to the transfer law would cripple the district’s ability to sustain its improvement.

The commissioner, who brought a dozen of her staff to the two-hour meeting, praised their effort, a spokeswoman said, and invited the district to take its case before the state school board at its next meeting, Sept. 16 and 17.

The board makes accreditation decisions, though the state’s recommendation comes from the commissioner.

The September meeting will likely be just a presentation, said Sarah Potter, Nicastro’s spokeswoman. The state, if it were to bring Kansas City’s status for a decision by the board, probably would not do so until at least October.

Because of the size of the two contingents, they moved Wednesday’s meeting into the state board room, Green said. So it felt like a dress rehearsal for this month’s board meeting.

“I don’t know what action there will be,” he said. But he does know that other districts hope he is successful.

Nine area superintendents joined the crowd of district supporters last month when Green led a celebration of Kansas City’s dramatically improved score on the state’s district report cards.

Kansas City earned 84 out of a possible 140 points — or 60 percent. A district can be considered for provisional accreditation if it reaches at least 50 percent. Full accreditation is possible at or above 70 percent.

The score came in the first year of a new state accountability system that intends to set more rigorous standards but also reward districts that show improvement toward those standards.

Kansas City benefited significantly from improvement points. Seven out of 10 students still performed below proficient or advanced on the state’s math and English language arts tests. The district earned no points toward accreditation for its English language arts performance.

So a lot of work still needs to be done to build on the academic growth.

Nicastro has said she wants to see at least two years of growth, and preferably three, before recommending any changes on a district’s accreditation status. But the state school board can decide a district’s status at any time.

Most districts won’t see their accreditation weighed under the new system before 2015. But Green and other superintendents want a quick decision on Kansas City.

Nicastro is receiving a lot of input, Potter said.

“We are receiving a number of letters from a variety of people,” she said. “All will be provided to the board for consideration.”

St. Louis, which had been unaccredited since 2007, had edged its score just above the provisional threshold for two years when the state gave it provisional accreditation in 2012 under the former accountability system.

St. Louis, however, scored far down in the unaccredited range with the first report of the new system, earning only 24.6 percent of its possible points. It will remain provisional and likely have until 2015 to recover that lost ground.

But Kansas City, which lost its provisional status in 2012, comes into the new system unaccredited. By next spring, without provisional accreditation, Kansas City could be losing students to neighboring districts under a state law that allows students to transfer out of unaccredited districts.

Kansas City is the only area district that is unaccredited, but two St. Louis area districts are also unaccredited and began implementing the law for the 2013-2014 school year. The state is projecting devastating effects, pushing the unaccredited districts — Normany and Riverview Gardens — to bankruptcy within the next two years.

Nicastro has said the transfer law needs to be addressed separately from the state’s accountability system.

The state school board has approved a contract with CEE-Trust, the Cities for Education Entrepreneurship Trust, to help build a plan for improving Kansas City that it hopes can be used to help other struggling districts across the state.

The contract, funded by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and the Hall Family Foundation in Kansas City, calls for a plan by January.

Nicastro has said the state will be convening public meetings in Kansas City to talk about potential actions the state could take to try to improve Kansas City’s performance.

No meetings have been scheduled yet, Potter said. And it is not clear, she said, whether the plans for meetings and the work of CEE-Trust would change if Kansas City were to be provisionally accredited rather than remaining unaccredited.

The commissioner gave no hints whether she was swayed, Green said, but the state’s team listened, asked a lot of questions and complimented Kansas City’s work, he said.

“We were buoyed by that receptivity.”

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