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September 30, 2013

KC schools ‘undeniably healthier,’ but critical issues loom, superintendent says

The Missouri State Board of Education will consider Kansas City’s accreditation request Oct. 22. Meanwhile, lawmakers and the state Supreme Court this week will consider concerns around a student transfer law that threatens to disrupt Kansas City-area school districts in in 2014.

Kansas City Superintendent Steve Green returned to the scene of his darkest-hour speech Monday to describe a school district he said is “stronger, undeniably healthier,” and whose achievement levels “are rapidly, rapidly increasing.”

This much is certain: The Kansas City Public Schools finds itself with a more hopeful prospect than when Green stood on the same stage at Paseo Academy on Sept. 21, 2011.

That was the day after the state school board had voted to strip Kansas City of its accreditation. Green was less than a month on the job after former Superintendent John Covington had abruptly left the district.

“We were reeling,” Green said. “The light at the end of the tunnel was dim.”

Two years later, he said in his state-of-the-district address, the district is upholding its promise to earn its community’s “trust, confidence and support.”

The question now pending before the state school board is not whether the still-unaccredited district is improving, but whether it is showing enough growth to win provisional accreditation.

As in 2011, Green’s speech is coinciding with critical developments surrounding the district.

Thursday, Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro announced she is recommending that the district remain unaccredited until at least another year of data shows more sustained growth.

The state board will be taking up Kansas City’s accreditation request Oct. 22 during its next regular meeting.

Meanwhile, lawmakers and the Missouri Supreme Court this week will consider concerns around a state student transfer law that threatens to disrupt districts in the Kansas City area in 2014, as long as Kansas City remains unaccredited and the law is not changed or overturned.

The legislature’s Joint Committee on Education will hold a hearing at 1 p.m. Tuesday to gather ideas on how lawmakers might try once again to negotiate revisions to the law that is already throwing the unaccredited Normandy School District toward bankruptcy and disrupting other districts in the St. Louis area.

The law allows students in unaccredited districts to transfer to nearby accredited districts — with tuition and transportation paid by the failing district.

Wednesday morning, the Missouri Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case brought by several districts neighboring Kansas City that have claimed the law creates an unconstitutional, unfunded mandate.

The high court, earlier this year, upheld the law in a case involving St. Louis area districts.

Despite the distractions, the district is carrying on with its efforts to improve student performance, along with several major initiatives, Green said.

The district is planning to restore middle schools for 2014-2015. It is working on a facilities master plan to repair and improve buildings. The district has started a technology upgrade to place computers in the hands of every student. A commission is working on bringing universal pre-kindergarten programming through district and community programs. And the district is implementing the new Common Core State Standards.

“We will not be deterred,” Green said.

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