May 28, 2014

KC high schools report improved test scores as churches defend suspended Southwest principal

Southwest principal Ed Richardson and five other staff members were placed on administrative leave in early April after prosecutors charged two juveniles with raping a 14-year-old girl. People from nearby churches are asking that staffers not be made scapegoats.

Kansas City Public Schools revealed the year’s first tangible test scores Wednesday, reaffirming the district is on track to make a pitch for at least provisional accreditation this fall.

But while the administration praised the work of teachers and staff, a crowd of people from churches around Southwest Early College Campus rallied earlier in the board meeting in defense of six Southwest staff members who are now watching from the outside.

Southwest principal Ed Richardson and five other staff members were placed on administrative leave in early April after prosecutors charged a 14-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl with raping a 14-year-old girl who police said has autism.

It was the second time this school year that a girl reported being raped at Southwest, 6512 Wornall Road.

The district said it can issue no comment while investigations are ongoing.

On a night when the district had encouraging test scores to report — including from Southwest — the Rev. John Spicer of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church urged the school board not to make Richardson and his staff “scapegoats” for the tragic events that have shadowed the districtwide improvement.

Spicer said Richardson brought a “strong, pastoral presence” to a school that has been recovering from the damaging effects of a school consolidation in 2010 that flooded Southwest with more students and discipline problems.

After a dip in 2013, Southwest improved and exceeded the performance targets the district had set for it in math and English language arts.

All the district’s seven high schools showed progress and met or exceeded their goals in English language arts, assistant superintendent Vickie Murillo reported. Six improved in math, and four of those met or exceeded their goals, she said.

Lincoln College Preparatory Academy, which had the highest scores overall, did not improve in math.

The state measures high school performance with end-of-course exams, which have to be scored as part of the grades that students receive. The rest of the performance testing from elementary schools and middle schools won’t be known until August.

The unaccredited district has been hinting it will improve on last year’s scores, which rose into the provisionally accredited range, but the forecast has been based largely on predictive tests, not the real thing.

The high school scores are now in the bank, and “we are very encouraged,” Murillo said.

If the district were to score in the provisional range or better again this August, Missouri Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro has said she would recommend provisional accreditation for Kansas City, which has been unaccredited since January 2012.

Southwest’s improved academic performance was part of the case that supporters made for Richardson.

The Rev. John Mark Clifton of Wornall Road Baptist Church told the school board that the coalition of churches “will not rest” until the district answers questions about the safety of the school and the status of the dismissed principal and staff.

But he also stated that the churches hope to be able to continue to work with the district in support of Southwest and the district as “friends and allies in a battle we all must win.”

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

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