By the thousands, the Kansas City Public Schools’ children, parents, grandparents and volunteers swarmed the neighboring parks of the district’s new home base Saturday.
Here in what new Superintendent Mark Bedell called “the heart of the city” on Troost Avenue, the district’s Summerfest gathered as many voices of people who know they will have their own roles to play if the day’s inspiring turnout is to lead to bright days ahead.
At the top, Bedell talked of an end to the district’s “heartbreak,” and a of new mindset, “adding value to this community in a way that I hope people will say they haven’t seen before.”
But here, with her face painted like a cheetah and her new backpack in hand, Tyiesha Carter’s 9-year-old daughter, Ameriah, knew what she needs to do in 2016 and 2017.
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“More homework,” she said. “More math. More reading.”
And Carter, 26, will carry on the active parent’s role at King Elementary school, “carrying on with the PTA meetings,” she said. “And getting as many parents involved as I can.”
Good feelings flowed as perfect weather and the lure of school supplies, promotions and picnic games and food drew at least 6,000 people.
“This is insane,” Lincoln College Preparatory Academy senior Adrianna Schoonover said, meaning that in a good way. “It’s nice to see everyone come back together. We’re all KCPS…one big community.”
“And such a wide variety of people,” Lincoln schoolmate William Price III said. “This is beautiful.”
For decades, the school district’s headquarters and school board had been downtown — not necessarily that accessible to many of its families.
But in January, the district began moving into its new central office at 2901 Troost Ave. The first day she stood at the new corner, Tonia Gilbert, the district’s executive director of student support and community services, began imagining this day in August.
It was winter then. The trees were bare. But she imagined the big park with green grass, she said, “with a big white tent and children running around.”
By August, Bedell would be here. And the Kansas City Public Schools, having regained provisional accreditation in 2014, would be recommitted to its quest of regaining full accreditation. She hoped for a big crowd.
But Saturday’s turnout exceeded Gilbert’s expectations.
The gathering renewed Vincent and Kim Williams’ hope that schools can strengthen neighborhoods again, the district grandparents said.
“We want to bring back the neighborhood schools,” Kim Williams said.
Said Vincent: “I love the camaraderie of the community.”
There will be work to do, said Pam Ealy and Jasmine Carpenter, a team of workers with the Local Investment Commission which runs before- and after-school programing in the schools.
“We’re trying to make a difference, giving the kids the attention they need,” Carpenter said.
“Our community,” Ealy said, “is looking like it’s hopeful.”
Bedell knows what he wants in the coming school year.
“An end to the ‘can’t-do’ mentality,” he said. An end to “the deficit lens.”
“We need to instill a sense of hope,” he said, “and tell kids they can.”
“This bodes well for the entire city,” he said, taking in Saturday’s crowd. “This is a great start.”