“Did you ever think you’d be driving home from Westport at 9:30 p.m., driving a minivan with Johnson County license plates?” I asked my husband. We were on our way home from a comedy show, content to head home early and watch a little television before turning in for the evening.
We drove through our old neighborhoods, Westport, Union Hill, Brookside, and I’m sure we were both remembering the good times we had there. We loved our charming, historic homes; our neighbors; our proximity to all things cool. Life in midtown was good.
We followed what proves to be a common migratory pattern in the Kansas City area. Young kids grow up, drawn to the excitement of the heart of Kansas City. They graduate college, find good jobs. They buy homes full of original woodwork, built-in-cabinets, with small yards and vibrant neighbors.
And then: kids. Tiny in every way except their impact on life around them, babies change everything. Lives turn upside down, and we make choices we swore we’d never make. We swap out SUVs for minivans, and we leave the place that felt so much like home in search of a place where we can give them opportunity.
The land of opportunity, for us — and for many others — was Kansas. It’s the land of amazing school districts, nice public pools and affordable housing, all within minutes of the Kansas City we held so dear. But really, it wasn’t the pools at all. That was just a nice bonus. And our house — well, we live in what could be referred to as “any old house.” It’s fine — nice, even. But no particular source of joy for a girl who once bathed daily in a claw-foot tub, lounged in a swing on a covered front porch, fed my family in a quaint breakfast room beneath double crown molding, surrounded by arched windows.
Yet, leaving the neighborhood we loved to give opportunity to our children was an easy enough sacrifice to make.
We moved here for the education, plain and simple. The little cinder-block building full of wonderful teachers and staff, with resources and enthusiasm and support from the community. The ones who take our kids under their wings, expand their minds, help them overcome challenges, and prepare them to succeed in life.
Never once did it cross our minds that a mere 10 years after we moved, Kansas’ leadership would demote its pride in education by legions and scads. I would not have believed the superintendent of Shawnee Mission School District would be announcing that the schools — the one and only reason we came here — might not open next fall. That the state supreme court would suggest the same.
Whoa. Now, that’s hard core. It gives me the same feelings as when I first heard Kansas City, Mo., schools might lose their accreditation. Who would have thought that was possible? And yet, decades later, those schools continue to struggle to provide the education kids so desperately need.
The migratory pattern could change again. Young families that fled their beloved homes in Missouri to provide their kids great educations might soon be looking for a new place to land. We know what’s important, even if our government does not.
Don’t let our schools fall into a state of mediocrity — with over-extended staff and under-funded resources. Don’t let farm kids suffer so rich people can get richer. Don’t back down, make bold moves. Demand nothing less than great education.
Overland Park mom Emily Parnell writes alternate weeks. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @emilyjparnell