Whoa, Charlie Shields cautioned me. I was asking him to think back.
“We’re talking two years,” he said.
Maybe so, but the many people heavily invested in the fate of the Kansas City Public Schools will remember the events of 2013 like they were yesterday.
And many of those people probably don’t know the role Shields played when influential forces were working to undo the then-unaccredited district.
Shields last week was elected to be the next president of the Missouri state school board, which he has served as a member since 2012.
He’ll have a lot on his plate: unaccredited school districts in St. Louis, ongoing ideological battles over Common Core, mounting distaste for standardized testing.
But the forecast looks relatively clear for Kansas City, considering the state of affairs the board faced that not-so-long-ago summer.
It’s true, Shields said, he raised concerns about the approach then-Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro was using to give the education reform group CEE-Trust a contract funded by the Kauffman and Hall foundations to propose a severe remake of Kansas City Public Schools.
Nicastro and the foundations wanted to award the contract through a memorandum of understanding.
Shields, in the board’s June 2013 meeting, suggested the contract for a state-endorsed study should be put out for bid. “It looked to me like, even though the money was coming from a private source … it needed a bid process so we could pick a best vendor,” he said.
Bids came in. The department recommended CEE-Trust. Emails and records reported by The Star painted an unfair bid process. The state auditor later agreed.
Meanwhile, Nicastro carried on seeking community input on what to do with the unaccredited district, angling toward a state takeover.
But Shields, after watching a passionate public forum at Paseo Academy in January 2014, told the state board that the district might be earning a reprieve.
He was concerned that the state education department and school board “were not aware of the foundations being laid,” he said.
“We heard folks urge patience.”
Advocates for a remake of the district saw the demise of the CEE-Trust plan as an exciting opportunity lost.
Shields says that if the idea was to try a revolutionary experiment on Kansas City, “it didn’t have the will of the teachers, community or parents.”
“In hindsight,” he said, “that study was an exercise that didn’t need to happen.”