We’re pressed for space, so insert your own understanding of the history of the Kansas City Public Schools here.
Forty-plus years, $2 billion spent and so on. The same agonizing tale told across a nation of struggling big-city school systems.
We also have to go Cliffs Notes on Andy Smarick.
Big-thinking education wonk. Of the “reform camp,” he says. Sold a lot of books.
And we’ll jump the story to moments after Smarick, at a recent Kansas City Lean Lab workshop, had recited his own compilation of the history and then asked his audience to raise their hands as mood barometers:
Show of fingers, from fist to five, five meaning you’re furious…
So here we are with people like Linda Buchner, who, if not furious, would certainly hold up a full five for feeling overwhelmed.
She’s one of the founders of Mind Drive — a 5-year-old community program that’s tutoring high school students and then putting the lessons into immediate action alongside volunteer engineers designing exotic, solar-powered cars.
Mind Drive now has 45 teens in its program. But Smarick had Buchner and some 60 other people in the room contemplating remaking public education — with or without the school district as we know it.
No miracle workers in the crowd. Just education-oriented people like her, “trying to figure out a way to be empowered and do something,” Buchner said.
Nearly 20 years ago, Margo Quiriconi was trying to help organize a Parents for Public Schools campaign in Kansas City, “working my bones off in those classrooms.”
She has worked on education policy for the Kauffman Foundation and now serves on several boards, including the Lean Lab and KC Healthy Kids. And here we are again, or still.
“There’s always been urgency to these issues,” she said. “People want to have a good school system.”
No doubt people in Kansas City have tried, Smarick said. But, as in most every other city, one sees little cohesion, he said. “I can’t find a strategy.”
The night’s conclusion: Still overwhelmed.
But it helps that the Kansas City school system is back to provisional accreditation and in a place of relative stability, said Lean Lab co-director Katy Boody.
Conversations like these are not so threatening as they go forward.
“We can focus on what matters,” she said.
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