Students and teachers in Kansas City Public Schools should take a moment when the new school year begins Monday to celebrate the district’s return to provisional accreditation.
After that, it’s back to work. Provisional isn’t good enough, and neither is the fact that 70 percent of the district’s students are still scoring below proficiency in key academic areas.
Still, it was great news Wednesday when the Missouri Board of Education on the recommendation of Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro unanimously approved the upgrade from unaccredited status, which has hung over the district since January 2012.
Much of the credit goes to Kansas City Public Schools Superintendent Steve Green, who has remained unflappable through two and a half years of turmoil, insisting that the district would pull out of the hole.
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He was helped by a supportive school board that finally discerned the difference between meddling and governing.
They stayed the course, and teachers, students and district staff remained focused despite threatening legislation from the Missouri General Assembly, talk of a state takeover and the costly possibility of students transferring out of Kansas City schools because of the unaccredited status.
At a news conference Wednesday, Green said the transfers are a moot issue. He boldly predicted that by the 2015-2016 school year, Kansas City Public Schools would earn full accreditation from the state for the first time since Missouri adopted its current school standards two decades ago.
That would be a stunning turnaround for a district with a long history of school board interference, a revolving door of superintendents, too many poor administrators and teachers, useless contracts delivering questionable services, abysmal academic student performance, recurring discipline problems, a shrinking student population, financial turmoil and a bloated number of schools.
Much hard-won progress has taken place over the last five years. Nearly half of the schools in the district were closed, contracts were canceled and the district became financially sound.
The essential challenge now concerns academics. The district’s 2014 test scores and annual performance report will be released later this month. Although it is expected to reflect some gains, test scores show that only about 30 percent of the district’s 15,000 students are proficient or advanced in math, reading and writing.
Also, the district faces the task of making all of its high schools safe and able to provide the kind of rigorous education that will prepare students for college or the workforce.
Fortunately, positive steps are in the works.
The district this year is expanding its early childhood education program so more children will be ready for kindergarten. It is offering free breakfasts and lunches to all students so hunger won’t impede learning. Other encouraging moves include reopening Hale Cook Elementary School, working with Academie Lafayette to turn Southwest Early College Campus into a top performing high school, reopening Central and Northeast middle schools and enabling more students to earn college credits.
The future of Kansas City Public Schools will depend heavily on support from the community. That should be easier to gain now that the district appears to be upward bound.