More than 200 turn out to discuss the KC School District

One heavy number weighed on Cherise Ellison on Tuesday night as she tried to summarize what she’d heard as state leaders pondered the future of Kansas City public schools.

“Twenty years,” the parent of two Lincoln College Prep students said with head-shaking dismay.

Since the state of Missouri launched its Missouri School Improvement Program two decades ago, Kansas City has never reached the state’s full accreditation standard.

Missouri Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro recited the history before a crowd of more than 200 people at Paseo Academy who came to hear a discussion of the district’s future as an unaccredited district.

That was part of Nicastro’s message that all options need to be considered in making what has to be a historic change for Kansas City schools.

But Ellison found her confidence broken, no matter whether the district would be given the chance to ply forward with a transition plan under its current elected board, or be given over to a new panel appointed by the state.

“This has baffled me for years,” she said. “I mean, this was allowed to go on for 20 years. Who does that?”

Several lawmakers were on hand from the Kansas City region to listen in as Nicastro fielded questions through a moderator.

Nicastro emphasized that her office is still absorbing ideas and that it has not yet determined any plan on what the state’s intervention will be when the district’s loss of accreditation takes effect Jan. 1.

The state has extended until Friday the opportunity for people to offer input through its website, dese.mo.gov.

State Rep. Jason Holsman, who represents the Center, Grandview and Hickman Mills districts south of Kansas City, said the first priority is to the students in the Kansas City district, because fixing their schools would serve the whole region well.

But the representatives are also looking after the surrounding districts, he said, because the problem needs a regional solution.

“This should not be a situation of state versus local support,” Holsman said. “We want to be partners with the local board to fix the problem.”

Nicastro is aiming to present a plan to the state school board at its Dec. 1 meeting, then put the plan out for public comment. It will be part of the overall accountability plan the state is creating in seeking a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Whatever course is chosen, Nicastro said, change will only come through hard work.

“It will be extremely difficult,” she said. “It will require intense focus every day on every student.”