Local Columnists

Joe Robertson: Kansas City schools and old nemesis CEE-Trust are not so far apart

Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro’s dealings with CEE-Trust were highly criticized by some in Kansas City. But the district’s plans have ended up resembling suggestions by CEE-Trust.
Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro’s dealings with CEE-Trust were highly criticized by some in Kansas City. But the district’s plans have ended up resembling suggestions by CEE-Trust.

CEE-Trust’s Ethan Gray knows that his brand is toxic among some Kansas City education circles.

The CEO is not figuring to poke his head into Missouri school issues anytime soon — considering the public heat his opponents dealt Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro and the Kauffman Foundation for the plans they made with CEE-Trust to take apart the Kansas City school district as we know it.

But that doesn’t stop us from calling on him.

After all, though the school district vigorously attacked the plan in the public arena and in court, some of CEE-Trust’s ideas weren’t so far removed from where the marketplace is taking Kansas City schools.

So the district wants to give Southwest Early College Campus over to the Academie Lafayette charter school to run an International Baccalaureate high school for both charter and district students?

That’s right down CEE-Trust’s alley.

Another proposal for the district to sponsor a charter school created and managed by the local chamber’s Urban Neighborhood Initiative also fits.

“I’m pleased to hear about these creative approaches,” Gray said when reached by The Star. “It encourages me when I see educational leaders take steps to let educators run their schools.”

CEE-Trust’s proposal for Kansas City was to reduce the district’s central administration to certain global duties like enrollment and transportation. The district would run individual schools only in transition while it recruited high-quality, independent programs to take them over.

Successful programs and innovations could multiply. Failing programs would be replaced.

They wouldn’t be charter schools, but the resemblance was too strong for opponents who saw in the CEE-Trust/Kauffman/commissioner partnership a potentially privatizing collusion.

The surviving — and reviving — school district still has a problem, though. It has to turn around declining enrollment.

That’s where “the new Kansas City Public Schools,” as Superintendent Steve Green has called it, comes in.

There won’t be the wholesale, or even large-scale, remake Gray envisioned, but the district is hoping a portfolio of partnerships with community-trusted programs will give many curious-but-hesitant families a bridge back.

And so Gray and Kansas City find some common ground.

“Kansas City has been through a lot,” Gray said. “But we were energized by the passion that the teachers and parents in our focus groups had for exploring big ideas.”

To reach Joe Robertson, call 816-234-4789 or send email to jrobertson@kcstar.com.

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