Kansas City school district makes a steady march toward full accreditation

Motorists may notice billboards like this one on Interstate 70 near the Paseo encouraging families to enroll their children in Kansas City Public Schools.
Motorists may notice billboards like this one on Interstate 70 near the Paseo encouraging families to enroll their children in Kansas City Public Schools. The Kansas City Star

Billboards have gone up, featuring eager students in Kansas City Public Schools, and ads have appeared in black, Latino and daily newspapers, thanking families for their support and urging others to choose district schools.

For the first times in years, the district has something to offer Kansas City families. Superintendent Steve Green explained that the march toward gaining full accreditation this year has been an intentional, three-year process.

“An improved quality of instruction leads to predictable outcomes,” said Green, who has led the district since 2011. In that time it went from being unaccredited and at the doorstep of a state takeover to earning provisional accreditation.

The district got 92.5 points, needing 98 points on the ranking scale, to reach full accreditation. Green projects that this year it will hit 110 points.

The hard work is taking place in classrooms, where teachers are following a set instruction that includes “monitoring, measuring, supporting and intervening if necessary,” Green said. The goal is to improve the academic performance of all students and not just boost those who are doing well or are close to that goal. “Our approach,” he added, “is to raise the floor instead of the ceiling.”

Teachers are doing “everything humanly possible” for the district to achieve full accreditation, said Andrea Flinders, president of the Kansas City Federation of Teachers. Following the strict plan has been challenging for some veteran teachers who are used to the independence they enjoy in the classroom.

“There’s nothing easy about this,” Flinders said.

That’s an understatement, considering that 70 percent of the district’s 16,000 students last year scored below proficiency in key academic areas. English language arts is the area of greatest need. In response, teachers are getting students to do more reading for comprehension and more writing.

“Reading helps writing, and writing helps reading,” Green said. “They complement each other.”

Yet for some reason, writing had fallen out of favor in the district. Not any more.

The district also is depending on more volunteer, tutoring and parental involvement as expectations of full accreditation grow. The free breakfast and lunch program for all students helps as do before- and after-school initiatives.

Green’s plan is to go beyond what standardized tests measure. He cites the five “C”s — communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity and caring to get the students ready for college and careers.

Another goal is to increase student enrollment by 5 percent annually. That would help reverse years of decline, which resulted in nearly half of the district’s schools closing about five years ago.

Green’s leadership has provided much needed stability. This year, Kansas City schools have a chance to prove at long last they are something this community can be proud of.