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Vol. 45, No. 110
Dec. 2, 2011

Education Commissioner Outlines Options for KC Schools

Recommendations suggest changing law to allow for quicker action

Citing a critical need to not underestimate the stakes at hand, Commissioner of Education Chris Nicastro presented to the State Board of Education today her analysis of ways the state could assist the Kansas City Public Schools in regaining accreditation.

The State Board met in Branson on Dec. 1-2, where discussion of the Kansas City Public Schools was part of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s recommendation for revamping a statewide system of support.  This system would identify risk factors and target limited resources to assist unaccredited school districts and those that are at risk of becoming unaccredited.  Currently, nearly one dozen schools would receive focused attention.

Since the State Board’s action in September to classify the Kansas City Public Schools unaccredited effective Jan. 1, Nicastro has been collecting written and verbal feedback and having discussions with the district’s leadership, school staff, parents, community leaders and elected officials.

She described five general themes and options that have been considered:   maintaining the status quo, authorizing mayoral control, establishing an advisory board, dissolving  the district or creating a special administrative board.

“While we believe the action is urgent, it is critical for us not to make a decision prematurely,” Nicastro said.  “It is evident that the community is just now coming to understand the magnitude of its responsibility and the imperative for immediate change.

“Advancing a recommendation for governance or other intervention prior to the community reaching consensus about what this should look like would simply add to the dysfunction,” she said.  “The Kansas City community, the Kansas City School District and the state department of education must move forward as partners, not adversaries.”

Nicastro recommended the following steps in the coming weeks to address the question of school governance:

  • The community needs to come to consensus on the best course of action and appropriate form of additional state assistance and intervention.
  • The legislature – with united leadership of the Kansas City area legislators – needs to consider emergency legislation to give the State Board of Education greater flexibility in determining when and how to intervene with an unaccredited district’s governance.
  • The Kansas City Board of Education must devote every minute to the job of improving instruction and student performance and hold the superintendent and his staff accountable for implementing specific instructional improvement strategies.
  • The state education department will continue to take suggestions and work closely with the Kansas City community and local and state leaders to determine the best course of action moving forward.

More immediately, however, the department will continue its efforts to support the superintendent and his staff in improving student performance, Nicastro said.  The Department will reallocate its resources to implement the state system of support newly outlined in the state accountability system.

“We will work with the district to develop appropriate performance benchmarks, monitoring progress and reporting results to the community regularly,” she said.  “In short, we will expand the efforts we’re making to impact classroom achievement.”