Kansas school moon shot

NEIGHBORS:

The State Board of Education met this week. What an exciting time for education in Kansas! Details follow.

MERCURY 7 PROJECT

 “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

President John F. Kennedy, 1962

 

Using the inspiration of the moon shot challenge, the Kansas State Board of Education launched its own Mercury 7 Kansans Can School Redesign project this week. The goal is to build an education system that provides choice for students within the existing Kansas public education system, using existing resources, buildings, and educators.

29 districts applied to be in the project. In order to apply, the districts had to agree to redesign one elementary and one secondary high school. They had to have approval of the local school board, 80 percent of the teaching staff, support of the local KNEA or other professional organization, and commit to serve as demonstration district for other Kansas schools to study.  The first year will be spent studying school design and deciding what will work in that district. Then the redesign model will begin in the 2018-19 school year.

Seven districts were chosen to be Mercury schools – each project named for one of the Mercury 7 astronauts. They will focus on the whole child and the success of every student. These districts will over the next year explore what “redesign” will be for their districts and implement their plans in the 2018-19 school year. Most have a high instance of at-risk students, and we are hopeful there will be many “best practices” come out of the project to share statewide.

The seven Mercury schools are:

  • Coffeyville – John Glenn Project
  • Liberal – Alan Shepard Project
  • McPherson – Wally Schirra Project
  • Olathe – Gordon Cooper Project
  • Stockton – Deke Slayton Project
  • Twin Valley – Gus Grissom Project
  • Wellington – Scott Carpenter Project

Also present were representatives of 4-H, Boy Scouts, and Girl Scouts, ready to work closely with these schools to develop the whole child. Business leaders as well are ready to partner for success.

It is no surprise that these districts are already working outside the box to ensure the success of every child. The other 22 districts that applied are eligible to be in the Gemini project, with virtual support from the Department of Education staff.

Very exciting time to be in public education in Kansas! I am blessed to get to serve with a Board and school districts that believe Kansas can lead the world in student success.

SCHOOL BUS REPORT

The State Board got a report on a 30-day school bus passing survey taken across the state. Very disturbing results. During the 30 days, there were 9967 passing violations where drivers illegally passed stopped school buses with their signs out. 222 of those violations were vehicles passing on the right side of the bus where students are loading. OMG!  I can’t believe we haven’t had more student injuries and fatalities.

Not sure what the answer is here, but we simply have to get a handle on this potential tragedy. The good news for us locally is that northeast Kansas counties had a lower number of violations than other areas of the state. But our 12 surrounding counties still had 671 violations during that 30-day period.

TEACHER SUPPLY AND RETENTION

Kansas has a real teacher shortage. We are having too many instances where licensed teachers cannot be found to fill vacancies and substitute teachers without credentials are used to fill the void. This is not fair to our students.

One interesting factor is the impact of the Legislature removing due process for teachers. The year after the Legislature ended due process, student enrollment in teacher education in Kansas dropped from 7919 to 5870. The next year it dropped again to 5389. Students do not go into work where they are not valued. Compounding that with the fact that Kansas is one of the worst states for teacher salaries, it is no wonder we have a problem. We can and must fix this!

BEST PRACTICES IN CHILD NUTRITION AND WELLNESS

This week the State Board met the eight school districts and organizations recognized for excellence in child nutrition and wellness. It is a fact that students can’t learn when they are hungry. It is also a fact that too many students come to school hungry. Here is what some districts are doing to help in that effort:

  • Kansas City USD 500 uses a mobile meal bus to reach over 100 children per day in underserved areas of Wyandotte County.
  • Seaman school district started a “Second Chance Breakfast”. Students who come to school hungry can grab a breakfast to go between first and second hours at school. Breakfasts increased from 12514 in the 2015-16 school year to 22,086 in the 2016-17 school year.
  • Iola School District transformed an old school bus into a summer meal bus with seating for 24 students at eight dinette tables. They provided 1700 more meals this year with the bus.
  • The Rose Hill school district implemented the Kansas School Food Purchasing Association Cooperative where they could buy food items at a discount. They save tens of thousands of dollars a year with their purchasing power.
  • In Labette county, Labette Health (local hospital) took over the summer meal program for the Parsons community and served 14,000 kids over the last three years.

My genuine thanks to those districts and communities that care enough to make sure children are fed.