On January 25, the Kansas City Public School District (KCPS) Board of Directors approved a revised Blueprint 2030 plan that was presented on January 11 after a laborious and sometimes contentious process.
The board heard final public comments on the issue, with Northeast residents and stakeholders representing their communities passionately. Organizations in Northeast were instrumental in making sure that Northeast High School, James Elementary and Whittier Elementary will remain open for the foreseeable future after initially being on the list for closure.
Dahlia Rodriguez, a parent organizer with a student at James Elementary, said together with the community, the schools can achieve a lot. She knows her community can help recruit students for the schools that are falling behind enrollment goals.
“I really appreciate the amount of space to do this, we’re growing as a community, we are fine,” Rodriguez said. “I know you make a lot of decisions for everybody, we know you guys are working hard. Work with the school, with the community… We can be powerful.”
John Fierro, President/CEO of Mattie Rhodes Center and a former KCPS school board member, asked the board to adopt the revised Blueprint 2030 recommendations.
“Mattie Rhodes Center, which has had a long history of working with the Kansas City public schools, is committed to helping ensure a thriving school system,” Fierro said.
Over the past few months, Mattie Rhodes has worked with several of their partners in the Northeast community, the Lykins Neighborhood Association, Latinx Education Collaborative, and others.
“To look at not only what we wanted to save you in regards to the original plan, but looking beyond in terms of how we can help with regards to improving – increasing – enrollment, maintaining the required attendance, and certainly achieving high academic standards,” Fierro explained.
On the Westside, Mattie Rhodes has launched a placemaking project with a $50,000 grant from the Health Forward Foundation and in partnership with 20 different community stakeholders and residents, with the goal to be able to provide KCPS with a vision for the General Obligation Bond package.
“So we’re already working ahead and then obviously, I want to thank Dr. Collier for continuing the Hispanic Advisory Commission,” Fierro said. “I’m prepared to be a part of that and as I shared with her, we want to definitely make sure that we have some tangible outcomes and we can demonstrate our commitment to all of our educators, but more importantly, our Hispanic principals and teachers.”
Gregg Lombardi, Executive Director of the Lykins Neighborhood Association, was very happy and grateful that the revised plan will keep Whittier Elementary, a cornerstone of the Lykins neighborhood, open.
“In the last three months, we’ve had the opportunity to talk with all the board members and Dr. Collier and we have been impressed,” Lombardi said. “We have been impressed by the willingness to listen to difficult feedback and to have frank discussions about really difficult issues.”
They were particularly impressed by Sub-District 1’s Rita Cortés, who spent a lot of time talking with them and debating the issues in a very thoughtful manner. They’ve been most impressed by Interim Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Collier, who stood in the line of fire through a very difficult situation and never got defensive, always listened, and used the information that she received to inform a plan that is a gigantic improvement, Lombardi said.
As the search for a permanent superintendent to replace Dr. Mark Bedell ramps up, many shared their praises of Collier’s leadership through the Blueprint 2030 process.
“Through it all, she has shown intelligence, pragmatism and leadership, and she has shown that her top concern is the welfare of the kids in this district,” Lombardi said. “It really is tremendously impressive. I would say those are fantastic qualities for an interim superintendent, and I will also say that those are really the qualities for a permanent superintendent.”
There are parts of the plan that the Lykins Neighborhood Association doesn’t agree with, and they know their work as an organization is not done.
“We have a school that’s worth fighting for,” Lombardi said. “It’s doing an excellent job for kids, and we’re going to continue to fight.”
The neighborhood has raised $6,000 for parent ambassadors, using parents from the school to go out and recruit students to enroll in their neighborhood school. They’ll make all of the information they’ve developed for this campaign available to the schools, parents and the district.
“This district has a lot of great schools that are worth fighting for and we hope that everybody is willing to rise to that challenge,” Lombardi said.
Alissia Canady applauded Collier’s leadership and navigating feedback from the community on Blueprint 2030. She shared her own experience as a KCPS student and Northeast High School graduate in 1997.
“We still have an obligation to stay engaged as we go forward, which is also incorporated into Dr. Collier’s revised plan,” Canady said. “Urban education is not easy. There are a lot of challenges – it’s not just reading, writing and arithmetic – particularly the social and economic issues.”
Canady asks the board to provide leadership that will steady the ship to provide the confidence that families need to see to be willing to put their kids in KCPS. She said word of mouth is where KCPS has to be able to tell a very cohesive story about what the district represents. She looks forward to working with the district as the process unfolds, and to support Collier as the permanent superintendent.
“I think it’s important that we maintain the confidence that she gives the students and community, and build on the goodwill that she’s established, and the ongoing engagement with a call to action from the community and the GO Bond,” Canady said. “We have to get those same people back in the room that were here before saying, ‘Don’t close our schools,’ to be committed to keeping our schools open and thriving.”
Before the vote, Jesse Lange, Manager of Real Estate and Planning for the district, provided a recap of the plan.
The district’s proposed new mission statement is, “Upholding the promise of an equitable educational experience so Kansas City students thrive socially, emotionally and academically.”
With that in mind, the academic vision includes goals for 2025 and 2030 with four pillars: learning, support, people and system. The top priority is maintaining full accreditation, which the district regained in January of 2022.
Some components of the Blueprint 2030 plan will be implemented immediately, including literacy strategies for reading and writing, math focus, culturally responsive teaching, instrumental music for grades 4 through 6 and secondary schools, reading and math endorsements, maintaining reading and math interventionists, more field trips, foreign language expansion for secondary schools, college and career pathways in secondary schools and more.
Facility recommendations received a lot of attention from the community during the later part of the process, once a list of potential closures was announced. Troost Elementary and Longfellow Elementary will close at the end of the 2022-2023 school year.
“No other schools are designated for closure at this time as a part of the Blueprint 2030 recommendation,” Lange said. “This recommendation does include a call to action for the community, which we will review, as well as the intent for the district to pursue a GO Bond in the spring of 2024.”
Transition Teams will be put in place as part of this process to ensure success, Lange said.
“So the goal of the Transition Team’s to ensure that everyone who’s impacted – whether it be students, families, staff – they’re welcomed in their new school and they’re encouraged to stay within KCPS. We want this to be a positive experience for everyone,” he continued.
The Transition Teams will be made up of staff from the central office, parents, students and school staff.
“In addition, of course, KCPS will work with all the impacted families to ensure that they find the best KCPS option for this year,” Lange said. “We know that more education and engagement is required from our community… We are wanting to form a large task force that will then break into six smaller committees based around these critical areas: academic and student performance, safety, enrollment and marketing, the educational landscape in Kansas City, Economic Development, and the Bond.”
People with interest or expertise in those areas are asked to assist the district by serving on a committee.
“In addition to that work, we have the general call to action that we would like to ask the Kansas City community, ‘What can you do to support your school district?’” Lange asked. “There’s a lot of things that have to happen between now and 2024. So folks can be a part of that process. In addition, there’s lots of other things that people can do, just thinking back to public meetings. If folks have a student that lives within the district, send your child to a KCPS school, that supports the district. Ensure that your child gets there every single day and is ready to learn.”
For those without children living in the district, there are additional ways to support students, like serving as a mentor, signing up to be a reader, or volunteering in other ways at schools. The mentoring program is specifically tailored to improve student attendance rates.
“One thing that we’ve talked about with our schools is that we have suffered in many areas from declining enrollment and low attendance rates,” Lange said. “That’s directly related to the funding that schools are able to receive. So folks who would like to support a school, support a student.”
Dr. Collier acknowledged the hard work of the leadership team and all KCPS staff that have poured a tremendous number of hours into the data, into gathering feedback, and preparing presentations and information over the course of the last six months.
“I also want to acknowledge our board who have been amazing thought partners in this process and champions for our students,” Collier said. “They too have given me hours to engage in critical conversations around this Blueprint 2030 long range planning for KCPS. I want to acknowledge all the members of our community, so many of you who have joined us in numerous engagement sessions to provide meaningful and constructive feedback that has helped us reach this revised recommendation. Ultimately, I believe that everyone involved, regardless of what position you hold, wants what is best for the students here in KCPS as we move toward a final decision on this Blueprint 2030 proposal.”
She refocused the conversation on the original purpose of Blueprint 2030: to improve student achievement and to enhance the overall student experience.
“While much of the conversation over the last few months has centered on facilities, this really has never been a facility plan,” Collier said. “Instead, it is an academic division that is designed to address our need to realize greater academic achievement and student growth across our school district.”
This recommendation is not an indication of the value and the importance of students, staff and families at Troost and Longfellow, Collier said.
“Regardless of the decision that is made tonight, I believe our community is poised to further accelerate KCPS and to make it the student-centered, future ready, premier school district of choice that we all know that we can be,” Collier said. “I’m confident that together we can bring this vision to fruition as we rally around our students in this school district with the commitment and the resolve to move forward together. Our success lies in our ability to engage and move through this process together.”
Board members were given the opportunity to make a statement before the Blueprint 2030 vote.
The vote to approve the revised Blueprint 2030 recommendations passed 4-2, with Tanesha Ford (At-Large), Marvia Jones (Sub-District 4), Jennifer Wolfsie (Vice Chair, At-Large), amd Rita Cortés (Sub-District 1) voting yes, and Kandace Buckner (Sub-District 5) and Nate Hogan (Chair, Sub-District 2) voting no.
“Leadership often requires decisiveness, even in the face of opposition,” Hogan said. “In this case, our students’ futures depend on it. I worry deeply about what delaying the inevitable will mean for an institution like ours. We know there are forces that fight against closure, not because they care about the district, but because they desire to create a future state absent of KCPS. I fear without bold action, the beginning of the end is near.”
Sub-District 3, which includes Historic Northeast, does not have representation on the board following Manny Abarca’s resignation to serve on the Jackson County Legislature. The election for that seat will be in June. The District is hosting “School Board School,” where those interested in running for the KCPS board can learn more about the role, at the North-East Branch of the Kansas City Public Library on February 4, from 9:30 a.m. to noon.