At a recent community meeting at James Elementary, Kansas City Public Schools District Interim Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Collier stated, “Neighborhood schools are best.” Two of our neighborhood elementary schools, James and Whittier, are on the proposed list to be closed. Northeast is a vibrant, diverse community with a strong immigrant population. In the Northeast, immigrant families would be hardest hit by the closure of schools. 62% of students at James Elementary are limited English proficient, while 57% of Whittier students are limited English proficient. 47% of the combined James and Whittier student population are Hispanic/Latino.
At the James meeting, I was moved by the Spanish-speaking parents advocating for James to remain open. Parents shared that James was a wonderful school, close to home, with great teachers, committed to ensuring that every student had access to quality education. James has the district’s third-highest third-grade reading scores (an important indicator of high school graduation). Whittier is also in the top five. As one neighborhood leader stated, “Whittier is one of the highest performing, highest enrolled grade schools in the District in one of the most challenged neighborhoods.”
As the district moves forward on collecting feedback, I am concerned about the voices that are not being heard. Language accessibility remains a considerable challenge in the sharing of information and in the receiving of feedback. The information being shared is complicated, nuanced, and not easily translatable. How do we ensure that those most impacted by the potential closures have access to the best information? As the demographics continue to shift in our community, we must work together to ensure that our community has equity in voice. Otherwise, our neighbors will remain disenfranchised. The district reminds us that these are proposed recommendations, not the final ones. There is still an opportunity for every neighbor in the Northeast community to share their concerns and hopes for the quality of education that our kids deserve. At the Manual Tech meeting, the district invited the community to bring a friend to the next meeting. Let’s accept the invitation.
While I am thrilled that Kansas City Public Schools has been reaccredited, it is only the first step. Our kids deserve the best education possible. The proposed Blueprint 2030 plan includes additional science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics programming, updates to existing facilities, and the construction of a new elementary school in the Northeast. A sizable portion of the plan, however, is contingent on the passage of a new bond which has not occurred since the 1960s. How will we partner with the district to ensure that it delivers on the promise of providing a world-class education to our students, particularly in a system where the limited English proficiency percentage is seven times the Missouri state average and where schools are becoming more economically and racially segregated?
Neighbors are scared that the outcomes of previous school closures will repeat themselves, and rightfully so. Neighborhood schools are the pillars of the community.
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