I view the schools as almost society’s last
stand. Low performance in schools, yielding low literacy
rates, yielding low graduation rates, ultimately destroys the social fabric of our society. We recognize that there’s a lot of pain,
but how do we come together now and move forward for the sake of the kids in this city? We can’t go back and undo some of the things
that have been done, but we can move forward and try to get it right. There were a few key funders who said, “How
can we come together and have a stronger front and have more long lasting impact?” We had formed an independent 501(c)(3) public
charity. We’re really focused on the Kansas City public
school system, both the Kansas City Public school district, and the charters in its boundaries,
so roughly about 26,000 kids from pre-K to 12. All three of those foundations, Kauffman and
Walton and Hall, they’ve all made significant commitments to the improvement of K-12 education. This is now an opportunity to stitch together
a constituency of people that really just want a practical way forward for our kids. I see it as a breath of fresh air for our
community because people are listening. It is very much an organic strategy of connecting
people and linking resources together rather than simply trying to sell a new idea or a
new policy, or a new approach to a tired audience. Whether they be families, or parents, or school
leaders, or teachers, business leaders, philanthropists, social service organizations. All of them coming to the table with that
practical, “Let’s work it out,” approach. it’s about the community coming together
to put together a sustainable plan and also a vision and mission that everybody can truly
say, “I was a part of building.” I want us to come together as a community,
put aside the differences, to ensure that whatever we put out as a plan, that it ultimately
makes sense. It addresses the equity component, it addresses
the social and emotional deficits, it addresses the competency. We want our kids to be competent, we want
them to show mastery in all subject areas. We’re focusing more on outcome than we are
on frills and news value and things that can get us all distracted, when the goal is, “Are
we giving the children of Kansas City a better education?” We’re going to help them succeed, and we’re
going to monitor their success as well. They aren’t imposing solutions, models. They are creating resources and expectations
that are helping parents and educators do more effective work with children. The expectations on the schools are pretty
simple. We need to be providing a high quality education
to the kids that are coming to our building. We need to be able to document that with our
data. We’re always going to learn. We’re going to refine. We’re going to change. But we’re going to do that in a way that is
authentic and engaged and ultimately accountable If we make a mistake, we need to own on that
and if we are not performing well, we need to figure out either ways of remedying it
or moving to an entirely different direction. There has been a breakdown of a sense of community
around the schools. I think part of what School Smart KC is doing
is helping to identify and articulate that sense of shared responsibility and expectation
for good, quality education no matter where you live. The real story is we want to try to do everything
we possibly can to get education right in Kansas City. Great schools are going to be the building
block of any great city. What we see on a day-to-day basis is that
there are opportunities to navigate this complex new reality of a world that we face, that’s
an incredible promise we have. We also know that there are tried, tested,
proven practices to move the needle. The real challenge is how we work together
to get there.

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