In 2006, Center School District was a struggling urban school district. The district was provisionally accredited and met only six of Missouri’s 14 education standards.
Eight years later Center School District has earned state accreditation with distinction and is meeting all 14 education standards on its annual performance review.
“It’s been a real journey from where we were to where we are now and we thought that that story needed to be told,” said Kelly Wachel, the district’s Chief Public Information Officer and author of the new book “Parents And Schools Together: Blueprint For Success With Urban Youth.”
Wachel said that she hopes the book, which was published last month by R&L Education, will show other school districts with challenging circumstances that major turnarounds in academic achievement can be done.
Wachel answered a few questions about the new book in advance of a book release party that took place March 5 at 6 p.m. at Rainy Day Books.
What was the goal for the book?
So we had success with our Made Smart program that really was for our parents and students to understand what it would take to be high achieving. And we laid out from birth to grade twelve the steps each student and parent needed to take to be graduating and ready for college at a high level. These steps from our Made Smart program were really successful … and we felt like this needed to be spread across the nation because we were having such great success with it. So that was the idea that this would wrap up our experience as an urban district, what we did and the program that we put out so that we could share it with the broader educational community. The goal is that maybe people can replicate some of our success, because it is so important that other districts — especially urban, high minority, high poverty districts — succeed. It is imperative to our whole country and to all of our citizens that (district’s) success is linked with our country’s success.
How does the book outline what Center School District did to change education outcomes in the district?
The book starts off talking about the history of Center School District … and what the perception was of Center. We had to establish what we were going to do to get to distinction and (improve) performance. We talk about early childhood, the population of kids in Center School District, and what need to do from birth with those students and their parents to make sure that they are ready for kindergarten at high levels …. And then I talk about the people …. relationships and responsibilities …. and academics, which are the main trigger point which have to be met for perception to follow.
How unusual is it for someone that does communications for a school district to be writing a book like this?
I think it is unusual. The publisher and I did some research about if there were any other books out there like this and there wasn’t. And so there was a sense of let’s get this book out there as a first time kind of genre and see what happens with it. The beauty of it is that I am not a teacher, I am not a principal, or a superintendent, but I am a public relations director …. And we all somehow contribute to producing kids, who achieve at really high levels. I think that’s what’s special. Sometimes public relations professionals aren’t seen as contributing to student achievement, but the goal was showing that of course they do.
How do you envision your role as a public relations director for a school district?
I think my job is making sure that education is put on a pedestal and that it’s seen as something that’s very valid and essential to what we do as a nation and as a society. I feel like sometimes there is this war on public education when in reality there are kids across this country who are thoughtful, smart, and ready to be the students and future citizens that we need them to be. That’s my job; to help people see how great public education and students in our country are today.
Is there anything else about the book that you think is important for people to know?
The book is a validation and a celebration of what we have done. It’s proof that an urban district can do this and a blueprint or a framework for how some of the things that we’ve done can be replicated.
Major Funding for Education coverage on KCPT provided by Jo Anna Dale and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation