Lindsey Foat — The Hale Center for Journalism
The auditorium at Paseo Fine and Performing Arts Academy was nearly full of parents, teachers and community members Wednesday night for a public hearing hosted by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on plans to address unaccredited school districts in the state.
Kansas City Public Schools is one of three districts currently unaccredited in Missouri.
At the hearing, which is the first of four around the state, Deputy Commissioner of Learning Services Margie Vandeven used a PowerPoint presentation to outline the basics of six proposals to address unaccredited districts.
“So that is the question that the state board asks: what is the appropriate role for the state in supporting, and, if necessary, intervening in unaccredited school districts? And that’s where we really need to your assistance,” Vandeven said to the crowd.
So far, plans have been submitted by each of the three districts, a group of Missouri superintendents and the CEE-Trust. The Missouri Charter Public School Association and Children’s Education Alliance of Missouri partnered for the sixth proposal.
Remarks from the crowd, which were selected at random from cards of those that wished to speak, did not directly endorse any of the plans, but, by and large, lobbied for local control and against private interests.
“We have some work to do and I believe that the district and the administration of Kansas City Public Schools has come up with a good starting point,” said KCPS parent Patrick Bustos. “If the state board is really interested, what they need to do is get on board with us.”
Former Missouri State Representative and former Kansas City Council member Sharon Sanders Brooks said in her remarks that neither the CEE-Trust nor the KCPS plans address critical issues like vocational training for some students.
“It’s criminal to have our children have the kind of education they are getting,” said Sanders Brooks, quoting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “The (CEE-Trust) team that was utilized, and I met with them, was not diverse. You brought in outsiders that have no knowledge of this community whatsoever.”
Several people also talked about the importance of supporting schools with wraparound services, which includes placing nurses, counselors and other social service workers directly into schools. These services are included in several of the plans.
“Ninety percent of our children live in poverty, 24 percent are English language learners and just about as many are homeless,” said Local 691 President Andrea Flinders. “So when they walk into the classroom, they are not always walking into the classroom ready to learn … Every day our teachers, our school-related personnel, our principals are under tremendous pressure to help our children, but they need the programs and services to help them.”
After the hearing, Missouri Commissioner of Education Chris Nicastro said that the department will have a lot of homework to do as they consider all the feedback they collect at the hearings around the issue of unaccredited school districts.
“I think we heard a lot of wonderful thoughts and a lot of passion, certainly from the community, and that’s critical,” Nicastro said. “Tonight we saw that the folks in Kansas City do indeed care deeply about this issue.”