An Interview with:
In August 2011, the Ewing Marion Kauffman School (the Kauffman School) will open and offer an entirely new type of college preparatory educational opportunity for students living within the boundaries of the Kansas City, Missouri, School District. This tuition-free charter public school will operate with the mission to prepare students to excel academically, graduate from college, and apply their unique talents in the world to create economically independent and personally fulfilling lives.
The Kauffman School will enroll one hundred fifth graders in the first year, growing one grade per year to eventually serve 1,000 students in grades five through twelve. Learn more about this new college preparatory charter school in the following interview with the Kauffman School's leaders, Latoya Goree and Hannah Lofthus.
Describe your personal vision for the Kauffman School and what you hope the school will accomplish for students after one year, and after ten years.
Goree: I envision the Kauffman School becoming a model urban college preparatory school, exhibiting effective approaches that improve urban education across the country. In the first year, we need to instill a sense of urgency in students and staff to drive academic growth. With academic growth as the primary driver in the middle school grades, students will become prepared for the school's rigorous college preparatory high school environment in five years' time. Older students moving to high school will model necessary academic and personal qualities for younger students. In ten years, the school will graduate its third class of high school seniors—and they, like the graduates before them and those who follow, will be equipped with the academic and social skills needed to excel in college and beyond.
Lofthus: If, after one year, I have students who tell me—through big grins—that this was the hardest year they have ever been through, but that they were pushed and learned more than they ever have, then I will know we have been successful. After ten years, we will see our first graduates succeeding in college and well on their way to productive and fulfilling lives.
What is one significant challenge in achieving this vision, and how might you overcome that challenge?
Goree: We must make sure students, their families, and the broader community all believe in the potential of our students to succeed. We can help build that trust by consistently pursuing our mission, achieving our goals, and reporting those results to our school community—including, most importantly, the parents.
Lofthus: We expect a lot from our teachers, and it will take a special kind of person to teach at the Kauffman School. To make sure that we have the best and brightest teachers, we need to put in place creative strategies for recruiting, developing, and celebrating the successes of teachers at the Kauffman School.
What strategies will the Kauffman School use to realize the high achievement expected from its students?
Goree: We accomplish this by recruiting and retaining the best possible teachers, employing a leadership team committed to success in urban education through high expectations and accountability, and by continually learning from all types of schools that demonstrate strong outcomes for students.
In ten years, the school will graduate its third class of high school seniors—and they, like the graduates before them and those who follow, will be equipped with the academic and social skills needed to excel in college and beyond.
Lofthus: When a group of individuals who live and breathe the same mission come together, there is absolutely no limit to what their students can achieve. As a teacher at Leadership Prep Charter School in Bedford-Stuyvesant Brooklyn, I was lucky enough to be part of a team where teachers tutored after school, made home visits, called parents daily, and took students on Saturday trips. I've been part of and seen examples of schools like this across the country that, day after day, prove it is possible for students of any age, race, or background to excel at extremely high academic and social levels. We are grateful that the Kauffman School is able to benefit from the experiences of these schools.
What are the common hallmarks among successful college preparatory charter public schools that the Kauffman School will employ?
When a group of individuals who live and breathe the same mission come together, there is absolutely no limit to what their students can achieve.
Goree: Common hallmarks include an extended school day and school year; a rigorous curriculum focused on student mastery of core subjects; frequent interim assessments gauging student progress toward internal benchmarks; strong teacher support and development programs designed to continually improve the quality and effectiveness of instruction in the classroom; and attention to both the academic and personal development of students.
Describe the kind of teachers the Kauffman School hopes to employ—what characteristics will distinguish them from other educators?
Lofthus: The most powerful distinguishing trait of a Kauffman School teacher is his/her commitment to doing whatever it takes to prepare students to excel in college and be leaders in their communities. In our school, you will see a dedicated group of individuals who will continually assess their own effectiveness and ask, "What can I do to better serve my students tomorrow?" Because they will continuously reflect on their own practice, the Kauffman School teachers will welcome feedback from students, colleagues, parents, and administrators.
Additionally, our teachers will be passionate about working toward educational equity. They will operate with the belief that all students in the building are their students, whether or not they actually teach them. Our teachers will feel a sense of shared responsibility for any and all problems that occur at our school and jump at the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues to solve them. Any individual visiting a Kauffman School classroom should immediately feel the joy that permeates each lesson. Our teachers will know that their passion for teaching fosters their students' passion for learning.
How will you work to ensure fifth graders entering the school two or more years behind grade level are prepared for rigorous college preparatory work at the high school level by the time they complete eighth grade?
Lofthus: First and foremost, we intentionally will use instructional time to provide double blocks of mathematics and English language arts. We believe deeply that all teachers are reading teachers, and because we know that literacy is the key skill needed to unlock meaning in all other content areas, literacy will be taught across all subjects.
We also will devote much of our time and resources to improving teaching. We know that the number one factor inside a school that influences student achievement is a child's teacher. Teachers will spend a great deal of their time looking at student achievement data to know where students need more instruction and assistance. Our small school structure allows us to use this knowledge and provide daily individual attention to students identified by the needs we see in the data.
To read more about the Kauffman School, visit www.kauffmanschool.org.