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SchoolSmartKC CEO Awais Sufi listens as a small group discusses community engagement during the Social Innovation Summit 2017 Learning Journey in Kansas City this August. SIS2017: Kansas City was a two-day tour that introduced 45 Learning Journey delegates from foundations and corporations from across the country to the innovation education landscape in KC.

Leading from the middle: A new approach to education’s needs of today and the promises of tomorrow

Supporting access to the best possible public schools cuts across all debates and ideologies to get to the heart of what matters for students and families.

This week we heard testimony, from a range of interested parties, before the Missouri House of Representatives Joint Committee on Education about charter schools and related education issues. Although there were few surprises as advocates lined up on either side of the issue, typically along “district” or “charter” loyalties, there was an encouraging voice that emerged between the two groups.

Equitable accountability

SchoolSmartKC CEO Awais Sufi presented testimony calling for equitable accountability for both district and charter schools in a way that is transparent, easily understood by parents and other stakeholders, and based on individual buildings, not entire systems.

He started with the reasonable premise that all families want the best possible school available and love it when that school is close to home. That basic desire cuts across the district and charter debate, extends across all socioeconomic and racial bands of the spectrum and should inspire how community, education, civic, and business leaders approach the education sector.

To support quality schools, having clear accountability standards and relevant information for parents is critical in every district. However, this is especially true in districts such as Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS), where nearly half of families attending public schools are in charters and a sizable portion of families attending district schools are actively choosing which schools best meet their needs from a series of district options.

Meaningful partnerships

Sufi highlighted that the sooner school systems can share congruent accountability and expectations, the sooner meaningful partnerships between district and charter leaders can flourish. Furthermore, our neighborhoods, students and parents benefit from the closure of consistently poor performing schools (both district and charter), and only if approaches to reopen those schools via a community-informed process is part of the decision.

The pragmatic and cross-sector thinking embodied in Sufi’s testimony is why the Kauffman Foundation is one of three foundations supporting SchoolSmartKC’s efforts to improve academic and life outcomes for all students in the KCPS system – independent of what school they attend. School success should not be determined by adults’ personal preferences or ideologies but instead by the outcomes and experience of the students and their families.

Educating for the future

Sufi also went on to say that all schools, not just those in Kansas City, Missouri, must be accountable for ensuring all students are equipped for education, work, and life after high school. This means providing college and career planning, as well as vocational, career, and technical learning opportunities that clearly connect the work students do in school with what happens after they graduate. There are emerging pockets of innovation across the Kansas City metropolitan area on both sides of the state line. It is time to move those programs out of the shadows and into a space where they can inspire and inform larger systemic efforts like the Kansas Department of Education’s Kansas Can School Redesign project and the Independence School District’s Academies model.

Beyond those specific programs, there are many investments supporting schools and programs of all stripes across the Kansas City metro area. There is a momentum and an energy in every district we see to explore how to best prepare students for the 21st century world that is already upon them.

We look forward to lifting up the early successes and lessons learned as educators and community partners pioneer innovative practices. Through collaboration and accountability, every school can develop skills and opportunities that connect students to the swiftly changing work environment.


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