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Thankful for often thankless work

A moment of collaboration at the inaugural Rethink Ed convening in Kansas City, Missouri, 2018.

To those who take responsibility for how their actions, or inactions, affect the success of all students, I am grateful.

Holidays established to reflect and give thanks exist in countries and cultures around the world. There is evidence to suggest it is in our collective human nature to stop and say “thank you” on a regular basis.

At the Kauffman Foundation, we are guided and inspired by the example of our founder, Ewing Kauffman. Mr. Kauffman recognized his own uncommon accomplishments as those of a common man blessed with people in his life who made his public education and entrepreneurial ventures the hallmarks of his path to success. The Kauffman Foundation was created to ensure barriers to education and entrepreneurial opportunity are identified and addressed, particularly for people who are too often overlooked and under-represented in those areas.

There are few, if any, easy answers when it comes to addressing the challenges and opportunities of our 21st century public education systems. For this reason, I am grateful for the individuals and organizations prioritizing students and what actually happens to them ahead of any personal preferences or ideologies. On any side of controversial or contentious education issues like school funding, public school choice, high-stakes testing, and collective bargaining, there are people who take responsibility for how their actions and/or inactions affect how all students are prepared to graduate from high school and enter the wider world beyond.

In the long tradition of making time to say “thank you,” I want to acknowledge organizations, groups, and programs with whom we have been fortunate to work recently, and who are making efforts to put aside adult issues in favor of student interests.

  • Thank you to the Kansas City metro area’s superintendents, boards, faculties, and communities for continuing to explore and identify ways to provide real world learning opportunities to more students. There is no mandate, law, or substantial funding for these programs, but school systems are partnering with business, industry, and higher education institutions in new ways to ensure students are prepared for learning, work, and life after high school along multiple pathways. This report from the Mid-America Regional Council provides a look at Career and Technical Education initiatives across the metro intended to benefit students pursuing college, career, or both after high school graduation.

  • A double dose of thanks to the University of Missouri-Kansas City for matching up to $10 million in Kansas City Scholars scholarship funds (which will support an additional 400 metro area students’ pursuit of a college degree). Also, for the bold move to thoughtfully and responsibly transition its charter school sponsorship activities and explore work that will support both district and charter schools in new and innovative ways.

  • Thank you to the Missouri Charter Public School Commission for opening the door to sponsorship for any and all charter schools in the UMKC portfolio. Accountability for student outcomes is critical across all public schools, and the Commission is working to model effective practice and bring a cohesive structure to charter school accountability in Missouri.

  • Thank you to Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS) for continuing to seek out new ways to engage the broader community in its work and in the lives of its students. The Success Mentors program is just one great example of this multi-faceted effort.

  • Thank you to SchoolSmartKC for the innovative, community-engaged approach to its Strategic Growth Program and for the $1.4M investment in three KCPS schools to build on the plans developed by leadership, faculty, and community stakeholders.

  • Thank you to everyone in the metro area serving on a public school district or charter school board. There may not be a more difficult unpaid volunteer commitment in either Kansas or Missouri than taking responsibility for the children entrusted to our public schools and making difficult decisions in their interests. It is also a role where going to the store for milk or getting a tank of gas might involve robust impromptu discussions of school policy and procedure with fellow customers.

  • Thank you to the educators and staff working in our schools every day. One way to show gratitude for teachers is to support their classroom projects through the Kansas City matching gift program at Donors Choose. Anyone can contribute to teacher projects in schools throughout the KC metro area and have those gifts matched by the Kauffman Foundation and others.

  • Thank you to parents, guardians, and caregivers. Thank you for bringing up tough issues, showing up to school events and meetings, and engaging in students’ education in any way you can.

Finally, I am grateful for the opportunity to learn with and from communities in which we work and the diverse cadre of leaders working on behalf of those communities. I am thankful for those who ask questions, challenge assumptions, and guide my thinking in ways that inform decisions regarding funding, strategy, and impact.