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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Re-Boot for this blog

I've left this blog in mothballs for six months because I had run out of things to say. Well, not exactly - because the Professor never runs out of opinions. But I ran out of momentum to write and turned all my momentum to doing. Taking on the creation of community development projects is hard work, mentally taxing, and vexing. I continue to marvel at how some groups and individuals come up with an idea and within six months they implement. However, the downside of a fast start is that they tend to flame out quickly. I'm looking to create for the long haul.

But I miss having a regular communication vehicle, so I am rebooting what I want to write about. I'm going to be the "Go-To" place for what's going on in the urban core of KC. To that end, I am going to start a new blog on a wordpress site and leave this blog for the archives.

I think I wrote some great pieces along the way on this blog and occasionally had some good conversation on it. It was a cathartic opportunity for me to express what it was like to move into the urban core, how it affected me and my thinking, and to chronicle the reactions and responses I got. Having been an urban core dweller in KC, then Camden, NJ, and now back in KC, I think I have written all I can write about this topic on a regular basis.

So come visit me over at the new site where you will find updates on KC urban projects, some best practices I've found elsewhere, and of course, some commentary from me.

The new link is:

Thanks for visiting here over the years!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Trayvon and the Hood

I've been helping candidates on the local school board campaign trail for the last month. But the Trayvon case has captured everyone's attention, including mine. I feel compelled to put my 2 cents in.

Apparently what we know:
Zimmerman saw Trayvon and thought he looked suspicious. Enough so that he called the police.
The Police told Zimmerman to stand down and not go after Trayvon.
Zimmerman went after Trayvon.
Zimmerman was in a car and exited it at some point before the altercation.
Zimmerman was injured when the police arrived after the fatal shooting.
Trayvon was dead, killed by Zimmerman.

All the rest seems to be conjecture depending on what scenario you want to see.

But here is some dot connecting that makes sense to me.

Zimmerman is an adult. Trayvon was a minor.
Zimmerman is larger than Trayvon.
Zimmerman was in a car which should be a fairly safe environment. The car was fully functioning and not disabled. He chose to leave his car and pursue Trayvon. These events immediately violate any notion of self-defense. Self-defense is obeying the police, staying in your car, and not going after the suspicious person.
Zimmerman makes no claims that Trayvon was seen committing any crime.

In my mind, Trayvon was defending himself from a larger adult man who came after him without any authority to do so. Trayvon was under NO OBLIGATION to stop or heed anything this man said to him. If Trayvon felt he was under attack, didn't HE have the legal right to "stand his ground" and use self-defense? This would account for Zimmerman's injuries.

This is not just a tragedy. This is a travesty. I am embarrassed for my former home state. I am outraged that the police would let evidence leave the scene based on someone's instant judgement of the situation without any investigation. I am dismayed that this case has become politicized to the fact that this young man's character is now under assault.

I weep for the inability of the privileged white/older/middle and upper income/educated/ population of this nation to get this racial fear of blacks out of their heads. Hoodies are not scary. White teenage girls wear hoodies and I don't see them getting killed over it. Until we get this racism out of our heads, nothing will change. Stop seeing the world through our lens. See it through the eyes of Trayvon, and Ricky, Evan, Carlos, Laz, and Damon, and all the other young men I know, you know, and those we've never met.

Read some of Leonard Pitts work in the Miami Herald. Here's a good example: 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Urban Education is a pivotal piece of the urban puzzle

I've been working hard in 2012. So hard, in fact, that this blog has been far from my consciousness. But the topics are front and center every day. I read an article today that piqued my urban spidey-sense and I thought I should write. Better than grading exams, eh?  This is a bit long, but worth the read.

A good article on Camden, NJ public schools appeared in the Courier Post, hot on the heels of a recent spate of articles chronicling the return of the school super after a 4 month medical leave for an undisclosed condition. I have some experience with the Camden schools. I was a big sister for 3 years, visiting my local elementary school once a week. I responded to an RFP for a strategic plan for the School Board. Writing the proposal and making the pitch gave me a great view of the district. One of my former students is currently an appointed member of the school board and he and I have had numerous discussions about the state of urban ed over the years. I give that as full disclosure on Camden. You know my involvement in KCPS (and if you don't, read my previous blog entries).

The parallels in Camden to the current situation in the KCPS are stunning. Camden has the greatest proportion of low performing schools in the state and KCPS is unaccredited after years of probation. Both are in the catch-22 of NCLB and both states are on the fast track to a federal waiver (NJ got its and MO should be close behind).  Both districts are urban, majority minority, have a growing Hispanic population, and are dominated by poor families. East KC and Camden are similar, though the proportional condition is that Camden is much worse off than East KC. Both districts have had an endless supply of administrative and board mismanagement, distrust, and poor performance that keeps the district far away from ably executing its mission, which is to educate children. Camden has had their Super for 4 years and KCPS for 4 months.  Believe me, KCPS has a much better deal going than Camden in that department. Both districts suffer from violence, dropouts, gangs, and students who succeed superbly with little fanfare or mention. Camden has 3 signature high schools where the high performing students are steered (sound familiar KC?) and has 2 high schools that are rotting. Having spent time in a Camden elementary school, I have seen the frustration of teachers who are at wits ends with unruly kids and resort to parenting the students by yelling at them. My current little sister who is at ACE High School in KCMO (part of the district, though it is an independent contract school), finds her school a joke because they have no books to take home, don't get homework, and her science teacher has been out the whole year - and they go to other classes in lieu of science. At least in Camden at the elementary school they had band, chorus, art, and dance.

Parents in Camden are pretty much shut out of the picture, or to hear the board tell it, the parents won't get involved. The proposal I prepared for the board included a significant element of parent/resident engagement in the process in order to create stakeholders for the board going forward. The School Board, through their staff, literally told me that they didn't think parent engagement in a city like Camden was possible. They had tried and not succeeded. They let their ego stand in the way of moving forward. In KCPS there is a full-on effort to engage parents, give them a voice, and get that voice to the table. People here carp about it, but until you've seen the shut-out - as it is practiced in Camden - you have no idea how good we have it here. DAC and the SACS are a treasure.

The board in Camden is fully appointed by the mayor. I've written on this in earlier posts. They are a sad lot, though there are effective board members and non-effective board members. The sum, however, is that they have not held their Superintendent responsible in an effective way. I attended board meetings in Camden. It went something like this:
Board to Super: Where are your goals for the year? How can we evaluate your management when you haven't submitted your goals plan for the year and the year is nearly over?
Super to Board: My staff was supposed to prepare that and they haven't. I am still trying to get a straight answer from them. I will get back to you on this.
And that dance went on for months and continues to this day.
In the private sector, the Super would have been fired long ago.

The board in the KCPS is fully elected by the people. I've written on their experiences in earlier posts. They are a group that is moving the needle forward. From out of the ashes of a Camden-like board experience, this board is making headway. But the progress is small and the impressions of the community are fixed. I read daily in blogs and newspaper comments that the school board is the problem and always has been. 100 superintendents in 5 years, right? $100 billion spent on deseg with no results (except a nationally ranked debate team...).  How do you turn that impression around so transformation can continue?

Most people say that education is stymied by bad teachers, unions, too many TFA teachers (Camden got rid of theirs, KCPS increased theirs), too much administration, not enough administration (both districts have suffered from horrendous HR departments. KCPS is on the mend, Camden is not), micromanagement by the board, not enough management by the board, too little money, too much money, overwhelming poverty and social disorder that follows kids into the classrooms, and a revolving door of curriculum and other magic bullets designed to move the test-score needle. The anecdotal evidence is clear, isn't it? There are schools where poor, minority, urban children do well in school. If they can do it, why can't our public schools? Both Camden and KCPS have seen charter schools succeed and fail in their districts and both are in the midst of state legislative tinkering to make them charter school districts. In NJ, they passed the Urban Hope program that combines tax credits and charter schools in some fashion. MO is still figuring out what to try here.

Kids, children, students, scholars can learn. That is the bottom line. It is an irrefutable fact. They don't learn for all the stated reasons above. How do we know what to do? One of my colleagues would recommend a random trial experiment to see what works and what doesn't and to provide scientific proof, like a drug trial study. I find that laudable and laughable. Student learning is not the same in each student. A body generally has the same physical response to aspirin, person to person. While we account for patient differences like medical history, lifestyle, psych profile, etc. the human blood system or kidneys have a fundamental and predictable pattern of response to intervention. Can we say the same about kids? I've attended more meetings than I care to remember that detail a zillion different learning strategies from Montessori to Harlem Children's Zone. My mother was a proponent of the McGuffy Reader and flash cards. Homeschoolers are the ultimate solution - a school district of one. Do those students routinely perform off the charts? No. Do they learn? Of course they do. Again, what is the link between method, conditions, and learning? Thousands of books and articles have been written on the subject, tens of thousands of BA, MA, and Ph.D. students and graduates have read them. Movies, interest groups, and foundations have been formed and funded (Michelle Rhee, anyone?). And yet urban school districts in US cities are failing to educate their students. Why?

I remember the 60 minutes program from 30 years ago that documented the woman who ran an education academy in her house on the south side of Chicago and had remarkable results. I've seen it done in public and charter schools. But keep in mind, the bell-curve has statistical validity as a representation of the general universe. Not every child will perform at high levels? Or is the bell-curve a vestige of discriminatory education practices? We have no idea. But that story from Chicago still sticks with me. Kids can learn and succeed, even when people don't think they can. If we could just do what it takes. If we just knew what that is.

Like any parent, I want the kids entrusted to the public schools to succeed. Like any administrator, I believe we can find a public solution to this dilemma. Like any politician, I want to see results now, not in 4 years when another generation is lost. Like any citizen, I want to see the money spent well, obvious waste and ineffectiveness eliminated, and a reasonable return on my tax dollar. I don't see any of my selves getting satisfied anytime soon. This breaks my heart because education is time sensitive. You have to do it while kids are kids. They keep getting older and we keep dithering.

I think the lady in South Chicago got it right. The classroom is king. All the other stuff is just stuff that may or may not help and may or may not impede the success of that classroom. With the money we spend on administration, consultants, lawyers, et al., we could hire one teacher for every student and have a district of one. I think unions are a response to administration. I think bloated administrations with very highly paid administrators are empire builders that have to maintain the validity of their own presence.  I think the politicians are referees that are needed because the game has gotten so complex. I think principals are like higher ed department chairs - stuck betwixt and between and generally frustrated. So here are my suggestions for reforming urban education.

1. simplify the curriculum delivery system (new math comes to mind), and use technology daily. For the rest, see #2-7.

2. let teachers teach and hold them accountable for results and not what they put on their bulletin boards so the deputy superintendent can feel superior when they do a building inspection. But let's get the best teachers in there with the best assistance possible. Why are TFA teachers expected to perform solo? Why can't they work with another teacher in a classroom? And teachers - you must be a team player, not act as if you are untouchable and infallible. As an educator, I can say that. It won't be perfect, but try. The classroom is king, but you are not royalty.

3. let principals manage and lead. Hold them accountable for the results and not be fearful that if they try something different, the superintendent's ego will be bent out of shape. But neither can they be a building bully. It is not about your success, but the success of those students. Get that right and you will succeed. You work for the teachers, not the other way around. You are a leader, not a dictator. I've been an education leader. I can say that. Teachers will try to take advantage and principals will be pricks and prick-ettes. Transparency is key to keeping those problems to a minimum.

4. separate the district administration from the teaching buildings. Don't let them step foot in there beyond once per quarter. Let them manage the textbook orders so books actually get to the buildings. Let them manage the hiring and payroll so that it is accurate and exceptional. Make the recruiting and hiring of educators a priority. Let them provide for building maintenance, security, and supplies so teachers and principals don't have to buy it out of their own pockets. If there is abuse, fire, suspend and or prosecute someone. If there is an argument, mediate it. If there is a crisis, manage it. You won't hit 100%, but try.

5. tear down any perceived, historical, or real walls between parents and educators. Do whatever it takes. Repeat, whatever. it. takes.

6. keep the elected board, because we need referees. Hold them accountable with a scorecard of performance (and not that claptrap that the Do the Right Thing for Kids group has designed). Education performance of the district would be the number one item. Let them be the supreme court, town hall organizers, and keepers of the transparency. They won't be perfect, but try. Vote them out and keep communicating with them.

7. Keep the state out of this effort except to monitor performance with stated accountability measures. Drop that phony accreditation set of standards. REALLY? Where does paperwork flow stand in the grand scheme of education of a child? Performance of the basics is all a state can expect to monitor. That means equal protection under the 14th amendment, fiduciary reconciliation, and passing state performance tests that are not biased by economic class, culture, and gender. If kids don't know what a hope chest is, it should not mean they fail a performance exam.

I think if we follow this plan, we will see remarkable improvements in public education.
Carry on.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 Shout-Outs to those who build the Urban Core in KC and Camden

Another year spent in the urban core.

First half of 2011 I was in Camden, NJ where half the police force was laid off in January 2011. It was a rough, violent year in Camden. The Governor strong-armed his way into getting a county police force agreement by withholding police $ for Camden. When the Mayor and City Council played ball and agreed to support his venture, the state police were dispatched to patrol the streets. That came in November 2011. In December, the Mayor sponsored a gun buy-back program and got 57 guns off the street in exchange for $100 food vouchers at the only grocery store in Camden. Guess people are not hungry enough to give up their weapons in any greater numbers.

Second half of 2011 I was in Kansas City, MO on the eastside of Killa City. 114 homicides and counting. I am guessing there will be at least one tonight on New Year's Eve, especially as fools start shooting guns to "ring in" 2012. Homicide #100 this year was my friend and 17 year old high school student, Ricky King. It still weighs heavy on my heart, but the world keeps turning.

So, on to 2012 - and we do have some things to look forward to!

On the eastside in KC...the Troost Max bus line is in full swing. I take it a couple of times a week to get to UMKC. In addition, the Troost streetscape project and bridge replacement is nearly done. New sidewalks and curbs are a wonderful addition to the bus cut-outs and planters. The Avenue is taking shape! 

To my surprise, however, is the sidewalks and streetscape on PROSPECT Avenue!!! This is truly a wonderful sight. If we could get a Max line on Prospect we would really be in business. Thanks to our 3rd District Council reps, Melba Curls and Jermain Reed as well as our 3rd District PIAC reps for getting this project going. Next surprise is the Brush Creek now extends to just west of Prospect and connects you all the way to the Plaza. So, now you can travel down Prospect on new sidewalks and get on the beautiful, wide concrete Brush Creek Trail and get to UMKC, KCSourceLink at 4747 Troost, the Discovery Center, all the museums, Thies Park that runs all the way up to the Nelson Art Museum, the Plaza Branch library, and the Plaza. This is truly an East Meets West of Troost celebration. Thanks go out to Carol Grimaldi and all the good folks at the Brush Creek Community Partners - an organization that has worked tirelessly on improving the East to West of the Brush Creek Corridor.

Another positive for the urban core in KC is the Kansas City Public School district and its efforts to "repurpose" closed school buildings. Shannon Jax has led a robust community-centered process to identify uses most preferred by neighborhood residents surrounding the schools and seeking matching developer interest. It is the faithful carrying out of the vision to see these building become revitalization assets and not eyesores or dumping grounds for urban core neighborhoods.

The new police chief in KC, Darryl Forte, has started some serious crime enforcement and actually has markedly increased the clearance rate for murders and other crimes. Arrests are up because of his "hot spot" policing which puts more police in hot spot crime areas - so that when crimes are committed and shots are fired, police are IN THE AREA! This had led to quick arrests. I have first hand knowledge of this because Prospect Avenue is where the police cars constantly zoom up and down with lights and sirens blaring. It's noisy, but if it produces results, well, so be it. 

In Camden, the LEAP Academy family continues to be a one-woman juggernaut on Cooper Street. Another success story led by Dr. Gloria Bonilla Santiago is the creation and opening of the Early Childhood Learning Resource Center that will focus on the research of best practices in how urban communities can help parents raise their kids to be ready to learn and succeed. Modeled after the Harlem Children's Zone, it not only is a great piece of infrastructure on Cooper Street, but a wonderful community resource.

Meanwhile in Camden, school board member Sean Brown continues to take on the struggling school district. While his mission is to generate student achievement, he must first cut a swath through the intransigent bureaucracy and crony-politics that are hallmarks of Camden. He's diligent, but climbing a mountain takes time. He may not get reappointed, because he rocks the boat too much. Fair warning to all those in KC who want an appointed board... Meanwhile, keep your eyes on the prize in 2012, Sean!

In KC the saga of the school district continues to play out. Underneath the cacophony of political noise is a school board and interim superintendent, a cadre of dedicated teachers (AFT Local 691) and parents, (DAC) and interested students that are striving to achieve. Airick Leonard West has ably led the school board through the tumult of a very nasty departure by the superintendent and subsequent grab by the state upon de-accrediting the District. I won't go into the details here, but suffice it to say, that urban school districts don't stand a chance meeting the sanctimonious standards of the state while the state does nothing to support the city in making a productive environment in which a district could succeed. Meanwhile, the parents are active and have become a force to direct what happens next. Kuddos to Jamekia Kendrix for her superlative leadership in research-based solutions and community organizing.

I also want to recognize Henry Wash and his leadership of young men through High Aspirations. While there are many worthy organizations achieving results on the eastside, Henry is a former student and has walked through fire to get where he is and become who he is as a role model for other young men. He has resurrected the Urban Alliance, which is focusing on harnessing the networking power of organizations that support urban youth, particularly those that are faith-based. 2012 will be the year of focus on youth success!

Finally, I want to recognize a fellow traveler in Camden, Colleen McGann. Also a former student, she intentionally moved to Camden to support the community and walk her talk. She is the kind of people I love to know and surround myself with in the work that I do! I follow her exploits on facebook as she mirrors my experience here in KC :)

I am determined to make 2012 a positive year. I am no longer listening to the drama queens and kings that fill the 3rd district. I know they will still be there, but they won't slow me down. I can spend my time with the many good people who want to work, want to succeed, and want to help their neighbors - including all the folks on my block - the best block in Ivanhoe! Shout outs to Ms. Fells, Reggie, Antoine, Leonard, Rich, Mr. Clarence and my homie ALW! Also the guy whose name I don't know, but he always calls me Sunshine :)

I am working on 2 projects for the urban core in KC in 2012 through my social enterprise company Viable Third Community - one is a business center for home-based and other small businesses that want to take their economic success to the next level, and the second is an urban farm that uses intensive, 4 season, urban farming techniques, to grow organic, fresh, whole produce and fish in the urban core, for the residents of the urban core, by the residents of the urban core. I look forward to working with all the great people who have the same aspirations and expectations that I have - that urban places can be socially just, liveable, sustainable, and wonderful places to live for all our residents. Shout outs to Brennan, Charlene, Leslie, Karen, Mike, Don, Jerry, Kaeanna, and Roxanna.

See you on the other side of the calendar!

Monday, November 21, 2011

another young man lost to a bullet

Three years ago I lost a young friend in a senseless gun accident. Last night, another young man I have known for years was gunned down without rhyme or reason. Again, I am in a state of shock that this could happen to a young man I have known. Again, I am speechless at the tragic loss of a good life - he was an eagle scout, a senior in high school, ready to enter the military. He was a good kid. Again, I am reading the facebook messages left on his wall - sorrow, disbelief, anger, and healing - all kids who have to mourn the loss of a peer. This shouldn't be.

Rickey King was a kid at Gordon Parks elementary when I met him. He was part of a group of gentlemen being mentored by my friend airick west. I accompanied the group to the symphony, to the art museum, out for frisbee, and on Sunday mornings for pancakes at my house. He was a funny guy and loved, loved, loved his cars. He particularly liked my Acura 6 speed RX-S. I took him to the auto show one year and we ogled the cars. He was quite sure he would get a Mazeratti one day.

Most recently he had decided to join the military after graduating from Southwest high school.  He figured he would be safer there than on the streets of KC. The irony is draining my heart.

I realize young men die on the streets, but I always wanted to believe they were hanging with a dangerous crowd, making bad choices, or some such. I know there are innocent kids killed all the time who are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Apparently, that's what befell Rickey. Wrong place. Wrong time.

So now I am left to try to make sense of this, again. I couldn't make sense of it the first time it happened. I can't make sense of it now. I hope I never have to face this kind of tragedy again, but I am not naive enough to think that it might be me who ends up like Rickey. He was killed on Prospect at 10:15 at night on Saturday. He wasn't at a club, he didn't deal drugs. He wasn't in a gang. He didn't hang with the wrong crowd. I have no idea how this happened to him. In time, the story will unfold. The person he was with was shot but is still alive. He lived with his grandmother for many years. She protected him. I can only imagine her grief. He has a family of mom and brothers and sisters, cousins, and friends. I am sorry for their loss as well as mine.

We don't need a vigil. We don't need a speech. We need to somehow make the streets safe so decent kids like Rickey can live long enough to grow up and live their life. I don't have a solution. I don't have an answer. I wish I did. I wish someone did.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

3 steps to address urban crime and education

So many pieces of flotsam and jetsam have floated by my urban window in the last few weeks. As I observe the debris and am affected by it, I struggle to find an effective position for reflection and assessment. This is not an easy task. It's a wonder that anything makes sense in the world of urban revitalization given the emotions, financial issues, power struggles, intergroup competitions, and so forth.

Kansas City, MO is in the midst of a serious homicide rate over the last month. When homicides spike, everyone gets nervous. Neighborhood people stuck in the midst begin to worry that they might find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. I have heard more gunfire in my neighborhood in the last few weeks than in the last 6 months. Politicians get nervous that they better have a response lest the public hold them accountable. I heard KC Mayor James speak on this the other day. He said that the new Police Chief has a strong plan to attack crime and even in this spike, he has managed to generate more arrests for homicides than usual. What makes me nervous about all this is that no one thinks about addressing the cause of violence. We just don't seem to pay attention to reality.  When the economy was strong in the 1990s and early 2000s, urban crime rates steadily declined. Yes, there is a relationship.

KCMO has been struggling with its urban core school district, now known as KCPS - Kansas City Public Schools. New name, same district. The state is rattling its saber to intervene or take over because the school district is not successful. The state freely admits that most urban school districts are not successful, but no matter, they are going to intervene and do...something. They have no idea what that ill be despite that the district is in the midst of implementing a significant effort to improve student achievement. A questioner at a recent public meeting asked, why is it that the 3 majority black districts in the state (2 in St. Louis and 1 in KC) are the ones that can't make accreditation? Maybe it's that we don't EFFECTIVELY support accreditation in urban districts because it is, by its very nature, intractable? We have to go beyond the classroom to deal with urban education.

Crime and Education are related. Race, crime, and education are related. White power brokers don't seem to get this and instead are crusading about, claiming to be here "for the children," "for the victims," "for the average citizen."  It's time to stop the madness. This Emperor has no clothes!! But as our state commissioner of education said, we cannot let poverty and racism stop us from successfully educating kids. But she also implied that schools would do nothing about those conditions. You can't let it stop educational achievement, but you can't ignore it either. A conundrum that may explain the poor performance of St. Louis and Kansas City school districts. Rearranging the deck chairs won't change a thing, Commissioner.

Kids going to inner-city public schools come in with very specific life issues that suburban kids do not have. It ranges from dealing with violent crime in their neighborhood to the daily stress of poverty. If you've never been really poor for an extended period of time, you have no idea what the stress is like. These life environments and stressors affect education. Put inadequate nutrition on that list too. Urban food deserts explain part of that issue. Often overlooked is the horrendous quality of urban school food that comes from large, institutional food servers. How do kids learn without nutrition? They don't. It's our job to fix this.

So what are we, the average citizen, the fearful potential victim, the parents of children, the removed suburbanite, the concerned leader, and the disinterested resident supposed to do? As I have said for years - we must take responsibility.

Is it really so hard to understand? If a significant portion of our community is suffering to cope, unable to engage, ill-prepared to contribute, and stuck in the cycle of discrimination and hostility from us, then we must take responsibility. I constantly read on other blogs the following comments that are in direct opposition to my admonition.

  • "Why should I have to take responsibility for the inadequacies of others?"Because we contribute directly and indirectly to at least some portion of their inadequacy. 
  • "People should make their own way and stop blaming others." Convenient, when you are the one being blamed. 
  • "Just because I am white does not mean I am directly responsible for the plight of minorities." White privilege is a part of every white person, whether you like it or not. Deal with it. 
  • "Parents must take responsibility at home for their juvenile delinquents. Don't expect the schools or me to do it for you." And these inner-city parents are as overstressed as their kids. Who or what is supporting the parents in this maelstrom? 
Every white power broker in Kansas City that is trying to direct the governance, operations, and policy of crime and education needs to take personal responsibility and stop blaming others. This does not mean taking personal control. Neither does it mean ceding control without accountability. 

Here's how I would solve both the crime and education problem in KC. Feel free to adopt and use. 

1. Unless it is a violent crime or homicide, use mediation to deal with crime. This builds communications. Command and control is too expensive and will not last. Neither will it stop crime. This is not coddling. This is humanity and the most effective use of resources.

2. Triage the urban core to actually work for the kids: jobs or other economic support, business development (even if home based business), and whole, fresh food retail. These are not short-term programs, but a long-term intervention. Out of a sustained environment you will grow lots of support systems because there will be a place for them to succeed. Nonprofits are struggling because of the tidal wave they can't manage. 

3. The City must support neighborhoods and the schools within those neighborhoods and not just with lip service. You can't sidestep this, finesse this, or otherwise look the other way. The city needs to stand for the inner-city schools and put its resources, power, and support behind them. Then, triage its neighborhood support services to the urban core. It's not fair to the other neighborhoods, but too bad. Those neighborhoods have not been fair to the urban core in the last 80 years. The city has for too long followed an equal disposition of resources by council district. End that now! Focus on the urban core and you will see schools improve. 

There you go. Three steps, though not easy. Even I'm not sure I can be optimistic in the face of the unlikelihood that any of this will happen. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Our Children, Our Schools, Our Voice

How much do you value your right to be represented by a duly elected official? It matters a lot to me. I bristle at appointed representation that is not accountable to me, the voter. I recognize that there are instances and circumstances where it is more expedient to have such. But when you mess around with my existing elected systems, I really get mad.

The Kansas City Missouri School Board is about to be replaced. The state Commissioner of Education, Chris Nicastro, has asked the duly elected School Board members to step aside by January 1. They will be replaced by an appointed board. And not just any board, but a politically negotiated board that has been in the works for some months.  Key civic leaders have been organizing behind their closed doors with this state appointee to overthrow the KCMSD Board of Directors in a civic/bureaucratic coup.  My hyperbole aside, this is a real abrogation of our democratic process.

A parent-led resistance has formed and is engaging all communities in the KCMSD to stand up for Our Children, Our Schools, and Our Voice.  Here is a link to their press release, issued on Oct. 31, 2011

Their concerns are justifiably centered on what the state plans to do once it takes over the district.

Our Children are not known to the leaders in Jeff City and one look at how St. Louis has turned out under their supervision is enough to give pause to any parent.

Our Schools are currently implementing a transformation plan that 350 Kansas City residents, parents, and leaders worked on and support. The state is coming in without a plan. Will they stay the course? Will they come up with something new? Will their appointees break faith with those that have already begun the work of this plan?

Our Voice is being silenced by the state that is "interpreting" away the customary 2 year window to regain accredited status, despite their earlier statements assuring that they would not take over the district anytime soon. The fact that the state Commissioner of Education has seen fit to meet secretly with certain civic leaders to hatch this plan for takeover, is in itself a rebuff of our open government system.

I am not absolving the KCMSD of their poor performance in the past 40 years. I have, however, chosen to stand with the transformative leadership, plan, and progress that is currently taking hold in the district.  Our scholars deserve the best. What makes anyone think that Jeff City, via an appointed board, is what they deserve?

Others are supporting Our Children, Our Schools, Our Voice for their own reasons. I urge you to look at the statement of our District Advisory Council of parents and Teachers' Union.  Stand with these Kansas City residents and KCMSD parents and leaders who know our children and schools better than anyone. Decisions are afoot and will be confirmed December 1 and implemented January 1. There is no time to waste.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Prospect to MLK - What's in a Name Change?

Councilman Jermain Reed has asked that Prospect Avenue be renamed Martin Luther King Ave. Many cities have either done this on a permanent or an honorary basis for a major thoroughfare that runs through their African-American neighborhood. It is designed as a sign of respect and honor for MLK and to generate a sense of identity and pride for the neighborhood.  Outsiders typically refer to the MLK designation as code for a neighborhood that whites want to avoid. The white disdain should not be a reason to avoid the honoring of Dr. King.

Councilman Reed's motives are being questioned in the blogosphere - this is apparently the pet project of his mentor, Alvin Brooks. Mr. Reed is carrying the water and that is a fine and noble tribute to his mentor. We can't fault him for that.

Mr. Reed, however, has decided to blow this name change up into a fantasy silver bullet - he claims it will be the start of a transformation on Prospect and will be a source of peace. I find that very hard to believe. A name change is not a silver bullet, though it may provide a more positive imaging for the local neighbors. Don't count me as one of them, though. I live 1/2 block from Prospect. I think I can speak to its problems, potential, and why a name change is not enough.

The most recent changes that I am familiar with on Prospect are the Shops at Linwood and Prospect, the Prospect Corridor Plan, the Bluford Library remodel, and the new Walgreens at Linwood.  These changes have done more for Prospect than any name change ever will. They represent investment, community, and a purpose. Sadly, they are not championed by our current or former representatives as part of a strategy. Mr. Reed says he will go door-to-door on Prospect to get the name change and seek revitalization! Why? What will that do unless you have some steps to take? If you need some, I'm here to help.

Plan for Prospect Corridor (from someone who lives and works there - Viable Third Community)

1. Prospect is used as the travel lane for East Patrol - nightly there are cops in high speed mode racing up and down with sirens blaring, followed by the ghetto bird. Change the police practice.

2. Prospect is the number 2 bus route on the KCATA (I believe that was the case if not currently the case). It has no MAX, it has no streetcar. Get a MAX on Prospect and get some decent bus shelters and street scape put in as has been done on Troost.

3. Support targeted business and community commercial support at the Shops of Linwood and Prospect. Keep business local, profits, local, and investment will reap rewards. We need a social enterprise business center and incubator and we need a fresh/whole foods outlet (farmer market, co-op retail, and sustained support for nutrition). We need sustainable community development that includes green building, green jobs, and a chance for ownership by local folks to invest their sweat, life, and hope into business success. We have the density and the income for a range of businesses in this area. Get strategic and don't accept the nonsense peddled by people who do not understand the intricacies of community economic development. The Glover Plan will not work here unless you are ready to subsidize it's construction and operation for at least 20 years. If so, then build it.

4. Support community enterprises, not social services and non-profits. There is a huge difference and people need to learn and implement this. The Emmanual Community Center is wonderful! But it could be a social enterprise and not just a non-profit. Help these organizations learn to become self-supporting, not just dependent on charity and subsidy.

5. Expand the Bluford Library with a computer center in the Linwood Shops on the West side of Prospect. Computers are the #1 resource for people in the area and the Bluford library is woefully understocked.

6. Put a zoning overlay onto all of Prospect Corridor for mixed use and height. Be mindful of the Sante Fe Historic area and use that as a branding advantage on that part of Prospect. Fill in the vacant land with housing and stores and subsidize them as needed. If we can pay for the Block Building downtown, we can pay for some decent construction on Prospect. Organize a corner store initiative to incentivize these stores to carry fresh foods (as has been done very successfully in Philadelphia) and to upgrade their appearance and operations.

7. Make a CID on Prospect and get the trash picked up. That's a no-brainer.

There you go. You just got some free expertise. This is my plan for Prospect. Contact Viable Third Community if you want to get going on this. I'm already on it! 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Shoulder Responsibility for Urban Ills - Yes We Can, Yes We Must

The KCMSD - Kansas City Missouri School District has just lost its accreditation from the state. This was not a surprise, but it is tragic, considering that it lost it 11 years ago as well. A month ago the latest and greatest urban school superintendent walked out the door for the greener pastures of Detroit. Better salary, more power, and no messy loss of accreditation to have to live with. Apparently, the average tenure for an urban school super is about 18-30 months. Some speculate they move along so quickly because the local district gets frustrated with their lack of progress and fires them. I have no doubt this does happen. But in the case of the supposedly elite superintendents, I think they leave when the going gets tough.  They are well trained in the art of organizational management and it works well for them if they are allowed to run the district as an autocrat. But public schools are just that - PUBLIC - and accountable to voters, citizens, corporate and civic leaders, organizations, businesses, and anyone else who wants to ride herd on the performance of the district. Most urban superintendents I've seen are pathetic at public engagement, parent engagement, compromise, and communication. If they could just run the schools in their little bubble, they would be happy and successful, maybe. But they can't and they blame it on the board, blame it on parents, blame it on the community that they are "uncomfortable" and must leave, or they can't satisfy anyone and are asked to leave. No one is managing expectations. No one is framing the progress. And no one is keeping the superintendent in check and instead allows them to bring in whatever new program they represent, bring in whatever consultant group they are associated with, and like a snake oil salesman - promise results that never come.

The KCMSD Board of Directors gave the last superintendent a great deal of leeway and supported him in near unanimity and without much question. He left anyway. The board is being blamed for a district that slides farther away from full accreditation. The teachers are being blamed for ineffective teaching as evidenced by sliding test scores. The parents are being blamed for not being good role models and for not adequately instilling the virtues of school attendance into their children. Much of the finger pointing is coming from the civic leaders - most of whom do not live in the district, let alone send their children there, and from suburban people who routinely thank God they are not in the District. What have they done to help the situation besides stand as Pontus Pilate and absolve themselves of all responsibility?

Urban problems are vexing. We all know this. But as airick leonard west has pointed out in his comments on today's decision , the improvement of the school district is similar to the improvement of urban neighborhoods. They are linked, they are difficult to turn around, and they require a long haul process of engagement and attention - not a quick fix or a silver bullet. Everyone - and that means everyone from Henry Bloch down to the convenience store clerk at the BP Station across from Central High School - must be involved in promoting the success of our scholars in the KCMSD. Read airick's post for his take on how to be involved and have an impact. Read the joint op-ed by Mayor James and Superintendent Green in the Star. The City is prepared to step up. Mayor James talked on Saturday about a 3 year reading program city wide (across all 14 school districts) to get kids up to grade level before third grade.  A nascent alliance of urban youth groups called Heartfelt Change is planning to provide services and attention through an out of school suspension program, so that kids who get kicked to the curb for fighting and worse, will have a place to keep up, get help, and address their issues instead of just hanging out on the streets.

We all have to take a role and shoulder responsibility for the success of our District. That means getting real with the scholars - mentoring, supporting, bringing time and talent to schools, donating, cheering, coaching, and doing whatever is necessary to bring these scholars to success.

Yes we can. Yes we must.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Chamber's Big 5 - Urban Neighborhoods - I have the solution

The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce has released their Big 5 Goals for the metro - to which the Chamber will devote member energy and resources. Here is the one of most interest to me...

The Urban Core Neighborhood Initiative - Co-Champions: Terry Dunn, President & CEO, JE Dunn Construction Group, & Brent Stewart, United Way of Greater Kansas City

You can’t have a hole in the regional doughnut. And as former Chamber Chair John Bluford (Truman Medical Centers) said during the Big 5 discussions, “Poverty is the number one negative factor in determining the health and health mortality of the general population.”

Jackson County’s poverty rate is high when using the official formula – 15.4 percent of the population. That number is higher still for what most experts consider a more accurate measurement of poverty (200 percent of the federal poverty level). Use that measurement, and Jackson County’s poverty rate is 34.2 percent.

Dunn and Stewart are already meeting with key leadership, organizations and foundations, and hope to have a strategic plan within the next 90 to 120 days. Violence is one critical area of focus, along with education and economic development.

I actually applaud the Chamber's recognition of the need to improve urban neighborhoods. It's finally recognition that they can't just leave for the suburbs and expect their business climate downtown to thrive. So now they are going to fix what they made wrong by leaving KC in the first place, taking their investment, jobs, property tax, and retail dollars with them.

I have an easy solution that does not require a 90-120 day planning period (which is what this Chamber task force is doing right now). My solution will guarantee results that existing residents cannot achieve. My solution will never be implemented because it requires too much sacrifice by the fixers.

My solution - have chamber members move into the urban core. I don't mean as gentrify-ing interlopers or as gated subdivision fortress dwellers. I mean, move into the urban core and work daily to solve this problem. Live the urban core every day and work to make it better. Share in the sacrifice and give generously from your own self to generate a sustainable community.  Stand side by side with the thousands of good citizens that are here trying to make their neighborhoods, blocks, and the urban core a quality place to live. 

My solution will be rejected, but I am putting it out there as a real one. I know it is real because I do it, every day.