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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.

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