KSDE Commissioner Search Focus Group

KSDE Commissioner Search Focus Group

Last night I attended one of eleven focus groups sponsored throughout the state by KSDE with the purpose of obtaining “constituent feedback as to what they believe to be the most critical education issues in Kansas, and the experiences and skills they feel are essential for this leadership position.”

There were thirteen attendees in the session I attended in Topeka, facilitated by Carolyn Campbell; KSDE board member representing District 6.  The group was a mix of teachers, parents, school administrators, and representatives from groups such as KNEA.

The agenda for the focus group included three questions:

  • What are the good things about education in Kansas?
  • What are the most critical issues for education in Kansas in the foreseeable future?  
  • What experiences, skills, and background are necessary for the next Commissioner of Education to be successful?
I found the hour and forty minute discussion very interesting, and thought it worthwhile to list the items raised by the group in response to each of the questions.  They provide a good cross-section of the thoughts and opinions of stakeholders within the Kansas education system.  

What are the good things about education in Kansas?

  • How high Kansas rates nationally. 
  • Teachers; their passion, knowledge, etc.
  • Collaboration at all levels.
  • Local control following the state and local school  board model rather than state-level appointees.
  • Families value education, boards are compassionate, and communities rally around schools.
  • Strong curriculum.
  • Good leadership in the schools.
  • Vision, planning, and longevity.
  • Belief in leadership.
  • Strong, highly-trained teacher workforce.
  • Support of public schools rather than focus on private and charter schools.
  • Retained professional development despite budget cuts via consolidation of resources.
  • Still have arts, language, drama, debate, etc.; programs which have been eliminated from other states.
  • A long reputation for being able to do more with less.
  • Families and students willing to sacrifice for education.
  • High standards that are taken seriously.
  • The work that KSDE does and their efforts to seek input from educators.

What are the most critical issues for education in Kansas in the foreseeable future?  

  • Adequate supply of highly trained educators.
  • Funding education
    • Teacher salaries
  • Balancing quantifying and maintaining quality.
    • “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” – William Bruce Cameron
  • Public perception that public education is failing.
  • People not seeing the importance of programs like school breakfasts, etc. – not understanding how much the world has changed since they went to school.
  • Mental health issues for students – closing of state hospitals, lack of medicaid support, parents’ issues, etc.
  • Lack of professional development and mentoring for new educators serving a diverse student population. 
  • Some children in the state are valued more than others.
  • The haves versus the have-nots. 
    • Focusing on the needs of a small number of districts
  • Dying counties – areas with elderly populations that outnumber the school-aged children.
  • Changing cultures
    • Over 100 languages being spoken in Kansas schools
    • Must engage families in new ways.
  • The ability to ensure students can be productive citizens after high school.
    • More than just preparation for a job.
  • All teachers should be highly qualified in the subjects they teach.  
    • Require educators to have education degrees
  • Big gap between high schools and colleges.
  • Uninformed electorate
    • Education must take responsibility for the fact that the same legislators keep  getting elected
  • Should hold parents to the same level of responsibility we expect of the students
    • We feed their children, clothe them, maintain their health, etc. – we enable the parents to be negligent.
    • Family engagement
  • Teacher, principal, and administrator burnout.
  • Opponents using a divide and conquer strategy to get education groups to work against each other.
  • “Pay to play.”
  • Maintaining science standards
    • Presenting creationism as religion
  • Recommendation for targeted focus groups on topics mentioned above.
  • Must be able to walk in the shoes of the people you are working with.
    • Once upon a time, most teachers lived in the same community as their students.
    • “In order to teach a kid, you must first befriend their parent(s).” 

What experiences, skills, and background are necessary for the next Commissioner of Education to be successful?

  •  Be and educator – understand the motivation, willingness to give above and beyond, etc.
  • Being able to build relationships with people – building credibility and trust.
  • Be committed to public education
  • Understand the purpose of education is more than to be able to get a job
    • Produce productive citizens with a sense of values and responsibility
  • Understand the complexities of all the system’s moving parts
  • Someone with experience with the feds – diplomacy and educating legislators
  • Experience in diversity, understand achievement gaps, be able to work with districts of all sizes, etc.
  • Not too innovative
    • “You sometimes have to go slow to move fast.”  
    • “Think outside the box but work within it.”
  • Bring a consistent vision to KSDE staff.
  • Someone who can help move change forward.
  • Must have a presence when they speak.  
  • Someone who has served as an administrator.
  • History of success.
  • Not necessarily from Kansas.
  • Need to be aware of the Legislature.
  • Need to experience Kansas.
  • Charismatic and impressive.
  • Desire to get out there and see education in action.  
    • Balance time spent at the national, state, and local level.
  • Honesty.  
The focus groups continue tonight and tomorrow night.  The State Board is currently targeting November to have a new Commissioner in place.