School leaders’ goals for Kansas students: happy, fulfilled, giving and prepared for employment

School leaders’ goals for Kansas students: happy, fulfilled, giving and prepared for employment

What do Kansans want for their children?

Commissioner of Education Randy Watson and Deputy Commissioner Brad Neuenswander told 600 educators at the Kansans Can and Do Symposium Tuesday the Kansas State Board of Education tried to sum it up as follows: they want kids to be happy, have a sense of fulfillment, give back to others and have at least two educational credentials: a high school diploma and a postsecondary degree or certificate that allows them to earn a middle class living.

Those goals are embodied in the State Board’s Kansans Can outcomes, which call on all school districts to raise the high school graduation rate, increase postsecondary success, improve kindergarten readiness, provide each student an individualized, career-focused plan of success, and address social and emotional needs.

Those goals reflect the input of over 2,000 Kansans in meetings around the state four years ago – when 70 percent of community members and 81 percent of business leaders said non-academic skills are the biggest needs of students, as well as the on-going responses when parents, educators, community members are polled.

The problems: suicide rates by youth are rising. Thirteen-percent of seniors last year failed to complete a diploma. Less than half of Kansans are completing a credential beyond high school.

The reason, said the two leaders, is not a lack of effort, but that schools “are out of balance.” Schools are still structured around academic content with too little formal attention to the non-academic skills parents and employers says are important and leaving too many students unengaged or damaged by non-school factors.

The answer, they said, is the Kansas school redesign process. “The system is begging us to do something different,” said Watson. “It’s not the students that have to change. It’s the adults.”

The first wave of the State Board’s school redesign process, the seven-district, 14-school Mercury phase, launched in the 2018-19 school year. The second round, Gemini 1, 21 districts launched this school year or no later than the spring of 2020. In February 2018, KSDE announced the third phase – Gemini II: The Space Walk Begins. Nineteen school districts were selected as participants for Gemini II. With that announcement, Kansas has 47 districts and 103 schools taking part in school redesign. Applications are underway for the Apollo round, which will be begin implementation in the fall of 2020. Applications for Apollo are due by April 5, 2019.

To address the five Kansans Can outcome, the schools in the redesign process must address the following four principles: (1) student success skills, (2) personalized learning, (3) family, business, and community partnerships, and (4) real work applications.

According to the Commissioner, those four principles will eventually be merged in the still-new state accreditation system called KESA (Kansas Education Systems Accreditation). “At some point, redesign stops being redesign, because it is what everyone will be doing,” he said.

The two leaders cautioned that there is no single path to effective school design. “We (at the state education department) don’t have the answers,” said Neuenswander. “Our goal is to remove roadblocks and help lead you through a process that matches the goals of your community with your students’ needs.”

“Look at models for ideas, not to copy,” advised Watson.