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Kansas City Public Schools seek student and community input on how to improve in the next 10 years

Ray Weikal
Kansas City Public Schools
Kansas City Public Schools officials say they hope to create a "neighborhood experience" for students.

While faced with declining enrollment, decaying buildings and science labs without sinks, Kansas City Public Schools asks for input from students, staff and residents as it plans for the future.

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Kansas City Public Schools Superintendent Mark Bedell wants every student in the district to be able to participate in any extracurricular activity.

Now, only Lincoln College Preparatory Academy, where the football team is undefeated, and East High, with a special program for students interested in careers in agriculture, are in a position to offer the resources Bedell wants all kids to have.

Of the district's seven high schools, Lincoln and East are the only two not suffering from declining enrollment. The two have more than 1,000 students. Other high schools have fewer than 400.

“Do you think you can offer a band, have debate, fill a football team throughout a whole season (with these numbers)?" Bedell asked during a round-table discussion with reporters on Tuesday. "It’s not possible, and is that fair to our kids?”

As part of their plan for how to reverse enrollment patterns and other challenges that have left it lacking full accreditation since 2011, district officials are reaching out to students, teachers and communities for feedback on how to improve.

“If we want our kids to have a true comprehensive experience,” Bedell said, “it’s going to come with engagement of this community around what they want to see this system look like in 2030.”

The year 2030 refers to Blueprint2030, the district's long term strategic plan to “define how KCPS should serve students in the future and the system-level changes we need to take to get there.”

Officials said some 1,500 students have already weighed in on how they’d like to see their schools improve: more fine arts; foreign languages other than French and Spanish; and added support for peers — something that surprised and touched district officials. There was also an item most students would list as a dream ingredient at school: better food.

Bedell acknowledged there would be some school consolidation, bringing with it inevitable pain and dissatisfaction. But he said the purpose of engaging the community is to hear from as many people touched by the district as possible, whether they have students in it or not, before making any decisions.

Bedell, who has a fifth grader in a KCPS school as well as two KCPS graduates now in college, said he’ll take what he hears, combine it with other information and data, and make what he called a “business decision and decision as a parent.”

“What that looks like, I don’t know,” he said. “What I want in my mind will significantly shift when we engage the community regarding what their appetite is for how this system looks over the next several years."

The district will begin a series of community engagement meetings on Monday, Oct. 18, with a Facebook Live event. That will be followed by in-person and virtual events over the course of the week. Officials also will be seeking input from staff across the district over the next couple of weeks. The schedule of engagement meetings can be found here.

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