KCMO Parents React to Loss of Accreditation; State Board Member Defends Action
By Sylvia Maria Gross and Susan B. Wilson
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Kansas City Missouri school district received one more disappointing blow this week, when the state board of education stripped it of its accreditation. And that was just weeks after Superintendent John Covington resigned unexpectedly to take a job in Michigan.
That leaves families in the district wondering what kind of trajectory Kansas City's schools are really on.
Leading Up to the Loss
Last month, Missouri released statewide test results showing that Kansas City's scores had dipped. A month and a half later, the state board of education voted unanimously to strip Kansas City's accreditation.
Kansas City lost accreditation once before in 2000, but regained provisional accreditation 2 years later. Yet the district continued to struggle and 2 years ago, began working with the state on a turnaround plan.
After years of conflict between school boards and superintendents, many parents and community members hoped that the district really would turn around. But education commissioner Chris Nicastro, who made the recommendation to the state board, said what the state had hoped for didn't happen, and that loss of accreditation was the only recourse.
The Cost of Change
An hour after the announcement, interim superintendent Steven Green said this setback was not unexpected.
"We have to look at what the district has gone through over the course of the first phase of the transformation - there's no way that you can go through that kind of radical change and not have some bumps in the road," he said.
The past 2 years have brought many changes to the district including the closure of about half of all school buildings and a curriculum overhaul.
Still, Green said he planned to stick with the academic program that former superintendent Covington put in place before he left.
District Staying on Course
After the announcement, parents, teachers and students alike were left wondering what consequence it would have on their lives when it takes effect on January 1.
Green reassured them that the loss of accreditation would have no effect on the value of student diplomas, or their chances of getting into college.
Acting school board president Derek Richey said that little would change on January 1 for the teachers and students in the district.
"I don't know that we're in any different position today then we were in yesterday," he said. "We have the same challenges. . . much like the students woke up today to go to school, they'll wake up then to the same teachers, the same principals, same bus drivers."
Seeking Education Elsewhere
Despite assurances from officials, there is one possible change lingering on the horizon. State law allows parents to move students out of an unaccredited district - with tuition and transportation paid by that district.
Area districts have already gotten a lot of calls from parents, though in the St. Louis district, which is also unaccredited, few students have ended up taking advantage of the opportunity to move.
Responses from the Community
The Kansas City school district held two public forums to answer questions about accreditation.
Parents and students were conflicted on their thoughts about the state of the district.
Shirley Brown, grandmother of a senior in Southwest's Early College program, says she has seen a positive change in the district.
"It seemed like maybe another year and Dr. Covington would have gotten everything straight," she said. "He left so unexpectedly . . . I wish that he had stayed and seen his program through."
On the other hand, Franky George, a sophomore at Lincoln Preparatory Academy, was frustrated about the changes over the past few years, so frustrated that she attended the meeting to seek information about transferring districts.
"If they don't offer you programs that you want and you need to strengthen your education. . . there's no need to stay if there's no money for it," she said.
A Turning Point
Not everyone at the forum thought that the loss of accreditation was bad. Some, like parent Rochel Handley, thought the district might be at a turning point.
"You know, I'm not against the state takeover to be honest with you," she said. "I mean, they can do no worse, than what we've been having so far I guarantee you if you have a system where the money follows the kids, you'd see different thinks because cause money talks and everything else walks."
Dream Bigger and Ask More and Demand More
While parents and students survey their options, acting school board president Derek Richey has called on the entire community to get more involved.
"This unaccreditated decision will simply just ask us to dream bigger and ask more and demand more of our staff, of our parents, entire community civic, faith and business," he said.
There's now a solid deadline for those dreams. The loss of accreditation officially goes into effect January 1, and at that point the district will have 2 years - until June, 2014 - to show improvement. And if it doesn't, at that point, the state could take over, or the district could be dissolved. That's unless the state legislature decides to step in earlier.
A Board Member Speaks
For more on the district's loss of accreditation, we sat down with someone who made the decision, Missouri Board of Education member Rev. Stan Archie, the only board member from Kansas City.
"According to Missouri standards, the district is not meeting enough of the indicators of success that we're looking for," he said. "I think we'd be lying to students to put the stamp on our district."
He said that in light of the situation, it was the state's job to intervene to act as a coach for the district and to bring in much-needed resources to the city.
However, Archie said that the community needed to respond in order to create a successful environment for students.
"I believe that a state takeover is one of the worst things you can do," he said.
He stressed parental engagement as key to student and district success.
Archie said that standards varied from state to state and said that KC area schools could be better than some schools that are still accredited.
"Missouri has among the highest standards in the nation," he said.
He is working to create a common set of standards for all states.
Looking towards the future, Archie hopes that parents, the district and the state will collaborate to turn Kansas City around.
"The shame would be if I have to leave where I belong what I own to seek what I deserve elsewhere," he said. "We need to own the education of our children."