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Fellowship Encourages Startup Thinking Around Kansas City Education

If figuring out how to fix education in Kansas City is a puzzle, then the founders of The Lean Lab say their fellowships should provide the pieces.

"Each fellow has to commit to impacting 500 students over the course of five years," says Carrie Markel, the group's chief operating officer. "If we incubate 20 fellows a year, in less than 20 years we would impact all 70,000 students in the Kansas City city limits."

Markel and fellow educator Katie Boody launched The Lean Lab in 2013. Their plan? Capitalize on Kansas City's reputation as a hotspot for entrepreneurs and startups to launch new thinking around education in the city. They've already hosted a few community events, but the big work starts Monday as four fellows begin their month-long rotation at the Sprint Accelerator.

One fellow is working on a new data system to help place English language learners in classrooms. Another fellow is working with school administrators to address the mental health needs of students who've experienced trauma and stress.

Markel says all of the fellows will be gathering input and seeking feedback along the way.

"The overall goal for almost everyone involved in education is obviously for the students, but oftentimes they get shut out of the process," she says. "Our goal is we design with students and community members, rather than on or for."

The fellows will have four weeks to put together a plan and write a business proposal around it. They'll pitch their ideas next month to school district officials, charter school leaders and the city's philanthropic community.

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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