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KC's Lean Lab Tackles New Round Of Ed Issues

Kyle Palmer

Many teachers enjoy their summers on a beach or some other far-flung vacation spot. But a small group of Kansas City educators has traded relaxation for innovation. 

The Lean Lab, based at Kansas City's Sprint Accelerator, recently launched its second cohort of "Incubator Fellows". The group of eight--six teachers, one UMKC student, and one tech entrepreneur--will spend four weeks this summer developing solutions to problems they find in Kansas City education. 

"Our driving question to them is: 'How are you impacting student achievement with your ideas?'" says Lean Lab co-founder Carrie Markel. 

The fellows have spent much of their first week this summer interviewing teachers, parents, administrators, and non-profit officials. Each fellow must talk with at least 25  people in order to begin formulating a problem. 

"Right now, they're not even allowed to pitch a solution," says Markel. "Their only focused on fully understanding a problem." 

At this stage of the process, the fellows' ideas are ambitious but vague. One proposes to look into how educators can be better trained to meet the needs of black and Latino students. Another considers how best to create a Kansas City-based "principal pipeline" with the help of online resources. 

Katie Gore, one of the fellows who teaches first grade at Kansas City's Genesis Promise Academy, is focused on figuring out why early elementary teachers often find it difficult to teach science effectively. 

"I am finding that there is a real lack of time and resources," she says. "And there is no set curriculum in what science they teach, so there is no consistency." 

Once the interviews are complete, then Katie and the other fellows will formulate a solution, which could be anything from a computer app to a class curriculum. Then, in mid-July, the fellows will pitch their ideas to a crowd of Kansas City education and business leaders. 

But the hope is the creative energy does not end there. 

"We are looking for ways to hold them (the fellows) accountable to their ideas," Markel says.

To that end, the Lean Lab had the fellows sign a contract stating the ideas they develop this summer will eventually impact 500 students in Kansas City within 5 years. 

"These solutions should ideally be grounded in the Kansas City community," Markel says. 

Kyle Palmer is the editor of the Shawnee Mission Post, a digital news outlet serving Northeast Johnson County, Kansas. He previously served as KCUR's news director and morning newscaster.
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