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Kansas City Area School Officials Look To Lean Lab To Help With Tough Issues

Cody Newill
KCUR 89.3
School officials and Lean Lab "ReversED" participants look on during a pitch Saturday evening.

Tackling some of the biggest problems in Kansas City area schools is no easy task, but that's exactly what more than 100 participants with the Lean Lab's "ReversED" event set out to do this weekend.

The Lean Lab started in October 2013, acting as an incubator for community members to pitch educational solutions to area schools.

To switch things up this year, officials from six area districts and educational programs gave participants specific issues to work on for 24 hours.

Credit Cody Newill / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
There were so many participants this year that several teams split into smaller groups.

Lean Lab founder Katie Boody says the team shifted the model this year to try to be more deliberate in their approach.

"We thought it was an interesting structure and an interesting way to engage people at both the top-end bureaucracy and on the ground in the community," Boody said. "These school system leaders really know their needs, and it behooves us to listen to that."

Teams from as far as Washington D.C. spend Friday and Saturday forming their plans for addressing issues. One of the larger groups worked on a problem posed by Hickman Mills School District Superintendent Dennis Carpenter: reaching African American boys in early school years who struggle to read at proficient levels.

Catina Taylor is a teacher with the African-Centered College Preparatory Academy who helped coach the two teams that worked on Hickman Mills' challenge. She says the Lean Lab's open work environment is a breath of fresh air for working on educational problems.

"I think often times when superintendents work with their teams, there are restrictions created in that environment where people are afraid to say no," Taylor said. "These people here today don't have those limitations, they're just going for it."

Credit Cody Newill
Kansas City Public Schools Interim Superintendent Allan Tunis said he wants to make sure recommendations from participants are fully discussed before his successor Mark Bedell takes over.

Dr. Carpenter and the five other school officials involved with ReversED attended the pitch meeting Saturday evening. Carpenter says looking to community members for help is increasingly appealing.

"When there are complex problems, generally [school systems] gravitate toward experts in the field to solve problems," Carpenter said. "And what we're finding is that that really doesn't work. We're looking at a diverse group of educators, community members, parents and entrepreneurs."

Teams will now discuss their pitches with school officials to potentially implement in the near future. The Lean Lab is holding several workshops in the coming months that participants can use to further refine their pitches.

Cody Newill is a reporter for KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @CodyNewill or send him an email at cody@kcur.org. 

Cody Newill is part of KCUR's audience development team. Follow him on Twitter @CodyNewill or email him at cody@kcur.org.
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