Should where a child rests his or her head at night impact the quality of the education they receive? KCPT and American Public Square examine the relationship between poverty, housing and education in our metro in this town hall conversation.
American Public Square founder Allan Katz moderates a panel of education experts along with KCPT’s Nick Haines.
On January 9, 2017, it was announced that I had been selected by the Lee’s Summit Board of Education, after a nationwide search, to serve as their next superintendent of schools. Although my family and I are excited about this major step in our lives, it is with mixed emotions that I have begun to internalize this transition. I continue to love every minute of serving the students, faculty/staff, Board, and greater community of HMC-1.
The nearly four years I have served as your superintendent have produced the most gratifying moments of my career. Given this truth, the decision I have made to take the next step of my professional journey comes after an enormous amount of internal deliberation.
Because of the hard work and support of many of you, we have made significant strides over the course of the last several years, and we will not stop here! During the second half of this school year, we will continue to embrace our culture of student-centered, continuous improvement by meeting the rigorous challenge of obtaining AdvancEd International Accreditation.
Many HMC-1 stakeholders have asked, “What’s going to happen now?” and “Where do we go from here?” I am here to tell you that I leave this District in the more than capable hands of our leadership staff. Together, with our Board of Education, we have made significant strides and implemented path-changing initiatives. These will not simply go away as they are ingrained in our work via the five-year strategic plan. In regards to the search for a new superintendent, the HMC-1 Board of Education decided January 19 to have administration issue a request for proposals for a superintendent search firm. The hope is to have a new superintendent hired by May. Please trust that the Public Information Office will keep all stakeholders updated on this very important process. Change can oftentimes be scary. The “unknown” can be worrisome. Yet as the novelist Paulo Coelho once said, “If you are brave enough to say goodbye, life will reward you with a new hello.”
In the days ahead, there will be many opportunities for us to reflect on the journey we have collectively embraced the last several years. I look forward to sharing that special time with each of you. Until then, thanks for your commitment to our strategic direction and for all of your unwavering support. I continue to be inspired by each of you and will always be humbled to be called your leader.
This past month I had the opportunity to learn at the feet of Jack Lynch, CEO of Renaissance Learning. As he spoke, I felt confirmation that in regards to our direction, we are on to something here in the HMC-1 district!
For those of you outside of the field of education, Renaissance Learning is a leading company in the field of education/student learning. The company has a presence in one out of every three schools in the country. In addition, Renaissance Learning boasts 18 million student subscribers on their learning platforms. Given their success as a company, I was excited to hear what CEO Lynch had to say about “How Leaders Create High Purpose, High Performance Organizations.” I am proud to report that he didn’t disappoint. As I sat and listened to his four key messages, it validated what I believe about leadership, purpose, high performance and the path we are on here in HMC-1.
1. Be Clear on Your Value: Lynch explained that leadership is measured by the output of your team. This included the idea of hiring super heroes and committing to being a “multiplier” in your organization versus a “diminisher.” Multipliers are talent magnets, liberators, challengers, debate makers, and investors in others. Diminishers are empire builders, tyrants, know-it-alls, and micro-managers in the organization. This made me think of HMC-1’s commitment to developing teacher leaders. Some of the talent we have been able to recruit of late, community-wide strategic planning and the District’s mission centered partnerships…We may be on to something in HMC-1!
2. Respect Difference: Next Lynch built upon the notion of respecting difference by way of a quote from Yo Yo Ma:
“Our cultural strength has always been derived from our diversity of understanding and experience.”
He highlighted the importance of diversifying thinking and diversifying hiring within high purpose, high performing organizations. This made me think about the District’s overall commitment to racial equity, our Board’s racial equity policy and the formation of equity teams in each of our schools…We may be on to something in HMC-1!
3. Establish Your True North: Lynch said it is vital to establish your true north, referring to the internal compass that keeps an organization pointed in the right direction. Your true north ensures that the most important thing remains the most important thing and guides what you do each day! For HMC-1 this is our mission statement that was developed by approximately 40 community members and employees, and it states:
The mission of the Hickman Mills C-1 School District, a proudly diverse and historic community, is to provide a foundation for our students that maximizes academic success and fosters civic engagement, as distinguished by:
As Superintendent, this mission statement guides my actions each day! Again, if Lynch’s theory of how leaders create high purpose, high performance organizations is on target…We may be on to something in HMC-1!
4. Remember Why You Are Here: Finally, and to me most importantly, Lynch expanded upon the concept of remembering why you are here! In addition to the organization’s mission, this also involves our personal mission. He encouraged each of us to recommit to our Purpose every day. He reminded us that leaders face many distractions, thus it’s important to stay grounded in WHY YOU ARE HERE! We all may have a different “why”, but it’s important to be honest about your “why”. My professional “why” is about enhancing the lives of ALL children and doing all I can to make certain that ALL truly means ALL.
Remembering why you are here is especially important to our District now, as we are in the midst of significant change at the governance level. We now have two new Board Members…Welcome Ms. Wakisha Briggs and Ms. Evelyn Hildebrand! We also have new Board leadership…Congrats President Darrell Curls and Vice President Carol Graves! As we move into this new era of Board/Superintendent working together to reach our ultimate goals, we will have to work re-establish clear norms, commitments and agreements centered on why we are here! Ultimately, this will determine whether we’ll continue to be on to something in HMC1!
I have an uneasy feeling that the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is about to make a bad decision regarding how they collect, calculate and report student poverty. After participating in a DESE meeting this month, I learned they are contemplating a new method for student poverty data collection. They are suggesting that with the move of some districts to the federal community eligibility provision program (CEP), their new method will provide a more accurate picture of poverty in the state. The new method would only count the students of parents who are directly certified for free or reduced lunch. Put another way, DESE would primarily measure student poverty based on whether or not parents participate in Missouri welfare or food stamp programs.
Here is what this change would mean in HMC-1. Prior to qualifying for 100 percent free lunch under CEP, we had a district-wide free and reduced lunch percentage of approximately 88 percent. This required us to use every resource available to get parents to complete the necessary paperwork. If we had primarily based poverty in our district on parents participating in Missouri welfare or food stamp programs (direct certification), our free and reduced lunch percentage would have been 62.7 percent. That’s a decrease of more than 25 percent! Clearly, if DESE changes the way we compute poverty in Missouri schools, there will be a drastic decrease in the reported rate of poverty in HMC-1 and other school districts in the state.
Regardless of how you slice it, the method being considered will ultimately have negative implications for HMC-1 in terms of funding and accountability. If they collect these drastically reduced numbers, it stands to reason that they will use them for such decisions. Although using direct certification to determine poverty in schools might provide consistency, it will not provide accuracy. DESE must do the difficult work of collecting data from multiple formal and informal sources to rightfully determine which children in our state need the additional resources reserved for the economically disadvantaged. Failure to calculate poverty appropriately will result in a reduced number of identified students and ultimately a reduced sense of urgency to address their unique needs.
There are a host of reasons why many families who are eligible for public assistance do not apply for those benefits; many of which most state education officials could not begin to grasp. For this reason, the new system being floated by state education officials is inherently flawed and destined for inaccuracy. It is for this reason I implore DESE to rethink the possibility of shifting Missouri’s definition of student poverty to a method dependent upon families participating in welfare and food stamp programs.
Let me offer an alternative. In addition to using direct certification, why not also allow families to self-report? Isn’t that a novel idea! As a district, we did not move to CEP so that we would no longer have to collect lunch forms from parents. We moved to the CEP program because it provided our students with universal free breakfast, lunch and dinner; thus it was the right thing to do for our families. With that being said, we would be glad to dedicate the needed resources to collecting these data. This is not a new process for districts currently participating in the CEP program, as this was the former requirement.
Another idea for accurately calculating student poverty was offered by the editorial board of the Boston Globe in a June 2015 editorial. This forward thinking body also rejected the notion of taking the easy route of solely using direct certification information to calculate student poverty. They suggested the use of data from the state’s Department of Revenue, provided they could address privacy concerns. Would our state’s Department of Revenue not be a place where community-wide income data are readily available without the risk of compromising individual privacy? But, I know, this would not be easy and it would require a great degree of coordination. Maybe that is asking a bit too much on behalf of our children!
Again, I have this uneasy feeling that DESE is about to make a bad decision. Furthermore, I know that once these data are collected, calculated and reported, they will be used to make funding and accountability decisions that will negatively impact school districts serving economically disadvantaged students. This is why we must take the path of accurately identifying impoverished students in Missouri, rather than finding a simple way to consistently identify our children with the greatest need.
I wonder if we have the will to take this path; one that Robert Frost might have envisioned when he penned The Road Not Taken. Indeed, having the will to take the road less traveled by can make all the difference.
Illustration courtesy Lily's Blackboard