EDITOR’S NOTE: Kathy Genson is one of three finalists for the 2019 Kansas City Public Schools Teacher of the Year Award. The recipient will be announced on Thursday, April 11.
Wendell Phillips Elementary School
How are you working to increase equity in education and opportunity for students in your school?
A project that I have been involved in for the past two years is the development and implementation of a plan to align teaching and learning, increase family involvement and communication, provide staff more professional development opportunities, and to celebrate our successes. We received the funds to complete this plan over the next three years from the award of a $600,000 competitive grant from SmartSchoolsKC. In our first year alone, we have held two successful themed family nights, offering a record number of families the opportunity to connect with school and community resources, and a Kindergarten boot-camp prior to the start of the school year that prepared students for the procedures, social skills, and expectations of school, preserving the school year itself for instructional growth. We have also hired a social worker to help the faculty learn the skills needed to help our students with daily life challenges as a supplement to our Trauma Sensitive Training and have built trauma kits for each classroom teacher and support staff to aid students who are in immediate emotional crisis. As we move forward, we will implement additional family nights, offer teachers additional training as well as incentives for professional success, and build additional partnerships to connect students and families with community resources and educational opportunities.
What message about public education do you want to share?
A major public education issue that I see today is the daily struggle many of our students face just to feel safe and to develop the coping skills needed to learn and be successful in spite of challenges in their lives. If students are not emotionally ok, then it is almost impossible for them to succeed academically. We have to develop more ways to build supportive relationships with the students and their families. In addition to my leadership in our school’s efforts to implement trauma-sensitive practices, I have made an effort to make my classroom a supportive environment. I have incorporated flexible seating to provide students a comfortable, engaging environment and have given students more of an opportunity to collaborate, to make choices, and to have ownership over their individual learning experiences. I have helped other teachers in the building implement flexible seating and choice in their classrooms. Because of the positive relationships I have built with students and other faculty over the years, my classroom is often used as a safe space for kids having difficulty in their regular classroom.