The following piece was written for publication in The Kansas City Call newspaper.
By Dr. Mark Bedell, KCPS Superintendent
I know from personal experience that the toughest times spark the greatest growth.
We are all experiencing extraordinary times right now. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the greatest upset in our world since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It has impacted nearly every part of our lives. Many of us feel fearful, lost and isolated.
But as a father, neighbor and Superintendent of Kansas City Public Schools, I know that we have the opportunity to transform this current crisis into a bridge to a bright future.
KCPS is here to meet the academic, wellness and social-emotional needs of our students. This has always been our mission. We must design, engineer and build a structure of support for our children and for the adults who surround them.
The pandemic has only made that outcome more critical. But it has also sparked real change in the way we work as a public school system. This is actually an exciting time to be part of KCPS.
Our children must keep learning. We simply cannot afford for a generation of students to lose an entire quarter of academic and personal growth. That is why our focus has been on maintaining teaching and learning throughout this crisis.
We know that children are more likely to succeed in school when they are more engaged. Our school buildings are now closed through the last day of classes on May 20, but our teachers and students are using a wide variety of tools with our distance learning initiative.
With letters, phone calls, virtual classes, online applications, websites, radio and TV, we have the ability and leverage to be more creative with our teaching and learning. I encourage all of our students and their family members to visit www.kcpublicschools.org/distancelearning to learn more about how to keep learning while our buidings are closed.
We also know that students need the right tools to engage in distance learning. The citywide stay-at-home order and statewide school-building closures have made the digital divide very clear in our community. It’s a gap between our students and vital educational resources. This gap exists in some ways because of the long-standing divide systemically in our community.
The pandemic is a startling alarm that we must ramp up the process of ensuring that every KCPS student has access to a laptop computer and the Internet in his or her household. Thankfully, we have steadily increased and improved the use of educational technology in our schools over the last few years. Our high school students are already practiced in taking their KCPS-issued laptops home and using them for classwork. This crisis is prompting us to extend that capacity for distance learning to all students in pre-K through grade 12.
State education officials have opted to cancel all of the high-stakes, standardized exams that are normally given during the spring. They have also promised that KCPS will not be penalized by this decision as we continue to seek full accreditation. It does mean that this long-sought goal will likely be delayed by another year.
Again, when it comes to high-stakes testing like the Missouri Assessment Program and the End-of-Course exams, I see a potential longterm upside to our current crisis. We need to start questioning the very foundations behind this kind of approach to public education. There are alternative ways to gauge how much and how fast our children are learning. I hope this crisis causes education authorities to continue rethinking how we assess our children.
I truly believe this is a unique opportunity to make necessary and long-overdue change across our school system and our city. Our goal in KCPS is to reimagine how public education really works. We can all learn from this experience and return to our school buildings more resilient, stronger and smarter. Please join me as we walk together across the bridge.