Kenny Park
Longfellow Elementary School
Fifth Grade Math and Science

What factors influenced your decision to become a teacher? Identify what you consider to be your greatest contributions to and accomplishments in education.
After I graduated with a Pastoral Ministry degree in 2010, I accepted a position as a pastor in Kansas City. Within a year, I hated my job and knew that was not what I wanted to do with my life, and subsequently ended my career as a pastor less than a year after it began. I had always been interested in education, and during my childhood, I had some polarizing experiences in school. While I had mostly positive experiences, I had a few incredibly horrible experiences that crippled my concept of school. After quitting my pastoral job, I was deep in student loan debt without a career. I was drawn to explore teaching but did not want to commit to going back to school and wasting time and money for a career that may not work. I decided to pursue a support staff position in an urban school district. I did this to get a taste of education to determine whether I wanted to go back to college to pursue teaching.

I applied to high schools and received no responses. I then applied to middle schools and received no replies. Reluctantly, I applied at some elementary schools, knowing that I could then transfer to a secondary position eventually. An elementary school in Raytown Public Schools hired me. From here, I became deeply rooted and fell into my passion of working in elementary education. I spent two years as a paraprofessional and then accepted a position at a different elementary school where I spent three years as a behavior interventionist. As a paraprofessional, I learned about academics. As an interventionist, I then learned about behavior, trauma and supporting students in crisis. During these five years as a student support professional, I continued to look into schooling options; however, my wife and I could not accrue more debt. It seemed like there were no options suitable for our situation. I ended up joining an alternative certification program and was fast-tracked into the classroom; I joined the team at KCPS in the fall of 2017.

Throughout this journey, many contributing factors influenced my desire to become a teacher. One factor was seeing both the challenges and successes in my students’ and families’ faces. Before entering education, I will admit I had a lofty idea of what teaching would entail. I thought any adult who cared would be able to connect with students and motivate them to pursue greatness. After working in the school system, I saw students face deeply moving challenges. Poverty, trauma, anxiety, depression, self-harm, fear, abuse and aggression were all things I saw every day as an interventionist. I also was able to see growth, trust, passion, dedication, expectation, resilience, success and healing. While many people (myself included at times) are often mired in hard and troubling student stories, there are many stories of success that often go overlooked. I was encouraged and motivated to see students succeed. Success looked different for every child, but progress is relevant to each child’s development and needs. I saw incredible success, and that motivated me to become part of those stories in the classroom.

Another factor that influenced me to become a teacher was the desire to be a stable partner with students. Unfortunately, as an interventionist, I would often work with students in my room. When it was time to send them back to their classroom, they were met with a teacher who was not ready to have them re-enter the classroom environment. When students were ready to return to the classroom, it was disheartening for me to send them back to a teacher who wasn’t able to productively receive the student. I wanted to become a teacher to provide a classroom for students, which encourages a culture of trust, forgiveness, acceptance, and opportunity for students no matter what. I also wanted to help teachers see how to interact with students with grace, accountability, and expectancy of greatness.

The final factor, I specifically wanted to join the team at KCPS. I believe that all students should receive an equitable education. I am passionate about recruiting quality teachers and creating a building that encourages teachers to stay, even when things become difficult. I am passionate about the opportunity for all students to receive a quality education from quality teachers. As a Kansas City native, I wanted to become part of the team that could invoke change in our city. While I am anything but a perfect teacher, I believe in the KCPS vision. I have many ways I can grow. I have areas to improve in how I collect and utilize data. I can grow in how I effectively plan out my units. I desire growth in how I connect my students to technology in more expansive avenues. In all of these growth areas, my desire is to learn and grow in this district, with these teachers and these students.

My greatest contribution to education so far is that I have created an environment where students truly feel safe, honored, valued and meaningful. I have put systems and procedures in place that allow students to truly be decision-makers in the classroom, to own the learning that is happening within our space and to communicate with each other in calm and respectful tones. While I have made incredible leaps in my ability to teach since my first year of teaching (I’m not going to lie, it was rough), my ability to relate with students and help them feel important and valued has been my greatest accomplishment to date.

Describe a project or initiative that you have led or been involved with that contributed to increasing equity in education and opportunity for students in your school.
I have been involved in the development of our school-wide behavior support structure. When I arrived at my school site three years ago, there was essentially no structure. There were many behaviors by both students and adults that were highly concerning and troublesome. There was an apparent breakdown of mutual respect as many adults and students alike would frequently yell at each other, use condescending tones, and act out of frustration, anxiety, and toxic stress. My principal and I both started our first year together, and we immediately recognized the toxicity and dysfunction within the building culture. In that first year, I joined the school leadership team. Our goal as a leadership team was to create systems that encouraged a positive environment for students and staff. Outside of the classroom, my personal goal was to model to both students and staff how to communicate in a respectful, calm and appropriate manner. We began developing a program called the Lead Hawks program that encouraged students to be Safe, Responsible, Respectful, Prepared and Great. With this program, students would be recognized and celebrated for their ability to be a positive member of our school society. The first year continued to be rough through its entirety. We knew this would take a concerted and consistent effort to create a culture of students and adults who work together.

We have remained consistent in our approach and have made improvements along the way. Our Lead Hawk program is thriving, and our school culture and climate have drastically changed. Many district personnel who come into our building have mentioned how positive and different our building feels.

Student behaviors are most often exhibited by students who desperately want to be seen, understood, and valued. Instead of suspending, isolating, or hoping they move schools, we want to create an environment that embraces those students who are having the most trouble. We want to keep them in the classroom, supported by teachers who continue to pour into students without constantly feeling overwhelmed and dried up physically and emotionally.

I helped provide a system and structure that would promote student and staff excellence in how we treated everyone in our building. More profound, my role was to model how to maintain composure and remain calm when students were escalated. Many times, we find that teachers escalate themselves when they see students escalating. My goal was to help reverse that trend in both actions and through more formal means such as PD’s and breakout sessions. If you have been in our building in the past, I encourage you to come to see, hear, feel and experience the difference. Honestly, we’re still just getting started.