Kansas City, December 1, 2016: Sometimes, it’s good to be a showoff.
Kansas City Public Schools got to showcase some of its recent success and the innovative teaching and learning happening in classrooms during school tours with Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven and members of the state Board of Education on Thursday, Dec. 1.
The tour included stops at KCPS’ new charter school, the Kansas City Neighborhood Academy, and the top performing James Elementary School. At James Elementary, students greeted the officials in carefully rehearsed Spanish before leading them to the school library for a brief presentation by KCPS Superintendent Mark Bedell, School Board Chair Melissa Robinson and Principal Mary Bachkora.
“My priority today is to show our state education leaders that poverty doesn’t equal failure,” Dr. Bachkora said. “Success is happening right here. This is what they’re looking for.”
James Elementary joined Pitcher Elementary School and Lincoln College Preparatory Academy in scoring all 140 possible points on their 2016 Annual Progress Reports, the state’s main annual measure of school and school system achievement. More than 90 percent of James’ students live in households with incomes below the federal poverty line, and more than 70 percent are classified as English language learners.
The tours were part of an annual process of getting state education officials out into schools so they can see first-hand what’s happening in classrooms, according to DESE spokesperson Sarah Potter. Dr. Bedell welcomed the opportunity to lead the officials through KCNA and James Elementary.
“We’re going to get you into classrooms to see how this really works,” Dr. Bedell said. “I’ve been so impressed with what they’re doing here at James.”
In one classroom, Dr. Vandeven observed as a pair of teachers guided their students through the preparation process for a series of experiments. Consistency was one of the important takeaways of the lesson.
“What happens if you don’t do an experiment exactly the same way every single time?” the teacher asked.
“The results aren’t valid!” several of the students responded.
“Right!” the teacher said. “You’re going to act like scientists and talk like scientists.”
There is no secret recipe at James, Dr. Bachkora explained. She focuses on recruiting talented educators and equipping them to inspire and support students and their families.
“I always want my teachers to know more than me,” Bachkora said. “And I want my students to write their own journey.
Dr. Bedell and his team have an opportunity to take the methods developed at James and replicate them for similar outstanding results at other, similar neighborhood schools, according to Ms. Robinson. She’s excited to see that happen as the school system makes even greater gains.
“The question for us is, ‘how do we implement these things across the school system?'” Robinson said. “This school is a role model.”