Accountability

Kansas City, Mo., Schools Celebrate Accreditation Vote

By Lisa Fine — April 24, 2002 2 min read
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The Kansas City, Mo., public school system averted a state takeover after state officials decided last week that the district had improved just enough to have its unaccredited status lifted.

The Missouri board of education voted unanimously April 17 to give the district “provisional accreditation.” The state was poised to take control of the system by July 1 if the district failed to make necessary improvements to earn the new status.

The decision provides a morale boost to the embattled 30,000-student district that lost its accreditation in 1999 for failing to meet any of the state’s 11 academic performance standards. The district now meets four standards, the minimum required for provisional accreditation.

“Everybody is excited about this decision,” said Edwin Birch, a spokesman for the district. “It was a collective effort between past administrations and current administration. Now, there is still a lot of work left to do.”

The district has made strides in improving student reading scores, placing more vocational students in jobs after graduation, boosting the number of students in college- preparation courses, and reducing the number of dropouts.

The district would have to improve in all seven other areas to gain full accreditation status, however. Currently, 36 of the state’s 524 districts have provisional accreditation, but, with the Kansas City action, no districts are unaccredited.

Still, the state’s scrutiny of the district is far from over. The state will continue to monitor its progress by conducting annual performance reports.

D. Kent King

“I must make clear that I’m not even remotely pleased with the level of student performance on which my recommendation is based,” Missouri Commissioner of Education D. Kent King said in advising the board to change Kansas City’s status. “I am on the other hand very impressed with the progress made.”

Maintaining Hope

Mr. King put the district on notice “not to get too comfortable” now that the old label is lifted.

“I will not hesitate to bring a new recommendation to the [state] board if the district fails to meet our performance requirements,” he said. “Our goal has been improved student performance, not managing a school district.”

Mr. Birch said Kansas City has fought to maintain hope during a time when others had lost faith in the district. Some Kansas City-area lawmakers even unsuccessfully proposed legislation last year to mandate a state takeover.

“This is what we were working toward,” Mr. Birch said. “Despite what others said in the last year, we believed we could get here the whole time.”

Jim Morris, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Education, said state officials were pleased that leadership in the district finally seemed consistent.

Just last spring, then-Superintendent Benjamin Demps Jr. was fired by the school board, then reinstated by a federal judge. He resigned shortly after that. (“Embattled Kansas City Schools Chief Resigns,” May 2, 2001.)

Four new Kansas City school board members took seats this month. Al Mauro, who has been a member of the board since 2000, was elected the board’s president. The day before the vote, school board members and Superintendent Bernard Taylor Jr., who has been in the job for one year, ended speculation over Mr. Taylor’s future when they agreed on a two-year contract extension.

To some state officials, the move indicated that the district’s leadership is stable and its members are working well together.

“It made us feel more comfortable that [Mr. Taylor] wants to continue,” Mr. Morris said. “Things are on track.”

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A version of this article appeared in the April 24, 2002 edition of Education Week as Kansas City, Mo., Schools Celebrate Accreditation Vote

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