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KS: Long-term commitment key to Kansas City schools' success


Gloria  Willis of the Kansas City Public Schools board of education reviews the work of students participating in the First Things First program.

Summary: "First things First" is this district's motto and it has paid off with increased community involvement and student achievement gains.



Faced with a high dropout rate and low student performance, the Kansas City School Board

District characteristics
Name: Kansas City Public Schools
State: KS
Type: Urban
Grades: K–12
Enrollment: 20,868
Students per teacher:

Enrollment characteristics
Economically disadvantaged: 75%
English language learners: 11.9%
Students with disabilities: 12.2%
White: 20.3%
Black: 48.2%
Hispanic: 27.7%
Asian/Pacific Islander: 3.3%
American Indian/Alaska Native: 0.5%
Other: n.a.
Source: SchoolMatters.com
wasn't interested in quick fixes. Instead, the board adopted across the board strategies to improve teaching and strengthen student learning and stayed committed for the long haul.

The board's multi-pronged approach-dubbed the "First Things First" initiative-has paid off, with students posting strong gains in achievement for the last several years. For its achievement, the Kansas City Public Schools was awarded a 2004 Magna award from American School Board Journal.

The district started the initiative seven years ago by considering what strategies would work for its students, seventy-seven percent of whom qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

The project encompasses staff development, community engagement, and strengthening relationships among teachers, students, and parents.

The schools enlisted the aid of the entire community—businesses, government agencies, and non-profit organizations—to help students feel valued. 

The fire department, area churches, and a bank provide after-school care and tutoring on Wednesdays, when students are released early to give teachers time for staff development and to collaborate and plan. Businesses have paid for school uniforms, provided computer equipment, and donated supplies. The Kansas City Chiefs football team is pitching in by helping with a character education program for all middle school students.

Although it was not immediately obvious that the program's many components would be effective, "the board never wavered," said Superintendent Ray Daniels. "It said 'This is going to take time, but we're going to stay with it.'"

The school district received a 2004 Magna Award from NSBA's American School Board Journal. The awards are sponsored by Sodexho School Services.

Find out more

For more information, visit the Kansas City Public Schools web site or contact Carroll Macke, communications director, camacke@kckps.org.

Posted: October 22, 2004

©2004 Center for Public Education

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