5 Takeaways From Kansas City Public Schools' New Strategic Plan

Aug 10, 2017

Kansas City Public Schools will need community-wide support to improve student achievement – that’s the crux of a strategic plan the Board of Education approved Wednesday night.

Unlike the district’s controversial master plan, which divided the school board and angered parents and teachers before it ultimately passed in 2016, the strategic plan doesn’t change boundaries or close buildings.

What it does is outline an ambitious plan to deliver “a world class, equitable school system” by 2023 – while cautioning that the district won’t be able to do it alone.

“It’s incumbent on all of us in this room and in this community to help KCPS be successful,” Supt. Mark Bedell said at the end of Wednesday’s meeting. “I do not think there’s a lot of help at the state level.”

Here are five takeaways from the 2018-2023 strategic plan.

1) It’s short. Back in March, when the district was holding community meetings to gather public input, Bedell said he didn’t want consultants to come back with a 500- or 600-page document that would sit on a shelf somewhere gathering dust. The strategic plan ended up being 36 pages – plus a 105-page addendum collecting the data that informed the report. The plan itself is surprisingly readable. It breaks down each of the four “pillars” – student achievement, school safety, teacher effectiveness and district efficiency – into key steps.  

2) It’s actionable. A lot of strategic plans don’t define what success will look like – and that makes it hard to track an organization’s progress. But KCPS clearly spells out how it plans to measure student outcomes. For instance, one of the ways the district will track readiness for college, career and life is graduation rates. Another is attendance. (As KCUR has reported, the district last year began to incentivize attendance to get more students to come to class.) Flip to page 15 for the full list of measures.

3) It’s people-focused. If student learning is at the center of the district’s five-year plan, then staff development is a close second. Last year, Bedell’s first in the district, KCPS hired six new principals. But in the future, the district wants to cultivate leadership from within. The strategic plan calls for an internal pipeline for new leaders and the development of school staffing succession plans. “Grow your own” is a buzzword in education right now, but KCPS is serious about getting students to come back as teachers. The district wants to partner with the UMKC Institute for Urban Education to support KCPS graduates through college and at the start of their teaching careers.

4) It’s honest. KCPS is a provisionally accredited school district that has struggled for years with declining enrollment and test scores far below the state average. Though the strategic plan is aspirational – it’s titled “KCPS Rising!” – it also recognizes that good intentions won’t fix longstanding problems. 

5) It’s a call to action. During the visioning process, Bedell stressed that this wasn’t his plan, it wasn’t the Board of Education’s plan, it was the community’s plan – and the district calls out the community for not always supporting city schools.

“The unquestioned and ongoing rush to open more charter schools fractures our city and makes the pool of educational resources dangerously thin,” the addendum states. “The lingering and malicious impact of historic, institutional racism in Kansas City fetters many of our children, but is too often ignored by residents in privileged neighborhoods who want to believe that equal opportunity is real.”

Elle Moxley covers Missouri schools and politics for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.