By Tyler Schneider
If one looks at the website for Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS), they’ll find a graphic with the words “FULLY ACCREDITED” waiting to greet them.
The district, which initially lost its accreditation status with the state of Missouri in 2011, regained a provisional status in 2014 before, at long last, earning back full-accreditation on Jan. 11, 2022. Two months after that, KCPS raised teacher salaries by an average of several thousand dollars.
Superintendent Mark Bedell oversaw this period of growth, but resigned over the summer, leaving Dr. Jennifer Collier, a 23-year KCPS employee, to serve as interim superintendent in his place. Following a search process of several months, the school board made the move on Feb. 22 to officially appoint Collier as the district’s first Black woman to serve in that position permanently.
As the keynote speaker at the latest South Kansas City Alliance meeting, held May 9 at the KCPD South Patrol Station, Collier continued to impress with her vision for the future in front of a solid turnout that included several former members of the Hickman Mills School Board sitting in.
Last year, Hickman Mills also increased its own teacher pay in its continued fight to restore its own full-accreditation status. Collier cited Hickman Mills’ actions on the matter as one factor that led to KCPS following suit. And while Hickman Mills hasn’t crossed the accredited threshold yet, the district has accomplished one thing that KCPS hasn’t been able to do in decades.
“KCPS has not passed voter approved G.O. bonds since the 1960s,” Collier said. “That’s unheard of in most communities.”
Because of this failure to secure those funds, KCPS is now battling an estimated $300 million worth of building maintenance. Collier said the district is currently looking at converting and repurposing, or even closing, 10 of its 37 facilities currently in operation.
“When we look at the number of buildings that we currently have open, and then we look at our enrollment, we have far too many seats,” Collier explained.
The question, then, is what KCPS should do if a voter-approved bond were secured. Should new facilities be constructed? Based on KCPS latest multi-year plan, Blueprint 2030, these decisions will be made in time to leave the issue up to voters by 2024.
In a majority-minority district like KCPS or Hickman Mills, addressing the needs of children often can’t truly begin until these basic needs, like facilities and reduced or free lunch programs, are provided for.
“One of the things I think about often as a leader is about the experiences my students have when they leave our district and visit others. I don’t want our students to continue to have to go into really wonderful facilities and know that they don’t have an opportunity to have that same experience,” Collier said.
There are a number of additional changes Collier looks to implement to continue the upward trajectory of KCPS. Perhaps the most important to her, personally, is to promote reading and literacy rates—in addition to continuing to expand its bi-lingual and ESL offerings to a student population that includes at least 40 different languages spoken at home.
The district has added reading interventionists at each facility. But this is far from the only shakeup under her newly minted leadership. As part of Collier’s longstanding commitment to an approach known as trauma sensitive learning, the educator looks to address more than just the academic side of public schooling.
“We provide a great deal of services for our children. Many of our children come to school having dealt with lots of trauma in their lives and in their homes,” Collier said.
In reflecting upon these many goals, and indeed as the district developed its Blueprint 2030 plan, KCPS decided to firmly define this within its own ranks.
“We came out with a new mission statement: upholding the promise of an equitable educational experience so that Kansas City students thrive socially, emotionally, and academically. Our goal is to meet the needs of the whole child. There are not just those academic needs that we have to address,” Collier said.