Education roundtable lures officials to Tonganoxie High
Jill Shackelford is superintendent of the Kansas City, Kan., school district, which has a diverse population: 19,700 students, 50 percent of whom are black, 35 percent Hispanic and 17 percent Caucasian. Of those students, 80 percent are at poverty level.
Jean Rush is superintendent of the McLouth School District, which has 550 students, grades kindergarten through 12. Unlike Shackelford's district, the students all learn under one roof in Rush's district.
Although they come from drastically different districts, both had their share of similar concerns to voice at Monday's Kansas State Board of Education Forum. The forum, which was in the Tonganoxie High School west campus library, was one of 10 across the state -- one for each state board member's district.
Janet Waugh, state board member for District 1, which includes Leavenworth and Jefferson counties and parts of Douglas and Wyandotte, said she selected Tonganoxie for the forum because of its central location in the district.
"I think this is the proper place to have it," Waugh said after Monday's forum, which lasted about two hours.
Administrators from varying levels of education also attended: Richard Erickson, Tonganoxie superintendent; Deborah Baeuchle, Fort Leavenworth superintendent; Kevin Kelley, interim president of Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kan.; Barbara Schilling, director of Kansas City Kansas Area Technical School; and Jamie Carlisle, THS principal.
Joining Waugh from Topeka were Alexa Posny, Kansas education commissioner, and MarSue Mackey, who also works for the Kansas Department of Education.
And from local and state government were State Sen. Chris Steineger, D-Kansas City, and Leavenworth Mayor Laura Gasbarre.
Tonganoxie PTA member Tammy Bartels attended the discussion as well, as did Tonganoxie School Board member Mildred McMillon, who previously served on the state board.
Waugh said she invited some area business leaders as well in hopes of providing a more diverse group, but they were unable to attend.
Posny posed three areas of question for the roundtable discussion:
- From your experience, what changes do you recommend be made in public schools in order to graduate students who are successful living after high school?
- Do you believe public education is responsive to the needs of society and/or the needs of our students? In what specific ways should they be more responsive?
- How can we link learning today with what is needed for tomorrow?
The discussion focused initially on the importance of early childhood. Steineger said he recently returned from Israel where an all-day equivalent to kindergarten exists. Meanwhile, 4-year-olds attend half-day classes.
Steineger said his No. 1 issue is education, but especially early education.
"So I think that's my new goal: More and more universal early childhood education," the senator said.
Erickson reiterated the importance of early education and said the district was pushing for all-day kindergarten classes instead of half-day classes.
Discussion, however, didn't focus solely on early education.
Posny presented some staggering numbers: 77 percent of Kansas high school seniors go on to college. But only 29 percent return for their sophomore years. The education commissioner also touched on encouraging news, such as high national rankings in math and reading.
Panel members mentioned that testing was important but that other areas of study need to be emphasized too. No Child Left Behind came up during that discussion, as Carlisle pointed out that it increases stress on students, teachers and administrators. Instead, other important areas of education, such as problem solving, are left behind.
"Let's face it, that's what we're measured by, that's what we're held accountable to."
Later in the forum, Carlisle said administrators should look to put a laptop in the hand of every student. He said his former district, Baxter Springs, was headed in that direction. He said it's a great tool for a generation that's immersed in electronic devices of all kinds. And, he said it helps combat bullying, as it helps diminish the "haves" and the "have-nots"
Other topics included the baby boomer generation, how to retain teachers and recruit new ones, U.S. education on the global level and staggered scheduling for high schools.
Baeuchle pointed out that teachers are asked to do much more than just teach these days.
"They're pretty well stretched thin, and I think one of the reasons we lose teachers is because they lose that enjoyment factor," the Fort Leavenworth superintendent said.
After the meeting, Posny said she was encouraged by the dialogue.
"I think this has been invaluable," she said.
This was the first year the state has conducted the forums in about five years, Waugh said.