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Redesigning education PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 08 December 2017 11:02

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Liberal’s educators creating new model for Kansas schools



ELLY GRIMM
• Leader & Times



EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part one of the story recapping the recent breakfast event covering the Kansans CAN redesign project involving Meadowlark Elementary School and Liberal High School. Part one will cover what went on during the application process, part two will cover Meadowlark’s plans with the project, and the final part will cover LHS’s plans with the project.

There was much excitement after two USD 480 schools, Meadowlark Elementary School and Liberal High School, were chosen as part of the Kansans CAN school redesign project. Thursday morning, representatives from the Kansas Department of Education (KSDE) and USD 480 talked to community leaders and others about what the project means for the state for education. 

KSDE representatives Jay Scott and Tammy Mitchell began the discussion by outlining how the application process worked. 

“We’ve done a couple of these community meetings with a couple of our other Mercury schools and it’s the same thing, just an outpouring of support from the community to help develop this redesign project and make it what Liberal wants to make it and what works for Liberal students,” Scott said. “What we wanted to do this morning is give you an idea of why, at the state level, we decided to take this path toward redesigning every school in Kansas. And that’s the ultimate goal, what’s going on in Liberal we want to scale that across the state and in every school district.”

Scott then went into further detail about how the conversation began at the state level as well as what people said should come out of education. 

“The statistics were just screaming at us that we’ve got to do something different to prepare our students for different careers and workforce trends and the different environments out there,” Scott said. “Back in 2015, before Dr. [Randy] Watson was our commissioner, he started a barnstorming tour and went across the state and got in front of thousands of Kansans and asked them several questions. But one question they really magnified the data from was ‘What are the attributes of a successful 24-year-old in Kansas?’ What we heard from people were a lot of things you would typically hear, like they need to be able to read, they need to be able to write. Those are important skills, but what we heard was we need students who are adaptable, we need students who are flexible, with grit and persistence, who are able to take criticism and overcome it. All these different what we call non-academic traits were mentioned over and over in those community conversations. More than 70 percent of the skills they listed were non-academic skills. Academic skills were still mentioned, but there was a strong tendency toward mentioning those non-academic skills we all know are so important.”

The conversation, Scott said, continued with the business and industry side, during which the same questions were posed. 

“More than 80 percent leaned toward the non-academic side and 20 percent leaned to the academic side,” Scott said. “So even business and industry was on that and what we discovered was we’re way out of balance in what we’re focusing on in schools. If you look at the typical school in Kansas, what they do on a daily basis, what would their breakdowns look like as far as what they’re focusing on? What we found was a lot of the schools were focused heavily on academics. What we figured out from those conversations, what Kansans wanted in their schools, they wanted more connection between the school and businesses in the community, a mutually beneficial relationship set up between schools and the community. They also said they wanted more quality early childhood preschool programs. One thing that stuck out to us with this Mercury project is they want the schools organized around each student, not around some system form the industrial age where everyone’s in isolation. They want it more personalized for students.”

Scott discussed some more data, which included how in Kansas, more than 70 percent of jobs by 2020 will require an education level past a high school diploma and how only 31 percent of students in Kansas will go on to get a post-secondary credential. 

“We’ve got a big gap, and through redesign, that’s what this is all about, closing that gap and helping our students be more successful,” Scott said. 

Mitchell then took over the presentation and went over how the application process worked. 

“First of all, kudos to your community because back in May, it was open to every district in the state to apply to be one of these seven Mercury districts,” Mitchell said. “What’s expected of a Mercury district is they’re on the leading edge of redesign, they’ll be demonstration sites for the rest of Kansas and they’re the ones who are figuring out how to take an old system that has worked for 40 years in an industrial age and turn it more forward-thinking in what students need. We had 29 districts apply and those who applied had to submit a very compelling application that included 80 percent of staff being in favor of it, they had to have a letter of recommendation from their local NEA or negotiating entity and approval from their local school board. It was very competitive, it was extremely difficult for the committee to select, but Liberal was one of the seven chosen.”

The other districts chosen were Stockton USD 271, Twin Valley USD 240, McPherson USD 418, Wellington USD 353, Coffeyville USD 445, Olathe USD 233. Mitchell noted the districts chosen are all different sizes and populations and in different parts of the state and also went over a few of the guidelines the schools must follow for the project.

“They’re all over the state, they’re representative of all the different areas of the state, they’re different sizes, different demographics,” Mitchell said. “But there were 21 other districts that also got really excited about this and are trying to redesign without the support the Mercury schools are getting, and we’re calling them the Gemini project. So overall, there are 29 districts working on redesigning how students engage in learning, which we think is amazing.”

 

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The High Plains Daily Leader and Southwest Daily Times are published Sunday through Friday and reaches homes throughout the Liberal, Kansas retail trade zone. The Leader & Times is the official newspaper of Seward County, USD No. 480, USD No. 483 and the cities of Liberal and Kismet.  The Leader & Times is a member of the Liberal Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Press Association and the Associated Press.

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