Dr. Bedell has said “No.”
To the parents who have pledged more than 2,000 students to a future middle and high school at Southwest, we have disappointing news:
In a phone call on Friday, March 29th, Dr. Bedell, the Superintendent of Kansas City Public Schools informed us that he does not want to work together to form a rigorous, innovative and welcoming middle and high school at Southwest High School.
The USW Advisory Board has scheduled a meeting the week of April 8 to determine next steps and will update the community after this meeting on potential directions.
BACKGROUND: JOINING A NATIONAL MOVEMENT
As many of you know, the Uniting at Southwest movement started over three years ago when a diverse coalition of parents, community members, and local family foundations came together to see if the exciting things happening in education on a national level could be brought to Kansas City (See Timeline of Progress HERE) Around the country, high schools are being reimagined, with innovative approaches to how kids can be best prepared for the future. Much of this national progress has focused on a more deliberate approach to racial and economic school diversity, project based/STEAM curricula, and community involvement.
To see if parents in KCMO were interested in this idea, we went through a very deliberate and thorough engagement process:
We hosted more than 50 community meetings, from Wornall to 71 Highway
We conducted an open community survey where families pledged to send more than 2,000 students to this school
We issued a Community Response Report with full transparency and more than 50 pages of unedited community comments
We submitted a Letter of Intent (LOI) to Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS) in accordance with their process.
Our LOI was accepted, according to KCPS, because it had the potential to align their Board Principles
In short, as we shared these ideas with a broad cross section of KCMO, parents said an enthusiastic “Yes!”
THE ENGAGEMENT PROCESS: ATTEMPTS AT ALIGNMENT
Against a very stark backdrop of Kansas City’s historical dividing lines, we understood that to make USW successful, it needs to be welcoming and successful for all KCMO students. Partnering with the Kansas City Public Schools appeared to be the best way to do this. A summary of our attempts at alignment:
KCPS agreed to explore USW with our advisory board, and for nearly a year, we have respected their executive education collaboration process and held a series of meetings with a variety of KCPS leaders and did not engage the KCPS Board of Directors or broader community.
We addressed their evolving concerns and pledged additional commitments to get them addressed.
To date, KCPS has not been able to agree on a joint statement nor a calendar for engaging with the community.
While we have attempted to co-facilitate a community-driven, open, and transparent process to start having the tough conversations required for an ambitious opportunity like USW for all Kansas City kids, we have been unable to come to an agreement with KCPS regarding the timing and scope of a community engagement process.
We wanted open and frequent communication with the community to ensure we can receive comprehensive feedback on the USW proposal every step of the way, including on the execution of our four pillars. We agreed to a request by KCPS, however, that being aligned on updates to the community and sending joint statements whenever possible, would signal our deep commitment to authentic partnership. Unfortunately, by supporting coordinated, joint communication efforts as the primary form of communication, we didn't anticipate an environment that doesn't allow for transparency and erodes trust between the two parties over time.
Further, it has created confusion for potential USW parents and hindered community members’ ability to provide supportive and critical feedback on the USW proposal and its impact on the entire KCPS landscape. Most disheartening is how the focus for the past year has been on adults and procedures instead of working together with a focus on students.
MOVING FORWARD: BRINGING OUR CITY TOGETHER
We are frustrated. We are sad. Nevertheless, our perspectives and experiences that led us to join the USW board does not end in this moment. We stand ready to support opportunities for innovative, diverse, and welcoming schools for all Kansas City kids, whether district, charter, private, homeschooled, or some other form that we haven’t imagined yet.
As a school district, KCPS has worked hard to make progress. There may be a time when KCMO kids attend district schools at the same rates as they do across the state line. Achieving accreditation is a good first step, however more needs to be done, including true community engagement, to go beyond this baseline of achievement.
Middle school and high school education is making leaps forward in cities all across the country, in both public, private and hybrid models. We want to continue to be a platform to bringing those perspectives together to reverse the fragmentation in our city. If we can get it right in our schools, maybe we can get it right in our neighborhoods.
To be clear, any entity that has a dedicated commitment to Kansas City kids, we are open to re-engaging. If Kansas City Public Schools decides that they can work with urgency and transparency with the Kansas City community (defined as having an address in the KCPS boundary), we would be open to re-engaging. We think it is only fair to let you all know, that at this time, we have not been able to align on those two driving factors.
Prior to the call from Dr. Bedell last Friday, we thought we were on a very productive path with dedicated leaders at the school district and we thank them for their efforts.
This update is likely to garner a lot of questions, concerns, and feelings. It did for us too. We want to provide you all with as much information upfront so you can know what we know. Attached to this statement is the community response report, the Letter of Intent, KCPS response to the Letter of Intent, USW response to the KCPS response to the Letter of Intent, the KCPS Education Collaboration Board policy, the KCPS Education Collaboration process and a timeline of USW-KCPS progress. If you still have unanswered questions after reading those documents, like always, you can contact us here.
The Uniting at Southwest Board
Parents of More Than 2,000 Students Agree: Let's Do Something Amazing at Southwest High!
COMPLETED SURVEYS: 2,103
PLEDGED STUDENTS: 2,031
Diversity by Design: Sharing experiences with people from different backgrounds not only enriches our humanity and broadens personal networks, but studies show it actually drives brain development. This school will be rich in diversity: racial, ethnic, and socio-economic status. A welcoming, all-together school that reflects our city.
Project-Based Learning connects students to the real world. This generates passion and ownership as students learn to identify opportunity, conduct research, and work with others to develop solutions -- essential skills in today's world.
School Autonomy provides the flexiblity needed to create this new kind of school, and the philanthropic resources to do it right.
Community-Based Schools: Bringing a new high school model to Kansas City is too important and complex to go it alone. Success requires bringing KCPS, parochial, and charter school families together, and innovating a governance model that combines the strengths of Kansas City Public Schools with the civic and philanthropic communities.
So why does high school need to be innovated?
In September 2017, XQ SuperSchools took over all 4 major networks with this 1 hour special. Yes, 1 hour. It's one of THE BEST examples of how high schools are being innovated nationwide. A lot is at stake.
We are not affiliated with XQ Super Schools but we share their passion. For video credits, visit xqsuperschool.org
>> High Tech High
Want to see what one of the more extreme examples of a project-based public high school looks like? This 15-minute video is consistent with what the USW research team observed on a recent visit to San Diego.
Next steps to realizing the vision.
We envision a Southwest that both connects with its many neighborhood elementary schools and welcomes students from across the city who are excited to join this unique educational project.
By coming together and being creative, we can build a better future for all of our children, and for our city. But first we need to demonstrate demand through the survey below. Please make your voice heard; and let’s innovate and grow, together.