By HEATHER HOLLINGSWORTH
(KANSAS CITY, Mo., AP) — The Kansas City school district has obtained the support of the Missouri School Boards’ Association and several neighboring districts and lawmakers as it prepares to make its case to the Missouri Board of Education for regaining provisional accreditation.
The district is scheduled to make its pitch Tuesday for dropping its unaccredited label, a change that would make it no longer subject to a state law that allows students to transfer to accredited districts. The state board isn’t expected to take any immediate action.
The district argues it deserves an accreditation upgrade because it nearly scored in the provisionally accredited range last year and hit the mark this year. The latest school performance report, which is the first issued under a new evaluation system, uses test scores, attendance rates and other data to evaluate districts. The district was helped because the new system gives districts credit for improvements, although most of its students still aren’t hitting proficiency goals in core subjects.
Kansas City Public Schools Superintendent R. Stephen Green said the district is “garnering more and more support each day.” Green, though, is still working on getting an endorsement from Gov. Jay Nixon, who hasn’t intervened but said encouraging words about the district while announcing an early childhood grant Friday in Kansas City. Nixon said the “community, this board, this administration and these teachers rolled up their sleeves over the last few years” and were “able to show verifiable, significant progress.”
“Now how they and the state board work out the path forward is something that I’ll leave to those two institutions,” Nixon said. “But that path forward is an upward arc. And let’s not kid ourselves: There have been times in this district, because of a number of challenges, there have been questions about what direction that arc has been headed.”
Unaccredited districts can face a state takeover and must pay for their students to transfer to accredited school systems, while provisionally accredited districts are subject to extra monitoring.
Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro has said she prefers to review several years of data before making an accreditation change. But the Kansas City district argues that action needs to be taken immediately before it begins losing students to neighboring districts — something that could reverse the progress the district has made. So far, a pending court case is preventing students from transferring out of the Kansas City district.
In the St. Louis area, there has been upheaval in the unaccredited Riverview Gardens and Normandy districts as hundreds of students were allowed for the first time this year to transfer to better-performing neighboring districts. But the transfers are creating financial problems in those two districts and have proven unpopular in some of the surrounding school systems that are accepting transfer students.
Brent Ghan, a spokesman for the Missouri School Boards’ Association, said it “would be helpful both to the Kansas City district as well as the surrounding districts to avoid (the St. Louis County) transfer scenario.”
“The district clearly is making significant progress academically,” he added, “and provisional accreditation would allow them to build on the positive momentum that clearly exists in the district.”
The Kansas City district already has taken steps to boost student performance, including offering spring- and winter-break school sessions and luring students to an after-school program by offering them dinner. Goals for this year include raising the graduation rate, improving test scores and getting parents more involved.
“I’m very confident, looking at the progress we made the previous year and this year,” Green said. “We have the system to sustain that and we need support to move forward uninterrupted by distractions that could come about by things like the transfer law coming into effect. That could present a clear and present threat to our trajectory going forward.”