Posted Date: 09/09/2021
Six years ago, Lauren Tice Miller was a school board candidate when she attended a meeting and heard Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson talk about what evolved into the Kansans Can vision for student success.
On Thursday night, now a member of the Shawnee Heights USD 450 board, Miller attended Watson’s follow up meeting, designed to determine if Kansas was on the right track by focusing not only on academics, but so-called soft skills such as communication and teamwork and social and emotional health.
Miller said she believes Kansas is headed in the right direction. “This really sets a good foundation,” she said. “We are moving the needle.”
Watson and Deputy Commissioner Brad Neuenswander on Thursday completed their Kansans Can Success Tour, having hit 50 cities statewide, attracting nearly 4,000 people.
Before concluding at Shawnee Heights High School, meetings were held Thursday in Eureka and Marion.
In Marion, USD 408 board member Jeremiah Lange said, “I think we are on the right track as a state, but we still have a lot of work to do, obviously. The Marion school district is doing some of these things (in the Kansas Can presentation) to improve graduation rates, social emotional learning, things like that. I’ve been pleased to see an emphasis on seeing kids grow in the district, both in the classroom and out of the classroom, and I think we’ve been successful.”
During the meetings, Watson and Neuenswander reviewed how the Kansans Can vision was put together from input after the 2015 tour in which Kansans said they wanted schools to refocus in certain areas. Those areas included preparing children better for kindergarten, providing students with individual study plans through their K-12 career and tending to their social and emotional health. The Kansans Can vision also calls for increases in high school graduation rates and post-secondary accomplishments, such as job-related certificates or degrees since most middle class or better jobs will require some learning past high school.
Since 2015, Kansas’ high school graduation rate has increased from 85.7 percent to 88.3 percent. That includes a 6.5 percent increase in the graduation rates of English language learners (77.2 percent to 83.7 percent); 3.7 percent among students who receive free or reduced lunch (77.5 percent to 81.2 percent) and 3.1 percent for students with disabilities (77.2 percent to 80.3 percent), which is the second highest in the nation. In addition, the rate of students with postsecondary work two years after graduating high school has increased from 44 percent to 48 percent.
Using interactive software, participants at the meetings provided recommendations to strengthen that vision. Some of the major themes that have arisen include improving communications with parents and the community, consistent funding, more alignment with local businesses, increased mental health support for students and much more.
Watson said the responses will be tabulated and shared with Gov. Laura Kelly, legislators and the State Board of Education and will help guide education policymakers.
Miller said Kansas is transitioning to a different model of education. The older model was designed to churn out students like an assembly line and everything was dependent on grades. “We’re not living in that world any more. A grade doesn’t measure everything,” she said.