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State Board Has Praise, Questions For Proposal On Struggling Schools

via Flickr | frankjuarez
CEE-Trust presented its plan on helping Kansas CIty schools at a meeting of the Missouri Board of Education.

JEFFERSON CITY -- After hearing a one-hour presentation by CEE-Trust of its proposal on how to help struggling schools in Kansas City -- and possibly throughout Missouri -- members of the state board of education had an hour's worth of questions on their own.

Now, the process begins to combine the CEE-Trust report with other recommendations and suggestions from the public to determine the best way to proceed. 

Peter Herschend, president of the board, took care to note that Monday’s session was for information only. He emphasized that no vote would be taken by the board until members have had the chance to compare the CEE-Trust proposal with those from other groups, such as superintendents of local school districts.

He added that no matter what the details of a final proposal, the central focus should be on making sure children throughout the state are getting a good education.

“The key question is not CEE-Trust,” Herschend said. “It is not the superintendents’ proposal. The key question is: How can we as an educational community directly, quickly and effectively impact the education of youngsters who are committed to our care?”

And, he added, there is a definite sense of urgency.

“This is not a time for future discussion,” Herschend said, “something that we will do two or three years from now.”

Questions from board members included ones about the distinction CEE-Trust is making between schools run by nonprofit operators and charter schools; how to ensure that money directed from central offices to schools is used more effectively; and how to overcome the inertia and resistance expected from entrenched school interests.

Gray emphasized that a thread of more flexibility run throughout the proposal, so decisions that most affect student learning can be made as close to the school level as possible.

Mike Jones, vice president of the board, congratulated CEE-Trust for doing a good job in asking the right questions about how to help education improve in modern society.

“We have a 19th-century delivery system that we’re trying to make work in the 21st century,” Jones said.

He later emphasized that it is important to change the path that schools have been on in recent years and to try something different, saying that “you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”

'To do nothing is to get what you've got. Taking a chance on a different paradigm ... gives you the potential of an upside.' -- Mike Jones, vice president of Missouri Board of Education

“The trajectory is 30 more years of the same thing,” Jones said. “To do nothing is to get what you’ve got. Taking a chance on a different paradigm … gives you the potential of an upside.”

Herschend sounded a similar theme, telling Gray that “the strength of what you propose is that it’s a change in the system. That’s good to have that on the table…. What we have done in the past is not working because it has not created change.”

Not that change is always welcome, he added, particularly by those currently working in the system.

“It is a significant change in the system of management of education as we know it in the state and in the nation today,” Herschend said of the CEE-Trust blueprint. “That will continue to be a difficult hurdle to overcome. There will be people on the positive side who say it’s about time and others who say you can’t trust the local school to operate the way you envision it.”

Gray agreed with that point, saying: “There are strong incentives for people to hold on to the existing system.”

State education officials have said they hope to have their own proposal by March, after having a chance to weigh what CEE-Trust and others have recommended. Herschend said he thought that timetable may be too ambitious, given the volume of material that has to be studied and synthesized.

Feedback on any of the plans can be submitted to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education online. The department plans town hall meetings to discuss the various proposals Jan. 29 in Kansas Ciy and Feb. 4 in St. Louis.

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