The Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools (KCKPS) has a long history of successful collaboration with the National Education Association / Kansas City, Kansas (NEA-KCK), for the purpose of improving academic achievement. This partnership has brought significant national recognition to KCKPS for the success of its reforms, and will serve as a strong foundation for the on-going work necessary to reach the 2010 Goals.
The origins of the collaboration date back to a series of retreats that were held in the 1990s, where NEA representatives and a district administrative team traveled to Colorado to learn and work in a relaxed setting. Initial products coming out of those retreats included the development of the Code of Conduct, and efforts to increase teacher retention. Over time, the collaborative relationship that developed became one of the pillars upon which the First Things First (FTF) reform effort was built.
In 2000, the District and NEA-KCK established the first Teaching and Learning Task Force. The Task Force was comprised of 24 educators, and was jointly selected by the superintendent of schools and the president of NEA-KCK. Members were charged with studying the research and relevant literature relating to effective teaching and learning; determining what teaching and learning practices would be expected in each classroom in the District; and planning a process for implementing those practices across the District.
The work of the Task Force resulted in a White Paper, which was published in January, 2001. Three key topics were identified: classroom environment, instruction and professional learning community. The focus within instruction was on active engagement, connectedness and reflection. The White Paper provided support for the restructuring of KCKPS through FTF.
In July of 2005, Dr. Jill Shackelford became the superintendent. Under her leadership, FTF completed the transition from being a "reform effort" to becoming "the way the district does it work." As a part of that transition, the district set ambitious goals for 2010: 85% of students will meet the standard in reading; 75% will meet the standard in math; all students will enter 1st grade ready to learn; and all students will exit 12th grade ready for college.
In order to organize to reach the 2010 Goals, the district and NEA-KCK have jointly convened a new Teaching FOR Learning Task Force. This group began meeting last January, reviewing the White Paper, and studying more than 40 articles and videos, using protocols to identify the best research-based practices. In order to raise the bar for all groups, and close the achievement gap between groups of students, the emphasis was changed to teaching FOR learning, with making sure that students actually learn being the focus.
The Task Force has been charged with finding clear, simple and teachable research-based practices that teachers and schools can use to guide continuing improvements in student learning. This will be critical as the district moves to Phase 2 of FTF, where the emphasis will need to be on going deeper into strengthening instruction, in order to move the kids who are difficult to move.