By Brandon Dumsky

A plan proposed by Missouri superintendents could possibly end the potential transfer of unaccredited Kansas City Public Schools students to local, accredited districts such as Blue Springs, Independence and Lee’s Summit.

Putting focus on improving individual schools that are underperforming rather than transferring students out of unaccredited school districts is the proposal devised by Missouri educational leaders, including superintendents from Blue Springs and Independence districts.

Superintendents from all over the state convened in Jefferson City earlier in November to discuss an alternative in state law which allows students to transfer from unaccredited schools to neighboring, accredited school districts. “New Path to Excellence” is a plan the 16 Missouri superintendents in attendance agreed upon that would place a priority on fixing individual schools that are not meeting expectations on both a district and state level.

“Transferring students out of unaccredited districts is not in the best interest of students,” said Independence School District Superintendent Dale Herl. “We agree that pulling students out of their neighborhoods and transporting out of their support groups - including their parents, extended families and faith-based communities - will not lead to student success.”

According to Herl’s explanation of the New Path to Excellence proposal, the focus will be fixing individual school buildings where students are struggling academically rather than on entire school districts.

“The New Path to Excellence would change the way schools are accredited,” said Herl.

Herl said the proposal would establish levels of accreditation: fully accredited (where Independence and all other Eastern Jackson County school districts currently stand), provisionally accredited (districts scoring between 50 and 69 percent on their annual performance report), academically stressed (districts performing less than 50 percent on their annual performance report) and lapsed (when a district cannot demonstrate improvement within five years of their unaccredited status).

The Missouri schools annual performance report grades districts on expectations of the Missouri School Improvement Program – known as MSIP5. The program is the state’s accreditation reviewing process that is mandated by law. According to Herl, there are five main categories schools are reviewed on for the annual performance report that include academic performance, student attendance, ACT and SAT exams district performance and college readiness.

“There are 140 forms of criteria possible for a district to be measured within the MSIP5 model,” said Herl.

“In the Kansas City public school district, 19 of their schools are actually provisionally accredited or fully accredited,” said Cooperating School Districts of Greater Kansas City executive director Gayden Carruth. “The remaining 13 schools of the district are unaccredited and the entire school district is being branded as unaccredited when a significant portion is performing.”

Carruth said “it does not mean they (the 19 provisionally and/or accredited Kansas City public schools) are in need of intervention or help, but this plan can target and work with those specific schools who are unaccredited.”

Carruth elaborated on how the New Path to Excellence plan compares to the current model implemented by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education:

“Basically nothing happens until a school district becomes unaccredited. To use a medical analogy, a school district has to bleed to death - in this case unaccredited status - until it receives attention. (With this New Path to Excellence proposal) schools who show indication of struggling or actually are underperforming will receive a review team of education personnel appointed by DESE that will examine particular schools and see what needs to be done (to improve) early on.”

A number of strategies would be recommended by the review team, says Carruth. “Many things such as more teaching time can be suggested,” she said. “Schools would have about five years to improve. The plan is saying, ‘let’s prescribe this and see how it works from there.’ You look at how things are going, and it’s best to have another set of eyes to get better.”

Previously there were review teams evaluating school district performance, said Carruth. But with the lack of funding from DESE and districts relying on their own funds to visit neighboring districts for recommendations on improving, the review teams were no more.

In the meantime, Carruth said, the Missouri education commissioner is refining the proposal to present to the state board of education which will ultimately decide on whether to implement it.

“This plan addresses the issues and concerns of the transfer situation,” states Carruth. “Everything is not spelled out yet. Some things (in the plan) need to be tweaked and modified.”

As for Kansas City School District’s thoughts on the proposal, they are supporting the plan, according to Carruth. “They (Kansas City schools) want to make things less punitive.”

Although Carruth says Kansas City superintendent R. Stephen Green did not attend the meeting with Missouri school leaders in Jefferson County earlier in the year, he has reviewed the plan and according to him, “it’s a plan that can be lived with.”

Asked whether the plan will have an impact on the impending lawsuit.

“This plan will change how state student transfers are viewed,” said Herl. “It will have impact on a statewide level.”