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Robyne Stevenson Turner, Ph.D. Copywrite 2010
I'm sitting here at M&M's enjoying the finest delicacies – fresh apple fritter and hot coffee. It's a family owned place here on the eastside of Kansas City – a tradition. People old and young, new and old hands in this eastside neighborhood called Ivanhoe, find their way to Pat's Place – the owner of M&M's - and enjoy a friendly word, a genuine greeting, and quality product. Isn't that the way it should be? Kansas City, known euphemistically as KCMo, is filled with tradition, as are most cities. It has its rhythms, hometown charm, colloquialisms, and social mores. Those mores were on display the week of March 8, 2010 as the Kansas City, Missouri School District Board of Education voted to close nearly half of its buildings — 26 of 61 to be exact. The notoriety of the story was the scale of the action, interpreted by varying media outlets as a consequence of the declining economy, the hollowing out of the urban core by middle class flight of all colors and nationalities, and a consequence of declining state and local revenue. School districts nationwide have been hard hit by property foreclosures that have dramatically reduced tax revenues. Kansas City is no different, but there are deeper reasons that explain why a school district with a $2billion desegregation settlement in 1985 could find itself losing 60,000 students in 20 years and yet not close a commensurate number of buildings or downsize its staff. The nine members of the KCMSD school board voted 5-4 to accept the superintendent's plan to “right-size” the district in terms of staff, buildings, and budget. As displayed by The Kansas City Call, a long-standing, black weekly newspaper, the votes were decidedly split by the race of the board members1. One African-American board member, airick leonard west, voted with the four white board members to create a majority of five. For that act, he received catcalls led by a black city councilwoman in attendance at the meeting. He was most dramatically labeled as “Judas.” How did the politics and social conscientiousness of this city result in one black leader calling another, Judas, because he voted for fiscal responsibility that will result in better educational opportunities? How do these political alignments, seemingly along race, belie the fact that many of those board members, black and white, had been unable to muster the responsibility to make these hard choices in the years prior? To understand this, you need to understand the life history of Kansas City and how it is prototypical of most American cities that struggle with race, class, finance, and power issues.
Tom Pendergast is in the political boss hall of fame, corrupting everything from Kansas City's city
hall to the reputation of Harry Truman. In 1940, the Kansas City business community had had enough and rallied to change hire a new city manager and end the Pendergast machine. They hired L. P. Cookingham to lead the city out of corruption and into the enlightened era of reformed city management. Cookingham distinguished himself as the American “dean” of city managers, so recognized by the American Society of Public Administration in an annual award to honor his achievements. While this is the commonly told timeline of change and political milestones in KCMO, it is not the most pivotal.
Another civic leader, J.C. Nichols, had a much greater impact on setting into motion the traditions that would bring Kansas City to its “Judas” moment. J.C. Nichols founded the Urban Land Institute,
which provides an annual award in his honor to recognize his achievements in the field of urban development. Nichols developed the first auto-centered shopping center in the U.S., The Country Club Plaza, which sits today as the epitome of New Urbanism. He was the developer responsible for platting the most successful residential real estate project in the city – the series of subdivisions to the south of the Plaza that redefined the nation's approach to housing segregation. J.C. Nichols created the racial covenant deed restriction to market his properties and convinced the national real estate community, including the FHA, to do the same 2. The impact on his hometown, Kansas City, remains to this day. Not only did it seal the fate of African-American mobility in that city, it also demonstrated the political power that can be harbored by the business community. Such power has been chronicled by political scholars from coast to coast. That political forebearance acted as a thumb on the neck of the black community until its first black mayor, now U.S. Congressman, Emanuel Cleaver II was elected to the city's top post in 1991. Yet the divisions remain in the social mores of Kansas City, blocking the advancement of the school district, the economy, investment, the housing market, and on and on. It's quite a legacy for Mr. Nichols. Kansas City remains a largely segregated city in 2010 even though racial covenants were outlawed in 1948 by the U.S. Supreme Court and equal housing became the law of the land in 1968 3. Today, Kansas City can be seen in stark terms courtesy of the 2000 census depicting African-Americans – clearly showing the racial divide in the city along Troost Avenue.
While Troost no longer is the formal dividing line for housing segregation and school attendance, it remains embedded in the social culture of Kansas City as the line that divides east from west in this city. Eastside KC is the ghetto (though actually it's income demographics are diverse) and “east of Troost” is where white people go to buy drugs or prostitutes, but otherwise avoid the area as a dangerous, gang-filled, homicide-riddled, abandoned and slumlord property-filled area. Cliches abound in delineating the stark contrasts of this city. The Westside is know colloquially as “the
Plaza,” meaning anything west of Troost. Mayor Kay Barnes (1999-2007) tried to create a larger vision of the westside by dubbing it the “River-Crown-Plaza” area – from the Riverfront market and loft district, through downtown, to the Crown Center complex that is home to Hallmark Cards (hence the Crown), through midtown to The Plaza. While development has flourished through this ribbon north to south, The Plaza remains the colloquial landmark and development continues to languish on the eastside. This is not a case of one neighborhood verses another. This is 2/3rds of the old city (the eastside) vs. 1/3 of the old city (the Plaza westside). A homegrown effort called Tulips on Troost, (www.troostavenue.com) was created as a means to heal the divide. Hundreds of thousands of tulips have been planted along Troost Avenue and in the spring, the blooms are an astounding reminder of renewal and hope. Naysayers regard it as a photoop, while those committed to healing the wounds of segregation see it as a powerful statement of unity. It is a lovely way to welcome spring. Tulips on Troost joins many other organizations and efforts to overcome the divide that bleeds this city. The 49/63 Neighborhood Coalition was created in the 1960s to combat block-busting and maintain the interracial nature of the 5 blocks on either side of Troost from 49 to 63 street. This area, so near geographically and yet so far socially from The Plaza, had worked to maintain its racial integration and harmony of its neighborhoods in the post-covenant era. Southtown Council, Brush Creek Community Partnership, Neighborhood Housing Services, and a bevy of other business, civic, and neighborhood groups along Troost also have fought to overcome the stigma of segregation and blend east and west. However, politics and social reality belie this dedication. A quick look at the leadership of these organizations will reveal that the boards are diverse, but the staff leadership is mostly white and do not live east of Troost. These are dedicated people who take little personal risk in their leadership of this cause, though they take great professional risks and attacks for the work they do. At the end of the day, however, solidarity often results in a dichotomy of personal vs. political. This is the rhetorical reality of Kansas City that has guided its school district to its current appocolyptic apogee.
Troost serves as a dividing line for several city council districts and school board districts. Political segregation has not been erased.
City Council and School Board Districts bounded and divided by Troost Avenue In the 2007 mayoral election one candidate juxtaposed these social and political dichotomies. Jim Glover, a former city council member running for mayor, touted the fact that he lived in the urban core – one block west of Troost in the fashionable gentrifying neighborhood of mansions and old homes known as Hyde Park. Hyde Park is the quinticenstial statement of yuppy-urbanism indelibly portrayed by Spike Lee (in the movie Do the Right Thing) as the white, bicycle-riding yuppy pioneer resident of a gentrified brownstone in Brooklyn claims he was born there and he is the real Brooklyn homee. Mr. Glover claimed Hyde Park as his home turf and wore it as a badge of honor that he lived so close to the eastside. Of course, in his campaigning he often referred to the dangers of living so close to Troost, noting that gunfire and stray bullets could be heard nearby and casings found in his yard. So, was his message that he was an enlightened integrationist or that he was an urban core hero pioneering the territory for white folks against all the dangers of the 'hood? He was not rewarded by the voters for his “heroism.” Currently, the Hyde Park neighborhood is railing against the rehabilitation of several Section 8 subsidized rental project buildings that border their neighborhood and are west of Troost. The violence, culture clash, and illegal activity attributed to the residents of those buildings have left Hyde Park residents to circle their wagons in desperation to maintain their standard of living. How far has Kansas City come since the 1960s? Not too far.
At the Lucile Bluford public library branch of the Kansas City public library system, patrons are
treated to a welcoming exhibit of the history of this pioneering woman in Kansas City. Miss Bluford was the editor (1955-1998) of The Kansas City Call, the city's African-American weekly newspaper that continues to publish today. She contributed to the voice of a community that was backhanded by the J.C. Nichols leadership of the city. A leadership that hemmed the black population into specific areas of the city, leaving the remainder of the city to the white homeowners that would enjoy their exclusivity and higher property values that were manufactured on the backs of innocent people of color. Kansas City prior to 1900 had no color boundaries in real estate and in fact had an integrated population4 The Pendergast mob centered on the Northeast section of the city near the Missouri Riverfront area in an Italian enclave. There were Irish neighborhoods, eastern Europeans, AfricanAmericans, and descendents of western settlers whose wagon trains originated in this city in the 1800s. As segregation gripped the country in varying degrees from the tyranny of the Klu Klux Klan in the south to union discrimination in the north, Kansas City suffered in solidarity. Miss Bluford was a pioneer in attempting to desegregate the University of Missouri graduate school of Journalism, after having received her Bachelors degree at the University of Kansas. Ironic that she fought hard for the civil rights of blacks across the country while suffering the indignities of racial covenants in her hometown. The Bluford library branch, located well east of Troost Avenue, re-opened March 6, 2010 after a $1.3 million makeover to modernize the facility with technology, freshen its accommodations, and continue to serve as a vital resource to the eastside community. It is busy all day long with senior citizens, adults, and after-school students. It, along with other branches of the public library system in KCMO serve to bridge the digital divide. Waiting lines for computer access have been lessened by the addition of many new stations at Bluford, but the demand still outstrips the supply. The desire for internet access cuts across race, class, geography, age, and gender. Miss Bluford must be proud of how she is honored here.
School Board member airick leonard west, uses Bluford as a meeting place to visit with constituents, activists, civic leaders, and neighbors. While he could use the downtown or Plaza library branches to meet with others, he chooses to make the Bluford branch the location to which people who seek his insight must travel. For those on the eastside, the Bluford location is an easy access, sitting at the busy bus crossroads of 31st street and Prospect Avenue. For those visitors from the J.C. Nichols side of town, they gain valuable insight into what is often a foreign part of the city to them. Mr. west, elected to the school board in 2008, lives two blocks from the Bluford branch library. He was elected to an at-large seat, representing the entire KCMO school district, east and west. His dedication to the community – defined as the scholars of the district by him – is unflinching. Yet it is this dedication that earned him the “Judas” tag by fellow black elected leaders and citizens who opposed the district's building closing plan.
The KC School District, not unlike the Bluford branch library, underwent a major physical rehabilitation in the 1980s. The Missouri Supreme Court ordered the state to pay the district $2 billion to desegregate the school district, erasing the Troost attendance border 5. The money was used to build and refurbish schools on the eastside, develop magnet programs to entice white students back to the district, and to provide the equal education that had been systematically denied to the district students of color. “Deseg” as it is referred to by KC denizons, was a massive failure. Not only did it fail to attract white students back to the district, it left the district in a permanent state of abandonment by the region. White middle class residents began fleeing the KC district in the 1960s. They put their kids in private and parochial schools, moved to the suburbs in Kansas, moved north of the River into affordable housing located in recently annexed KC areas, and moved south to the Missouri suburbs of Raytown and Grandview as well as areas of south KC out of the school district6. At its height, the KCMSD had 80,000 students and was the premier school district in the city. Today it has less than 18,000 students and has teetered on the brink of disaster as a provisionally accredited school district (so designated by the Missouri Board of Education) 7. The demise of the district goes beyond the class abandonment of housing in the urban core. The demise of the district is mired in the political power struggle between black, white, and Latino leadership in the city. The encampment of power bases that started with racial covenants hardened into impenetrable political divides that stretched its tentacles from the school district, to union membership, to capital investment, to the current political struggle within the black community.
The School Board vote on March 10, 2010 to “right-size” the district was the culmination of a
whirlwind effort by new superintendent John Covington (hired 2009) to triage a financially and educationally hemorrhaging district. Since 1970, the school district board has gone through 26 different superintendents. That is not a typo – 26 superintendents in the last 40 years. Why has there been such a revolving door of staff leadership? In part, it stems from the difficult task of both managing and educating a declining urban school district. Every major city in the country has suffered the same decline in performance, revenues, and hardships dealing with an increasingly poor and ill-prepared student body. Kansas City's urban school district is no different. But the parade of superintendents in the KCMSD also is borne of the struggle to balance white vs. black power, east vs. west dominance for control of the district and its direction, and the demand for a black ladder to the middle class through district jobs, business contracts, and prestige. In a district that was handicapped by racial covenants that were arranged by the white business leadership, it should not be surprising that there is a zero level of trust by a segment of the black community of the intentions of “reformers” and superintendents that seek to overhaul the district. Long fought-for gains by black leadership, parents, community residents, churches, and businesses resulted in an insulated power structure on the eastside. Just as the white leadership of Hyde Park are circling their wagons against crime and decline today, a segment of the black leadership on the eastside long ago circled their wagons to preserve a bastion of dignity and upward mobility. But as the old adage goes...power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. During the Civil Rights Era, Freedom, Inc. was created by eastside leaders as the political club to champion and advocate for African-Americans in Kansas City 8. For many years it was the “go-to” political hub for Democratic party leaders who needed minority voters to turn out in elections. But more than a political lackey, Freedom, Inc. served to screen candidates, groom candidates, and advocate for public policy and tax referendums. As minority leadership expanded on the eastside, so too did the number of politically minded clubs and organizations. Black ministers joined together as the Concerned Clergy. Human Rights advocates organized as the East 23rd Street PAC and the Ad Hoc Group Against Crime. Vestiges of Model Cities' programs became Swope Community Builders, led by the Swope Medical group leader Frank Ellis, and the Mazuma Credit Union. Today the primary groups of black political leadership are Freedom, Inc., Concerned Clergy, Black Agenda
Group, Baptist Minister's Union, Methodist Minister's Union, Urban Summit (of black elected officials), Black United Front, and the esoteric Eggs and Enlightenment. Add to this a number of CDCs, neighborhood groups, unions, anti-gang groups, nonprofits, and redevelopment projects such as the 18th and Vine Jazz Redevelopment District, the Jazz Museum and the Negro Leagues Baseball museum, and you have a broad spectrum of leadership and access points within the black community. No longer is there a single voice or a go-to group with whom the white community can negotiate. Instead, there is need for real engagement, dialogue, and interaction in order to create community consensus, partnerships, and progress. For those, black or white, that expect to find or have absolute power, this new dynamic is vexing. In 2006 the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum lost its ambassador, the great Jon “Buck” O'Neil who played on the KC Monarchs, coached for the Chicago Cubs, and was inexcusably denied entrance to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the baseball writers who vote on that membership. Buck had kept the varied constituencies of the Museum in line because he was just that kind of presence. After his passing, the Museum board also found themselves needing to replace the Executive Director of the organization, who had been a long-term protoge of Mr. O'Neil. As the board considered the future of the Museum, a conflict broke out between leadership factions. This was one of the first open signs of fracture in the black community leadership in recent memory. While disputes about who should lead and who should do what have always been a part of eastside and westside organizations (as with any organization), the Museum split was openly visible to the city and the white press. When the new director was selected, several board members resigned, were openly critical of the decision, and left one of the most prominent attractions related to black history to regroup. The Museum board was made up of prominent black leaders. Open warfare between them demonstrated how far the community had come. Circling the wagons was no longer essential to fight off those that would take power from the community. Now power was up for grabs. A similar power struggle was evidenced on the KCMSD school board in 2008. After the 2008 elections in which two new members were elected -- airick leonard west and Aruther Benson - the school board chair, a prominent, black, male leader – Dave Smith – resigned from the board. The fractures of white and black members as well as between black board leaders had become too much for him to take. A difficult selection of school board president followed, pitting Marilyn Simmons from the eastside against white member, Ingrid Burnett. Burnett lost and soon resigned from the boartd citing her frustration with board politics and her ineffectiveness to change it. Two replacements were appointed by the remaining board members. The new board chair, 12-year board veteran Marilyn Simmons, was elected to that post on a split vote with the help of one white board member, Arthur Benson. Mr. Benson was coincidently the lawyer who brought the deseg case against the board in the 1980s. He now was the pivotal vote to elect the new board chair, and vest that power in a black woman. As his reward, he was named Vice-President of the Board and given the opportunity by the new board chair to name a white or Latino replacement to the board. Ms. Simmons would direct the nomination and appointment of a black replacement to the board. Such wheeling and dealing is not uncommon at any level of government, so the surprise is not in the deal, but in the reaction to it. No one blinked when the appointments were made. There were no complaints from parents, residents, black leaders, or others. It was as if the white and black communities understood that a deal satisfying both sides would be recognized as legitimate.
2008 Pivotal School Board Members Top: Arthur Benson, Marilyn Simmons Middle: Derek Richey, Cokethea Hill Bottom: airick leonard west
Fast forward to spring 2009. The school board, in an unprecedented show of unity, voted 9-0 to hire
a new superintendent, John Covington, an African-American. The talk around town suggested that this was a new day for the leadership of the district. Black v. White, east v. west had finally been put aside for the benefits of the “scholars” of the district – the students. This was particularly monumentous since the last permanent (not interim) superintendent, Anthony Amato, had been dismissed by the board before his three year contract was up. He had been accused of being heavy handed, autocratic, and finally, had been accused of calling the soon to be board president the “b” word. After two interim supers, Dr. Covington was hired.
Covington quickly surmised that the district was in deep financial trouble. He determined correctly, that the district Board had not acted to stem the fiscal deficits by closing schools, but rather had authorized using district reserve funds in order to keep school buildings open. What had transpired since the deseg era was a morphing of district schools into charter schools, signature schools (such as Paseo School of Performing Arts), and a contract schools (the Afrikan-Centered Collegium Campus or ACECC schools). White parents were given their schools on the west side and black parents were given their schools on the eastside. The problem, of course, was that the rest of the district schools were given little in the way of serious attention. The cost provided to educate a student at signature and contract schools was two and three times the cost provided to students at neighborhood-based district run schools. Additional fiefdoms came forward to claim their spoils of the district as well – two additional Montessori schools, the historic Lincoln Prep high school, Foreign Language Academy spanish immersion school, the Garcia Elementary and Swinney Schools serving spanish bi-linguial students, and so on. Each school created its own leadership for advocacy
to gain and retain resources. When the westside demanded that a long ago closed white high school be reoppened, the board struck a deal to maintain ACECC campus Afrikan-centered schools. Titfor-tat and everyone was happy. Happy, until Dr. Covington pulled the proverbial slap in the face and said, “we can't afford this.” He knew that the only way to get the district on track to fullaccreditation (still on provisional accreditation in 2010) would be to significantly shrink the number of buildings in use, downsize the administrative staff, and reorganize the teacher corps. But with so many sacred cows in the district, how could this be accomplished? The writing was on the wall and forces had to be mobilized quickly to forestall such an affront to the established co-existence of the school district communities in the KCMSD. Covington proposed a right-size plan by January 2010. He had spent October 2009 through January 2010 in a broad community engagement process to create a district strategic plan. The number one goal of that plan is educational excellence. The only way to achieve that goal, according to the superintendent, was to close buildings and consolidate students into fewer buildings where teaching economies could be obtained. One recommendation was to close Westport High School which consists of 500 students housed in a building that holds 1200. The students would be merged with the Southwest College Prep school (the reopened high school located on the white westside). Students actually saw the benefit of this as did teachers. While they lamented losing their name, colors, and mascot, they realized that when combined with another school, their course selections would grow, their extracurricular options would expand, and they may find that their educational quality would improve. The last reason is the most important and most compelling reason to rightsize the district. KCMSD schools are all underperforming. There is not one school where 80% of the students demonstrated proficiency in both Math and Communication Arts on state tests. Most district schools are near or below 25% on each. So even the “best performing” schools in the district, touted by parents and teachers, are only best in a poorly performing district. The emperor has no clothes, but the community had yet to bring themselves to admit that reality. While some schools were making incremental improvements, it would be another 10 to 20 years before the schools were performing well. Dr. Covington saw the need for a machete because a scalpel wouldn't do the job. The right-size vote on March 10, 2010 demonstrated that the school board could muster, though just barely, the courage to make a very difficult commitment to close school buildings. The decision itself was easy – a district in financial straights and unable to generate revenue to cover the costs of better educational achievement – would have to close buildings. The district sponsored five public forums over the course of a week to hear from parents, teachers, community residents, advocates, business and civic leaders, and anyone else who wanted to weigh in on the right-size proposal. The proposal came out as a recommendation to close 31 schools. By the time the forums concluded, that number had shrunk to 26. Oxes were gored. Entrenched interests were upset at the potential loss of their building or resources. In the end, however, there were fewer actual school programs than buildings that were dismantled. Middle schools would join high schools, signature school programs would remain, contract schools would stay open (though in the case of the ACECC schools, three buildings operating at 33% capacity would be pared back to one building to operate at 66% capacity), and one Montessori school would be folded into the other two. The issue was put before the board and it passed 5-4. All white members voted yes, all but one black member voted no. Airick leonard west was the lone African-American board member who voted to accept the superintendent's plan. At the conclusion of the vote, after the catcalls of “Judas,” directed at Mr. west, the board President, Marilyn Simmons, stated matter of factly that the vote had been made “along racial lines” 9.
Apparently, Mr. west had changed his race for this vote. It was unclear why she said this or what it implied. Speculation and spin were in full gear as the next few days unfolded.
West received over 600 emails in the first 24 hours after the vote. Approximately 95% of those
were positive about his decision. His FaceBook page was littered with comments, some supportive, some threatening, some contentious, and some defending him. Teachers, parents, politicos, and regular folks chimed in the commentary. Many of the comments from folks in the black community are the most revealing of the politics of the district, though most of those comments occurred in person and by phone and were not committed to in writing. Examples include, “thank you,” “you did what was needed,” “it was a tough decision and we are proud of you,” thank you for standing up to the bullies who have tried to run our community for years,” “you did right by standing up to those who are selfish and don't care about our children,” and so forth. The message became quite clear – that the standing black leadership of the board was not representative of the entire black community. There are African-Americans in the district who disagree with how they have run the district and the results are unsatisfactory. Mr. west had struck a nerve of support that the white community did not even know existed. Such is the nature of race relations in Kansas City. The white community understands communities of color through the sound bites the media provides, often the most provocative statements and the loudest. If the white community leadership had strong partnerships with a broader section of the African-American community, they would have known what Mr. west discovered as he fielded the supportive responses. As word has spread about this revelation, the comments have become more intense and frequent. More support, stronger support, and fewer criticisms. Those that oppose the right-size plan and board vote have become vocal, challenging the process that brought the plan forth. They claim the superintendent did not adequately engage the public in the process, that the board was not included, and that the plan does not consider impacts on the district such as how many parents will leave the district who don't like the plan and if that will create more financial hardship. On cue, a few ACECC parents have said to the media, I will leave the district because of this plan. They stand alone in their public comment. One of the most frequent comments has been that parents do not want their young children in the same building with older students. They have said that first graders should not be with high school seniors. The superintendent agrees with them and has made it clear that different entrances, different schedules, separations and partitions within the buildings will make interaction available only within appropriate grade levels. Currently this is successfully done at the University Academy charter school within the KCMSD, which gets strongly positive reviews from parents who have children enrolled there. Undeterred, a few ACECC parents called for a “Day of Absence” where students and teachers are asked to abandon school for a day and join parents and neighbors in a protest at the school board building and demonstrate that they will leave if the right-size plan goes through. Why they believe this would be an effective expression of their displeasure is unknown. The date selected for the 'Absence,' however, was the day before the next school board member election on April 6 th (the protest was cancelled several days before April 5th). Superintendent Covington presented his plan for transition to the new right-sized district at the school board retreat on March 20, 2010 as part of a 5-Year Plan. He delineated when and how buildings will close, where scholars will be in the fall, a timetable for notifying teachers of new assignments, whether they will receive a renewal contract, and how transferred students will fit into existing programs in their new building. It will be an upheaval and will cause many people a great deal of stress. Change is very hard. In a school district that has had 24 superintendents in 30 years, change is too frequent and the stress level is always high for all concerned. This change will be difficult because neighborhood school buildings will close, changing the fabric of neighborhoods.
This change will be difficult because some students will have to travel farther to get to school, meaning that their parents will too in order to attend parent-teacher meetings, school events, and school advisory council meetings. Schedules will change, teachers will change, and familiar classrooms will no longer be open. But the change also will bring new opportunities for students to experience the benefits of a larger student body in a building – such as more course options, more program options, and a larger group of peers. Promises are easy and the challenges are real. The 5Year Plan lays out a broader framework for eductional excellence including stronger graduation requirements, longer school days and school year, and a host of other mechanisms to achieve the single goal of the district — educational excellence. It remains to be seen whether the district staff are capable of implementing the plan without harm. But it is abundantly clear that generation after generation of students have been poorly educated by the district. Those that could leave, have left. Those that have stayed have tried to create islands of excellence, that have actually been oasis of a different approach to learning but have fallen far from providing educational excellence. The elections on April 6 will prove to either re-elect the status quo leaderership of the board or elect new faces that support the superintendent. Post Script
The election on April 6, 2010 left nothing in doubt as to the sentiment of the voting public on who
should lead and how the district should move forward. Over 25,000 voters (about 8% turnout which is a very large turnout for a Kansas City school board election) elected Joseph Jackson from the eastside 4th subdistrict and Crispin Rea and Kyleen Caroll, both at-large. The significance of their win is that they were backed by Freedom, Inc and Kansas Citians United for Educational Achievement (KCU4EA), an education political group guided by board member airick leonard west. All three candidates campaigned on the platform of supporting the right-size plan, supporting superintendent Covington, and replacing the status quo. They won by huge margins against a unified slate that included current Board President Simmons (she won re-election without opposition). KCU4EA sought to offer an alternative to the Simmons Team 180 as they called themselves which included incumbant board member Cokethea Hill. The all African-American slate opposed Covington's process of creating the right-size plan (and conceivably the product itself), would not commit to keeping Dr. Covington, and demanded «widespread community engagement» as their tag line. KCU4EA offered a mixed group of candiates, African-American Jackson, Latino Rea, and white Carroll who represented parents, teachers, business, and the civic community. The fact that the
New Board Members Jackson, Carroll, Rea
KCU4EA slate was endorsed by Freedom, Inc., instead of the Simmons slate, was a blockbuster in itself that confirmed that there was a political divide in the black community. The votes, however, demonstrated that divide is real and that the black community does not need to vote as a block to be heard. Results 4th Subdistrict 981 Joseph Jackson (KCU4EA), African-American 356 Lynwood Tauheed (Simmons slate), African-American At-Large 8307 Crispin Rea (KCU4EA), Latino 8214 Kyleen Carroll (KCU4EA), white 1291 Cokethea Hill (Simmons slate), African-American 1211 Kenneth Hughlon (Simmons slate), African-American The election solidified support for the right-size plan and for Dr. Covington. Yet, the divide in the black community remains and will need attention. The school district is small and needs the support of all the parents, residents, stakeholders, and groups in all the neighborhoods. But since the district is 95% minority students, it is imperative to have trust in the board from all households who send their children to district schools. On April 14 the new board members will be seated and a new board president will be elected. No doubt the board will continue to have disagreements and drama as most politcal bodies do. However, there is a new sense of unity, of being on the cusp of transformation, and of hope that the Kansas City, Missouri School District can make a comeback. While the political fireworks are over, the main event looms large. Educational achievement must be improved drastically. Right-sizing and the strategic plan are intended to bring the district to that result. A good sign was the turnout of 100s of parents at Paseo High School on Thursday evening, April 8 for what was the first of many community/parent engagement sessions to bring these plans to life. That's the kind of support this district needs and now may enjoy.
Real Estate, and Uneven Development, The Kansas City Experience from 1900-2000. SUNY Press. 3 Shelley v. Kramer (1948), and 1968 Fair Housing Act 4 Kevin Fox Gotham 2002 Race Real Estate and Uneven Development, chapter 2.
1 The Call, (Thursday March 11, 2010) 2 For the definitive study of racial politics and development history in Kansas City, see Kevin Fox Gotham. 2002. Race,
the city boundaries. 7 The District lost accreditation in 1999 and was granted provisional accreditation in 2002. Currently the District meets 6 of the minimum 9 of 14 state standards. (http://news.google.com/newspapers? nid=1893&dat=20020417&id=fKQfAAAAIBAJ&sjid=JNYEAAAAIBAJ&pg=3198,6622457) 8 Freedom, Inc., was formed in 1963 by Leon Jordan and Bruce R. Watkins. 9 KCTV Kansas City, http://www.kctv5.com/education/22806719/detail.html#
5 Jenkins v. Missouri. 593 F. Supp. 1487 (W.D. Mo., 1984) 6 Kansas City is 230 square miles of land covering parts of three counties. There are 14 separate school districts within
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