By Emily Liebtag

SchoolSmartKC, a non-profit collaborative fund that seeks to dramatically improve the performance of schools in the Kansas City Public School system, announced that they will make an initial investment of $563,000 to support low-income students at district and charter schools in the area. They hope to collectively bring about positive change in Missouri by working with leaders, families and stakeholders within the district.

Why the Kansas City Public School system? Kansas City has had a long history of trying to bring about education reform. Fortunately, over the last decade there have been great strides in improving school options and the district is on the cusp of flourishing with new leadership, fresh ideas and strong supports in place (read about two great examples here: Operation Breakthrough and University Academy). SchoolSmartKC wants to ensure the positive change and progress has longevity.

In the Kansas City Public School system, about 55% of the students attend district schools and around 45% are attending charter schools. With a total student population of around 26,000, it is no easy feat to make sure everyone is working together to support that all of these students receive a high-quality education on par with other districts in the state, regardless of what KCPS school they attend.

The non-profit has received funding from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, the Hall Family Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation, which they will put towards efforts to close the performance gap between local students (charter and district alike) and their higher performing peers across the state of Missouri and the nation. SchoolSmartKC will work over the next ten years to hopefully double the percentage of schools and students that show performance on par with the state in basic assessments and college and career readiness measures.

We spoke with SmartSchoolKC President and CEO, Awais Sufi, who shared the three core principles and three strategies that are foundational to the SchoolSmart organization and work:

Principles:

  1. Intentionality: Working with several funders, many different organizations and leaders, and of course the families and students (all located all across Kansas City) means there needs to be intentionality around everything SchoolSmartKC does, including how they pull resources together and collaborate towards meeting their goals.
  2. Systemic Change: The goal of the organization is to help bring positive change to the Kansas City Public School system (including district and charter schools) that is long-standing, not short-lived. In order to achieve transformation that has longevity and is sustainable, there must be systemic change. That means using existing research, constantly evaluating progress, and ensuring efforts are all directed towards the goals of the organization.
  3. Engage the Community: The community is the reason SchoolSmartKC exists, and therefore a key principle of the organization is to engage all members from families, community leaders, businesses, faith leaders and the like. The change must belong to the community and be facilitated by SchoolSmartKC (as well as others), and not the reverse.  

Strategies:

  1. Starting Smart: SchoolSmartKC seeks to build the critical foundation for an educational system that generates sustainable, quality outcomes for youth by catalyzing a robust, “SchoolSmart” constituency of parents that are informed about school quality and empowered to take action.
  2. Investing for Success: SchoolSmartKC will make substantial, coordinated investments to develop, expand and fortify quality school offerings, while also supporting the improvement of schools that can and should do better.
  3. High Quality, No Exceptions: SchoolSmartKC will serve as a constant and unyielding voice demanding a quality education for all students within the Kansas City Public School system, bringing forward practical, system-wide policy changes that foster sustained and widespread improvement.

Be sure to follow SchoolSmartKC in the next couple of months for more announcements and news about their work in Kansas City. See the SchoolSmartKC website for the full press release.

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