Kansas City school district inches closer to full accreditation

Thursday, June 10, 2010 | 5:04 p.m. CDT

KANSAS CITY — At least one historical problem for the Kansas City School District — managing federally funded programs — might finally be fixed.

Another longstanding problem — assigning teachers — still needs work.

But overall, the district delivered mostly encouraging news to state accreditation officials Wednesday morning.

In addition to being in "substantial compliance" in managing its federal programs, the district is projecting higher state test scores, perhaps even doubling the number of schools meeting performance benchmarks of annual yearly progress when scores come out this summer.

And Superintendent John Covington has found a new chief operations officer in a retired Army general.

The progress is tempered, however, by the setback in placing teachers. With 40 percent of the district's schools closing, a lot of teachers will be in new positions next year. The district had hoped to be able to tell teachers where they were going before the end of the school year June 3.

"We didn't make it," said Steve Harris, assistant superintendent of human resources.

His team made an attempt, he said, but there were too many mistakes. So officials are regrouping, planning to make assignments by the first week of July.

Although 75 teachers had contracts non-renewed for performance and more than 200 took the district's buyout offer to retire, Harris told the state he expects an unknown number of teachers still will have to be laid off.

Overall, the state officials said they approve of the district's work to try to turn itself around.

"I continue to be impressed," Ginny Vandelicht, the state's director of school improvement support, told Covington's team. "The things you are talking about make a difference. I say carry on."

The district is more than a year and a half into a collaboration with the state to determine if the provisionally accredited district can achieve full accreditation.

Test scores have struggled upward only slowly. The next round of scores from tests taken last spring won't be revealed until July or August, but predictive testing by the district indicates the scores will rise, according to data presented to the state.

The work Covington has done in staffing, programming and spurring community involvement has earned the district time to see if its reforms take hold, said Tony Stansberry, the state's area supervisor for school improvement.

"I feel the indications continue to look good," he said. "I don't know how anyone else could have approached it any more appropriately."

One indication revealed Wednesday was the district's successful effort to fix the accounting of its federal program work. The district repeatedly had been unable to provide records to show if people hired for federally funded programs were in fact doing the work of those programs.

"I've been with the state a long time," Vandelicht said. "And I can't ever remember this district being in substantial compliance with federal programs."

The district filled a major administrative gap as Covington has picked a chief operations officer. Retired U.S. Brig. Gen. Michael Rounds will take over the position vacated by Roosevelt Brown last month.

Rounds is a member of the current class in the Eli Broad Foundation's superintendents academy — a program that Covington completed in 2008. Rounds currently is the director of the Human Performance Resource Center at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md.

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