Randy Watson, Kansas Commissioner of Education, and Brad Neuenswander, Deputy Commissioner stopped in Garden City Thursday as part of their Kansas Can Success Tour.
The tour kicked off on July 26 and is a follow-up to the 2015 Kansas Children, Kansas’ Future community conversation tour. That tour sought input from parents, educators, community members, school board members, higher education representatives, business community members and legislators on what needs to be done to improve education for Kansas youth so they can succeed once schooling is over.
The Kansas Can Success Tour seeks to see if anything has or hasn’t changed in Kansans’ minds on what needs to be done to help improve education for student success, what skills need to be focused on.
Watson thought there was a good turnout at the event Thursday at Horace Good Middle School’s courtyard and was glad to get people together to talk about the issues and to see how things have gone since 2015.
“There’s nothing that we needed to do, but we wanted to see on this has anything shifted in Kansas vs. what Kansans told us in 2015?” he said. “We’re trying to either validate or change what the skills are that Kansans want in kids when they leave us. That’s the purpose.”
Questions from parents
Neuenswander said the biggest question asked in 2015 was what are skills, attributes and abilities for a successful, 24-year-old Kansan.
“23% of your responses were in the area of academics … but 70% of the skills you can’t measure on a standardized test,” he said. “Those non-academic skills were even more valued than the academic. It’s a combination of those.”
After meeting with teacher and community members in 2015, Neuenswander and Watson held sessions partnering with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce asking the same question.
Neuenswander said they were even more focused on the non-academic skills which include intrapersonal skill such as self-awareness, self-regulation and perseverance; interpersonal skills such as team work, networking, conflict management and empathy; and cognitive skills such as critical thinking, time management, content knowledge and organization.
“When you looked at a successful graduate and what you told us is they have to have a combination of all of these, and very few kids have them all,” he said.
At the tour on Thursday a poll of those attending found that they still feel strongly that these skills are the most important for success outside of schooling.
They also still agreed that the way to get that success by making changes to school culture, individualizing education for each student, getting students civically engaged, partnering with businesses for internships and job shadowing, focusing on social emotional health, having school councilors and social workers working with the youth and redesigning curriculum.
Learning from the last information session
Watson said since 2015, the education system has focused more on trying to help individuals students meet their goals.
“We’re really doing a lot better with kids going to technical schools, vocational schools, John Deere, those type of things,” he said. “We’ve got some work-based learning, we’re getting them in work-based internships and earning and getting credit for that. I think a lot more dual credit classes than we had back in 2015.”
Michelle Kent, principal at Georgia Matthews Elementary School, believes that USD 457 is on track to creating a curriculum where student can achieve whatever their goals are for the future.
“I definitely see that our district has all of the five components happening in our school districts in different ways, whether it’s building community agencies up and having them connect with our school district or whether it’s the social emotional curriculum where we are helping students regulate themselves and having those candid conversations with them,” she said. “I think that the curriculum that we have really lends itself to having those project ways learning opportunities happen.”
Amy Hollinghsworth, Gertrude Walker Elementary School principal, is excited with how Kansas is redesigning and rethinking how school is done.
“I think it’s awesome that they’re challenging us to really be student centered and I think we do try to do that, but he’s (Watson) really asking us to think outside of the box in new and innovative ways,” she said. “I think that’s important for us to continue to do that so we can get kids to where they need to be.”
Scott Myers, USD 363 Holcomb superintendent, enjoyed the presentation and was glad to see that the data matched with what he personally believes makes a student successful after school.
“I’ve said, yes, academics and cognitive skills, absolutely, it’s important, but the success skills, other people call them soft skills, … are what we really need to be working to help our students as they grow,” he said. “That data flat out said that.”
Myers worked at the State Department of Education in 2015, where he worked directly with Watson and Neuenswander, and is glad to see them come back out across Kansas, visiting more cities, to find out what people are thinking and how everything is going and if things need to be adjusted or they keep moving forward.
“I think we’re doing a good job, we got growth areas in some of the places, but that’s everywhere,” he said. “None of this happens overnight, it’s a process to really, truly get it as individualized as possible.”
A variety or initiatives are underway for better schooling, Myers said and he believes they’re doing a good job of “adjusting the system to meet the needs of the kids more than having the kids meet the system.”
“At the end of the day that’s what really the message is, we shouldn’t just be doing education like we did in 1920, it’s a different world,” he said.