“Is it good for our students?” That is the simple yet profound filter through which decisions in the Wichita Public Schools are evaluated and made every day on behalf of more than 50,000 young people as we strive to empower all students with the 21st century skills needed for successful careers and lives.
Your Wichita school district represents more than half of all public school students in Sedgwick County and nearly 11 percent of all public school students in the state of Kansas. Our enrollment of 50,103 students last fall is our largest enrollment since the mid-1970s. In fact, public school enrollment is up across the state, and is projected to continue increasing.
Perhaps your children have grown, or you are a young professional without children…so how does the local school district impact you? As we heard recently during the Wichita Metro Chamber’s leadership luncheon, workforce development and the availability of a highly skilled workforce is essential to economic development. When we are successful preparing young people to enter college or the workforce, our community has the employees needed to grow business and enhance the health and well-being of Wichita and south-central Kansas.
How are we preparing our community’s young people for the future? Whether college or career bound, Wichita can be proud of the robust opportunities available to students. We are expanding dynamic technical programs for wide-ranging career fields such as computer programming, automotive technology, culinary arts, emergency and fire management, health services and pre-engineering technology. In fact, during this school year, 72 percent of all high school students — more than 8,700 young people — are taking one or more career and technical education courses.
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Wichita graduates who are college-bound enter some of the most prestigious schools across the country, and many also stay close to home. Scholarships that support our college-bound students have increased in dollar value by nearly 62 percent in four years, with more than $80 million having been awarded to Wichita Public Schools graduates during that time. Whether through academic recognition or the unparalleled opportunities for students to develop talents and skills in the arts, athletics, JROTC, debate and forensics, journalism, business development or even teaching, one thing is for sure — Wichita students are making a name for themselves here at home, and across the country!
Our children come to us gifted academically, some need just a little help catching up with their peers, some speak little English, and some have physical or emotional needs. To ensure that we meet the needs of all students, we are in the midst of reforming our entire system to provide a laser-sharp focus on literacy at all levels, especially kindergarten through second grade. With high expectations in place for ALL students, it is imperative that the resources and supports are available to help each student meet his or her potential.
How can you support what’s good for students? We need more partnerships that allow for a seamless continuum of preparation from pre-kindergarten through college. We invite the support of churches, neighborhood associations, civic groups and individuals who are willing to mentor and tutor our students.
We know that parents are the most valuable resource for schools and students, and we celebrate the thousands of parents who stand with us as partners in their child’s education. We offer rich options that allow parents to make educational choices which best fit their child’s needs. We also provide world-class educational facilities, made possible by a generous and committed community that has invested more than $650 million in new and upgraded schools since 2000.
Public school districts across the state will continue to face difficult challenges related to school funding, impacting everything from boundary decisions to staffing levels to program opportunities. However, as I have said since arriving in Wichita more than two years ago, we will not and must not allow dollars to define our district. The challenges are very real, but we must continue applying the filter that asks “Is it good for our students?” Remaining focused on the reply will continue to provide a public education system of which our community can be very proud!