John Allison: Business of Wichita public education factors in human concerns also

03/01/2014 9:47 AM

05/27/2014 9:28 AM

“Schools should operate more like businesses.”

This declaration is one I hear often as I talk about the Wichita Public Schools and public education in general. My response is emphatically that we do model strong business practices through focused, data-driven, creative strategies and have for many years.

Our primary concern is the education of more than 51,000 students that our community’s families entrust to us. Our focus must be “what’s best for Wichita kids” as students continue to come to us in higher numbers, with greater needs and with growing expectations. We balance the human concern with a data-driven analysis of how best to deliver on our promise to the community.

Innovation and focus come as we look at data in our educational decision-making. Our STAT process drives our business forward. We’ve made changes to the school day, classroom instruction, school environments, hiring practices, maintenance work orders and even bus behavior expectations based on STAT reviews.

These changes allow more money to be devoted to schools and classrooms, to the best and brightest instructors being hired and retained in our schools and to instructional time in our classrooms being maximized.

Our analysis has resulted in an intense focus on literacy. In order to create systemic change, you have to understand the foundational drivers of your business.

We know that students from homes of poverty have been exposed to 30 million fewer words than their more affluent peers by the time they enter kindergarten. We know that students from homes of poverty who are nonproficient readers by third grade have a 13 times greater chance of not receiving a high school diploma. We know we have an opportunity to change lives and grow our community by focusing on literacy from the moment a student walks through our doors.

Successful businesses also respond to consumer demands. For 25 years, Wichita families have had educational choices to meet their children’s needs through our magnet school program. This year we have 24 magnet programs at all levels of education. This fall, choice becomes even more relevant through STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) enhancements at five of our magnet schools.

When our students reach high school, innovative career pathways programs provide real-world career exposure. Nearly 75 percent of our high school students take one or more career and technical education classes each year ranging from health care to engineering to culinary arts to communications.

Business leaders advise and guide our work and actively participate in mentoring opportunities in our classrooms to help prepare students for jobs of the future, many of which don’t even exist today.

Our investment in Wichita’s children pays off in the form of higher student proficiency and an increasing graduation rate. Again in 2014, Wichita State University’s top freshman scholarships are going to students in our district. Last year’s graduates were awarded nearly $28 million in college scholarships. Wichita’s students are ready to become our community’s leaders of tomorrow.

Public schools educate more than 90 percent of the children in our country. In Kansas, the Wichita Public Schools educate nearly 11 percent of the students in our state.

The Wichita Metro Chamber’s Leadership Council recognizes the essential role of education and workforce development in a community’s success. Public education must continue to analyze data, invest resources wisely in strategies that work, support our students with a safety net that considers the whole child and prepare all students for a 21st-century future.

Our work can’t be done in isolation. Our business is impacted by environmental factors we can’t control. We accept children as they are when they walk through our doors and invest everything we have in their success.

Whether your interest is in our youngest children becoming proficient readers or our older students having the career mentors and opportunities that will inspire their future, we need you to become involved.

Step up, see first-hand how our business operates, and make a difference for Wichita’s children.

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