School district faces many challenges

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Opinion column

by Murrel Bland

One of the most significant challenges for the Kansas City, Kansas, School District is that nearly 9,000 of its 21,000 students do not speak English.

That was the message that Dr. Alicia Miguel brought to a meeting of the Congressional Forum Friday, Feb. 19, via Zoom. About 45 persons attended. Miguel is interim superintendent of the school district. Another challenge is that 83 percent of the district students qualify for reduced or free meals.

Dr. Alicia Miguel

And then there is the challenge of the coronavirus pandemic including the high cost of providing masks and partitions for student desks. Federal funds helped pay for $8 million of that cost; the district hopes more federal funds will come during the next three years.

Another challenge is that many of the students do not have access to the internet for distance learning. To help solve that problem, the district developed connectivity centers.

Dr. Miguel praised the cooperation of the Unified Government’s Health Department in providing vaccinations for the district’s staff. So far about 2,200 members of the staff have been vaccinated.

The Kansas City, Kansas, district has a graduation rate of 69 percent—something that Dr. Miguel says must improve.

The cost of educating students is very expensive in Kansas City, Kansas—more than $17,000 a student, according to the district’s website. When many district students who do graduate show up at Kansas City Kansas Community College, they lack basic skills in areas such as mathematics and reading.

Joe Vaught, a member of the Congressional Forum and a Realtor, suggested the district invite real estate agents to visit schools to help improve its image.

Edwin Birch, the spokesman for the district, touted the various things it does to inform the public including a direct mail newsletter and its cable television channel. Birch is a former spokesman for the Unified Government.

Dr. Miguel said she is opposed to bills in the Kansas Legislature that provide public money for tuition to private schools. Private schools would not be accountable, she said.

Dr. Miguel said students will return to classrooms starting with a select group of grade school and senior high students Monday, Feb. 22; a select group of middle school students Monday, March 1; and early childhood students Monday, April 5. Many students returning Feb. 22 and March 1 have had connectivity problems that affected remote learning.

Dr. Miguel, a native of Argentina, was the district’s executive director of early childhood education before becoming interim superintendent.

The Congressional Forum is part of the Kansas City, Kansas, Area Chamber of Commerce.

Murrel Bland is former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press. He is executive director of Business West. Opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of this publication.

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