A focus on both college and career readiness. More investment in resources and staff. Helping students develop mentally and socially -- not just academically.
Those are some of the top desires Superintendent Alicia Thompson heard during 20 listening sessions with students, parents and district employees. She summarized and presented those comments to the district’s school board Monday night.
The comments are meant to guide the district as it creates a new strategic plan, which will be worked on for the remainder of the school year before it’s released in June.
Many of the public comments praised the district’s current career preparation programs and expressed a desire for more. The district utilizes AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), a college readiness program, and comments called for the program’s expansion.
"There are so many choices that it gets overwhelming," said one comment. Personal identification information of people who commented was removed by the district.
"If my child doesn't get into a Magnet School, I want to know that all schools are going to be academically challenging and my student will be ready for college when he graduates," read the comment.
There’s also a desire for not just college readiness, but for career preparation as well. Gov. Jeff Colyer is pushing to allow more students to take college courses while still in high school.
"We heard very clear not all of our kids will go to college,” Thompson said. “And that’s fine, but we want you to prepare them to be ready to go. But we also want you to make sure they have an option and a choice to choose to go into a career."
One of the top complaints revolves around one word — behavior.
"BEHAVIOR intervention!!" wrote one employee, who added the capitalization and extra punctuation.
"You can not get to the academic until you deal with the discipline," the employee added. "It is keeping teachers from teaching and students from learning."
Behavior shows up more than 200 times in the published comments. Behavior has been a growing issue — so much so that the district created an "elementary trauma team."
In addition to calls for zero tolerance and stricter enforcement, intervention by social workers, counselors and psychologists also was brought up. But all three of those jobs are facing shortages in Kansas.
There have been recent pushes in Topeka to hire more counselors and psychologists, but universities are struggling to train new mental health support workers as fast as they’re retiring.
Thompson noted that the district’s teachers were held in high regard during her listening sessions. But the district — and state — is facing a teacher shortage as well, with multiple teaching positions still open. Enrollment at Wichita State University’s College of Education was up about 8 percent this school year, though that is not thought to be enough to solve the teacher shortage across the state.
Several commenters were concerned that teachers were not receiving enough support.
"Teacher morale," wrote one commenter. "This needs to be addressed and urgently or many veteran teachers will continue to leave the district."
And while Thompson said communication was generally considered a positive, the district needs to do a better job explaining why certain policies or actions are being taken.
“Teachers sometimes want to know the why,” Thompson said. “We come and we bring lots of things to people and sometimes people don’t really know why we’re doing it."
All of the comments from Thompson’s listening session are available on the district’s website.
Stephan Bisaha is an education reporter for KMUW’s Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KMUW, Kansas Public Radio, KCUR and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. Follow him on Twitter @SteveBisaha.