The Kansas Association of School Boards on Wednesday made a stop in Garden City to discuss the five new directions of Kansas education, some of which Garden City USD 457 is already implementing, according to KASB officials.

During the visit with KASB officials, USD 457 Superintendent Dr. Steve Karlin discussed what the district is doing locally to improve education.

One of the new directions that was discussed by Bob Gilligan, governmental relations specialist for the KASB, was accountability based on student success. He said the Kansas State Board of Education said schools can no longer base the success of a school district on how students test on a particular day.

Karlin said the state has promoted individual plans of study for students, and USD 457 started that process last school year.

“By the end of this school year, every one of our students (grades) 7 through 12 will have an individual plan of study,” he said.

The nice thing about individual plans of study is that they're flexible, Karlin said.

“They’re (students) not locked into anything, and they can make some choices that they can later change,” he said. “But secondly, we can involve families in those discussions. They will be able to monitor that process and support their children as they go through it.”

The district recently gained access to the National Clearing House, which is a degree and enrollment verification system, and one of the things USD 457 learned with the access is that Garden City High School graduates attend more post-secondary training or placement at a higher level than the Kansas average.

“Now, we still have a lot of work to do because not enough of our kids continue and complete at that post-secondary level, but that’s something we’re going to be working on and focusing on,” Karlin said.

Two other area KASB officials discussed Wednesday were the new school finance formula and new funding to make education work.

In March, the Kansas Supreme Court said Kansas failed to ensure adequate funding for public schools, and lawmakers were given a June 30 deadline to come up with a formula deemed adequate in order for schools not to close. The Supreme Court ruled the the block grant system is unconstitutional and denied academically low-achieving students — about 25 percent of students in the state — an appropriate education.

In June, lawmakers settled on a bill that would reinstate a per-pupil funding formula. The formula is similar to one repealed in 2015 and would provide nearly $195 million in funding for the 2017-18 school year, and an additional $98 million the following year.

Karlin said like other districts in the state, since 2009, USD 457 has had to make reductions in personnel and programs that were effective with students.

The district has three priorities, according to Karlin, which are to include the investment in personnel, research and evidence-based programs.

Karlin said USD 457 wants to have the best possible staff working with students.

In the area of research and evidence-based research, the district implemented the Kansas Reading Roadmap last summer, which targets struggling elementary-level readers. Karlin said that said after looking at data from the first summer of KRR, which is both a summer and after-school program, the district is pleased with the progress.

KRR students improve at a significantly higher rate than non-KRR students when it comes to reading, Karlin said.

“They haven’t passed them. They’re starting from further behind, and there’s a better percentage of growth, and that’s exactly what we want,” he said. “We’re looking at an evidence-based, research-based program that can really make a difference with our kids going forward.”

KRR is grant funded, so USD 457 officials are looking to see if it is something they would like to continue or expand, since grants don’t last forever, Karlin said.

The third priority for USD 457 is reducing the pressure on local property taxpayers. Karlin said state funding didn’t cover a lot of expenses, so a “greater burden” was put on local taxpayers in order to meet the need.

“It’s nice to be able to take a look at an increase in funding coming our way and make sure that we’re supporting our kids and families going forward,” he said. “Whether the funding will be enough to accomplish all of those things, we’ll see, but we certainly believe we’re heading in the right direction, and we’re in a whole lot better shape today than we were two years ago.”

Karlin also discussed kindergarten readiness within the district and the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) system. AVID was implemented at GCHS about six years ago, and now the district is looking into implementing it at the middle schools. AVID is a a college readiness system that accelerates student learning, uses research-based methods of effective instruction, provides meaningful and motivational professional learning, and acts as a catalyst for systemic reform and change, according to its website.

Gilligan also discussed new models for innovation and improvement.

One of the ways the KDE is adopting new models for innovation is through a a program that will be launched this school year, dubbed the Mercury 7. Seven school districts throughout the state applied for the program, and a secondary and elementary school from each of the selected districts will spend the next school year working on a proposed redesign of education in the state of Kansas to help all students succeed. According to the KASB, the redesign will be around the five major outcomes identified by the State Board of Education — local social/emotional growth, kindergarten readiness, individual plans of study focused on career interest, high school graduation rates and post-secondary completion/attendance.

Gilligan said Garden City USD 457 is already ahead of the game on implementing the new vision for Kansas education.

“I’ll give credit to Dr. Karlin and the Board of Education for doing that,” he said.

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