Education conference to push goals for improving schools, student development

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – School and state leaders are in town this week to discuss the future of Kansas education.

It’s the annual Kansas Department of Education (KSDE) conference and this year’s motto is “Kansas can.”

At last year’s conference the board launched a new vision.

The presentation, “A Look Forward at Kansas Education” will dive into the vision the board set at the last conference: Kansas leads the world in the success of each student. This year, the board hopes to take that vision and look at steps to make it a reality.

KSN spoke with Randy Watson, the Kansas education commissioner, who says they expect around 1,000 people at the conference, all teachers, principals, superintendents and business leaders from around the state.

“Over the last year the state board has put together a new definition of what a successful high school graduate looks like and they’ve established five outcomes to measure that vision,” Watson said.

The first of those outcomes is kindergarten readiness, which Watson explains means establishing a universal screener that would be given to kindergarten staff to figure out how many students are arriving ready for kindergarten.

In areas where they see gaps, they plan to work with the community to help.

Second, the board wants to establish a plan of study in the middle school to figure out what students are passionate about and then design programs based off those passions.

Third, they want to make sure every student graduates high school.

Along with that, make sure every student has the opportunity to get a post-secondary education after high school.

Finally, they’d like to take into account students’ social and emotional needs.

“We’re just going to roll up our sleeves and start working hard on how we can implement the vision and how we can really lead the world in the success of each student,” Watson said.

KSN wanted to know how recent arguments over school funding could affect the board’s mission.

Watson said anytime there’s arguments over funding it has an impact on the conference but they’re just trying to move forward and make a difference in kids’ lives.

“Funding certainly has to come into play but our conference is going to be about helping every family and student,” he said.

But he also says there’s two things that set Kansas apart from other states.

The first, Watson said, is that the board actually went out and asked Kansans what they want from their educational system.

It took about 18 months, making it the largest qualitative study ever done in Kansas, Watson said.

The second reason, Watson said, is that the board is doing all of this regardless of any state or federal directive.

“What Kansans told us is exactly what the state board went and developed and we went back out in fact, to Kansans, and said, ‘did we get this right?’ and they said that we did so now we’re actually going to put that plan in place,” Watson said.

The KSDE conference will start today, Tuesday, Oct. 25 from 8:30 a.m. to noon at the Hyatt Regency and Century II.

At today’s general session, Brandon Busteed, with Gallup will be the keynote speaker.

Mitch Holthus, voice of the Kansas City Chiefs, will be the keynote speaker during Wednesday’s closing session.