ELLIS — Kansas is at a crossroads in education.
That was the message Monday afternoon to area teachers and administrators at Ellis High School from Randy Watson, Kansas State Department of Education commissioner.
Watson is touring the state giving the results of the community conversations held earlier this year.
KSDE officials initially visited 20 sites, including Hays. After seeing that businesses weren’t represented, officials set up seven additional meetings, mostly with business people. Altogether they received input from 2,000 people.
It was the “largest qualitative (study) ever done in Kansas history.”
Three questions were asked at the conversations meetings.
The first was what are the characteristics, qualities and attributes of a successful 24-year old Kansan.
Secondly what role should K-12 have in developing them, and lastly what role should higher education have?
Results showed that good academic skills and being able to apply knowledge were important, but not more important than some others like good communication, group skills and citizenship. Interpersonal skills such as politeness, being dependable and agreeable also made the list.
The curriculum may be redesigned around individual goals and real life instruction.
It could mean changes in school culture, new roles for counselors and social workers, schools organized around student not systems and more collaboration with businesses including internships and job shadowing.
“So if you go back tomorrow, and put all your eggs in the standardized basket, you are not doing what Kansas wants you to do,” Watson said. “You have the state board and commissioner’s permission to do it.”
Watson said 71 percent of the jobs in 2020 will require something beyond high school, but not necessarily a college degree. That means Kansas education needs to recreate itself.
“We’re not going to get rid of the education we know, but for some kids, it’s not working. We’ve built a system that works for the majority of our kids, and they like it.”
State officials also are discussing how to measure student success — whether it should be according to state standards or local ones.
A new system must be workable in all size school districts.
When Watson brought up the opportunity differences between large urban school districts and smaller districts like those in western Kansas, Palco staff members countered.
With fewer teachers in the district, they get to know students and their families better and for a longer period of time, one teacher in the audience said.
“We are able to differentiate instruction for that kid we know all the way through,’ she said.
“One of the responsibilities I have at the table is to represent you, and I’ve got to represent Palco, and I’ve got to represent Liberal and Garden City,” Sally Cauble, Dodge City, Kansas state board of education member, said.
“We understand the importance of our 1A, 2A and 3A schools more than anybody in the state,” Watson said.