Archive for Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Letter to the editor: Resident encourages community involvement in Shawnee Mission

September 12, 2017

To the editor:

Shawnee Mission, like many suburban communities, is facing a growing poverty challenge. Recent news reports have detailed the rapidly changing environment facing our children and families. Our schools have seen the number of students enrolled in free and reduced lunch programs increase from 9 percent to 36 percent. Even among the other Johnson County suburban communities, Shawnee Mission has experienced the highest increase in poverty since the recession. Indeed, Shawnee Mission’s experience reflects national trends that have seen the number of people living in suburbs struggling with poverty outpace the number of people living in poverty in cities.

For more than 50 years I have been proud to call Shawnee Mission my home. Both of my children are products of the Shawnee Mission school system and have benefitted greatly from the excellent start they received here in our community. As a parent and committed community member, I served Shawnee Mission as in several capacities with the Shawnee Mission Education Foundation and in local, council and state PTA leadership for many years. I believe strongly in the ability of an involved community to have a significant impact on the quality of local schools and the educational experience of our students.

As we continue to face the growing challenges caused by poverty in our community, we should consider the role of wrap-around services and student supports. These types of services help students and their families face the challenges caused by poverty and support them in their efforts to overcome these challenges. Students who are hungry, hurting, tired or scared cannot focus on the educational experiences our dedicated teachers work so hard to provide. These programs help students and families build the skills and capacity needed to overcome these challenges and efficiently connect struggling families with existing community resources. Helping our schools effectively deal with the growing challenges created by poverty is crucial if we want to deliver on the closely held community values of optimism, independence and opportunity that make us who we are.

Over the next few months, the Shawnee Mission School District will engage in a comprehensive search to identify the school leader best suited to lead our schools during these trying times. As we consider issues that need to rise to the top of priority lists for the new superintendent, I encourage us to consider increasing our commitment to wrap-around services and student supports.

For many years, I have been a board member of a regional nonprofit organization known as Communities In Schools of Mid-America. This organization is committed to delivering student supports in partner schools to assist school staff and local communities in their efforts to break the cycles of poverty threatening local stability and long-term prosperity. Communities In Schools provides one of the most effective models of student supports based on numerous evaluations that consistently reveal that this approach helps create environments where teachers can teach and students can learn.

I encourage you to learn more about the challenges our families, students and schools are facing as the number of people living in poverty in our community continues to rise. There are things we can do together to build the capacity to overcome these challenges. Becoming involved in the search for a new superintendent and voicing support for wrap-around services and student supports in our schools is a great place to start.

Laura Glover Kaiser,

Overland Park

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