Thursday, October 31, 2019

Grandview Shows Slight Progress in Performance

by Mary Wilson

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) released statewide Annual Performance (APR) Reports last week, providing districts with data and insight into how they are performing against state standards. The information was released publicly at 12:01 a.m. on the day of the Grandview School District’s Board of Education meeting, giving staff just a few hours to prepare to present the information to its governing body on Thursday, October 17.

“In the past, we were all given a percentage and the districts were all ranked,” said Superintendent Dr. Kenny Rodrequez. “We were told what that percentage was and we went through a variety of things to talk about how those points were calculated. Hearing from different superintendents in different districts about how the test was changed several times, that number became less useful.”

This year, DESE has removed that overall percentage score for districts. In the past, the Grandview School District released their overall score as well as the scores for each individual school.

“I felt like if I had done that, it probably would have given even more confusion than clarity,” said Rodrequez. “It gives us an opportunity to show what the scores look like, what our performance actually is, and how that compares from previous years, though it won’t be about the overall score.”

Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Dr. Joana King said that getting past the fact that there’s not a percentage point to grade them, she feels as though the latest data provides more valuable information to the district.

“We can see exactly where we are and see exactly what our achievements are in each area,” said King.

The districts in the state are evaluated on five standards: academic achievement, subgroup achievement, college and career readiness, attendance and graduation rates. These are the same standards DESE has used in recent years for performance data.

“Last year, 90.2% of the points were earned in our district, and it was very easy for people to rank us, even though there really isn’t a true correlation between districts,” said Scott Sisemore, Grandview’s director of instructional technology. “What was released this year is a little more chaotic.”

In order to make sense of the chaos, Sisemore indicated that DESE has issued growth expectation, status expectation and progress expectations, using the same formulas as in the past. Growth indicates change in achievement scores in students over time. Status expectation is the status that reflects the measurement of the school’s level of achievement based upon a three-year average. Progress indicates the measurement of annual improvement on state assessments.

“The three-year average is actually the easiest way for us to compare where we are to the previous years,” said Sisemore.

In academic achievement, the district is exceeding; while in mathematics, the district is not currently meeting the measures according to the state. However, with the information based on the three-year average, DESE states that a comparison of proficiency rates across years is not advisable. The assessments in 2018 and 2019 are comparable, while the test administered in 2017 was not.

“Because the 2017 assessment was different than what we took in 2018, you’ll notice a pretty big difference in scores,” said Sisemore. “It looks like we dropped quite a bit, but it was actually completely different assessments and the state is saying we cannot compare the two.”

This makes the three-year average that DESE has calculated skewed. The best way for districts across the state to determine how they are doing is to only look at the 2018 and 2019 data. Grandview shows a slight increase in achievement in ELA (English language arts) between 2018 and 2019, with about one percentage point of students who are scoring in proficient and advanced. In mathematics, the district shows a moderate increase in achievement.

“This is certainly not something that we are celebrating, but it is a positive indicator that we see some growth in math,” said Sisemore. “While we are still below the state average, we have made a little bit of improvement over the year.”

Subgroup achievement includes the district’s traditionally underserved students, including those with individualized education plans (IEP), free and reduced lunch rates, English language learners (ELL) and minority students. These students are all lumped together to measure their performance against the district. Sisemore said that their APR was very similar to that of the district’s.

“Our ELL students are actually out-performing the district,” said King. “A lot will say that they will not be able to perform as well as everyone else, and we are proving that wrong.”

The standards in college and career readiness have not changed. The district shows positive trends in the area of advanced placement classes, as the opportunities for students to take dual-credit courses has increased. Sisemore said that they should see results in college and career readiness continue to rise moving forward.

According to Sisemore, attendance is a concern for the district. In 2018, the district was at 86.1% for attendance, and in 2019, that percentage dropped to 83.3%. This decrease has been steady for the last few years. The state standard is 90% of students attending school 90% of the time. School principals are working to implement different incentives across the district to help increase the number of students in class.

The state calculates a four, five and seven-year graduation rate, though Sisemore says the most important rate to look at is the four-year rate. This is the number of students who should have been seniors last year that graduated. In 2018, the district’s graduation rate was at 86%. In 2019, the rate increased slightly to 86.4%. Although Sisemore said that this is not what the district wants, the state shows Grandview on-track in comparison to other districts.

“How do we continue to improve year after year when things continue to change for us? Now we finally have two consecutive years of the exact same test results to be able to show,” said Rodrequez. “We learned a lot last year. But, we got the results last year in February, and then our students took another test in April. We’re still learning a lot about the standards, but we’re very pleased that we now have two years, and this year will finally be the third year in a row that we can start measuring. We actually have an entire year to learn from the information that we received.”

The 2019 APR will be complete upon the release of science data on November 23, which was not available last week. Statewide, while data in English language arts and mathematics remained fairly stable between the 2018 and 2019 data, four and five-year graduation rates for nearly all subgroups continued to see an increase. Gaps continued to close specifically with English learners in academics, continuing a trend of recent years with increased scores for that demographic.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Community Members Hope to Save The Paseo


Initiative Petition on November 5 Ballot



by Mary Wilson

Kellie Jones has lived on The Paseo for over 10 years. This year, however, her beloved community has been forced to alter, as the City Council approved a name change from The Paseo to Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.
“I didn’t want this change,” said Jones. “When people hear Martin Luther King, of course they want to support that. It’s not about Martin Luther King. This is about the process. We want to honor him, just not in this way. You don’t see streets change like this. You just don’t. This is a huge change, and if you’re going to do it, you need to make sure you do it the right way. And, that just wasn’t done.”
Jones wasn’t alone. In fact, many of her neighbors in the community weren’t pleased with the name change either.
“It is, inevitably, the most historic boulevard in Kansas City,” said local historian and educator Diane Euston.
In the late 1890s, when the Kansas City Parks Department was created, according to Euston, August Meyer wanted to ensure that beautification of the city was a priority. Meyer hired George Kessler, a famous German architect, to help with design, and the first section of The Paseo was established from Independence Ave. to 17th Street.
“Paseo was his best creation,” said Euston. “He was so proud of that design. August Meyer, of course, has a boulevard named after him, and he was responsible for the naming of The Paseo. As a historian, I value the history and cultural significance in the city. This is cross-cultural. The Paseo doesn’t just mean a lot to historians, it means a lot to people who grew up there and are a part of that neighborhood. It is so uniquely Kansas City. I mean, it has a ‘the’ in front of it, which makes it so unique.”
The first fountain in Kansas City was placed on The Paseo in 1899. In the early 1900s, The Paseo was extended to Brush Creek. After a handful more extensions, further beautification and updates, in 1975, the Parks Board was given the authority to honor individuals with street names who make significant contributions to the city.
Euston explained that a group of ministers with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) began to talk about potentially changing the name of The Paseo back in the 1980s, though nothing happened at that time. There is a process, Euston said, that Kansas City follows for naming or renaming streets, and boulevards, while they don’t fall under control of the government, are left up to the Parks Board to decide.
“The last time, I believe, that a boulevard was renamed in Kansas City, it was for Emanuel Cleaver,” said Euston. “When that happened, they actually only changed part of the boulevard in order to maintain the historic significance of Brush Creek and 47th Street.”
In August of 2016, the National Register of Historic Places honored the Kansas City Parks and Boulevard system and included The Paseo to 18th Street as part of a historic district. That same year, the SCLC approached the Parks Board about renaming The Paseo, but they were turned down due to the boulevard’s historical significance. In 2018, then Kansas City Mayor Sly James formed the MLK Advisory Group to determine the best options to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the city.
The MLK Advisory Group’s top two recommendations were to honor Dr. King with either the airport naming or renaming 63rd Street. The Paseo was third on that list. Out of the street names, 63rd Street was recommended by six of nine advisory groups’ votes. In October of 2018, former Councilman Scott Taylor’s Revive the East Side proposal included a provision to rename The Paseo for Dr. King, allocating up to $750,000 to do so. That plan was eventually approved by the City Council, but only after removing The Paseo naming provision from the ordinance.
However, despite efforts by community groups, the City Council voted 8-4 on January 24 of this year to rename The Paseo for Dr. King. Nearly 10 miles of road were changed from The Paseo to Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., with the first signs being replaced in February. On March 15, an initiative petition, started by five residents along The Paseo including Jones, began circulating the community. The petitioners would need 1,706 signatures from Kansas City, Missouri voters to put the issue out to the voters.
“I just did not want this change,” said Jones. “We are just regular people who feel like this isn’t right. I don’t like it and I want to be heard. Throughout this whole process, I haven’t been heard. Not only was my voice not heard, but as I started to reach out to my neighbors, I realized it wasn’t just me who felt this way.”
Jones overwhelmingly heard from her community the same thoughts she had: where was the engagement? How was the city council able to push this issue through without talking to the people who live on The Paseo?
“When I started learning more about the process that this name change went through, it enraged me,” said Jones. “Especially being a constituent, a voter and a person who has a vested interest, I felt so dismissed.”
The grassroots petitioners, named Save The Paseo, began engaging their community for support. The group garnered 2,857 signatures, over 1,000 more than required for the issue to appear on the ballot for the November 5 special election. When the petition was filed and approved for placement on the ballot, work on changing The Paseo over to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. stopped.
“We can honor Dr. King and we can keep Paseo,” said Jones. “Most people want to honor him, and they really don’t care if it’s Paseo. As a person of color who lives on Paseo, I feel ignored. They didn’t even acknowledge me. People were relieved to have someone come talk to them and give them a voice. We elected these people to do a job, and we are going to hold them accountable.”
Euston said that the Save The Paseo group understands their work is not complete on November 5. If the name change reversal passes, she said she feels as though another committee needs to be established to determine how best to honor Dr. King in the city.
“We want to be a part of that conversation,” said Euston. “We want the SCLC to be a part of that conversation. Let’s work together. This is not over, and we know that.”
Despite whatever outcome may prevail on November 5, Jones said she is proud to have worked with the group, as it has united people from across the city of all races, cultures and backgrounds.
“People really got behind this issue,” said Jones. “We made people think and listen. The next time the city goes to do something, maybe they’ll think of the Save The Paseo group. You know, Dr. King wanted to unite people, and we have done that; we have become united. But I think they’ll think twice about just pushing something through without having engagement and we would be successful in that.”
“We represent what Dr. King stood for,” added Euston. “The whole idea of uniting and shaking hands and working together, that’s what makes this all totally worth it. I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve met so many amazing people that I wouldn’t have met otherwise.”
The initiative petition for changing the name of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. back to The Paseo Blvd. will appear as question five on the ballot for Kansas City, Missouri voters on November 5: Shall the City of Kansas City change the name of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., which is approximately 9.98 miles in length from the center line of Lexington Avenue south and east to a point south of the center line of East 85th Street, back to The Paseo Boulevard?

Friday, October 11, 2019

City to Purchase Property for Road and Railroad Improvements



by Stephanie A. Wilken

A local public works project originally proposed several years ago is expected to move forward, making way for a widened road and new railroad overpass; but this time around, the property involved is 60 percent off its original sale price.

The Grandview Board of Aldermen will consider the purchase of a 4.2 acre strip of land where the Kansas City Southern Railroad crosses Blue Ridge Boulevard. The project is expected to improve transportation in the area, and there will also be an opportunity for developers to propose new ideas for the remaining unused area.

The Blue Ridge Boulevard Railroad Overpass Replacement Project, or Blue Ridge Bridge Project, dates back to 2014. Grandview previously attempted to purchase the property through condemnation, a process where the city would have compensated the owner for the property intended for public use. Through that process, both the city and the former owner had appraisals done. The city obtained an appraisal of $591,450 and the former owner obtained a higher appraisal. Officials at the time did not pursue the purchase due to cost.

Today, The Land Trust of Jackson County controls the property after its former owner defaulted on taxes, and will sell it to the city for $236,566, a 60 percent reduction from the city’s appraisal. 

“Sometimes patience is good,” said Grandview Mayor Leonard Jones.

Grandview Attorney Joe Gall and Public Works Director Dennis Randolph presented the proposed purchase to the Board of Aldermen at a work session Tuesday, October. 1.

“We think they are treating us very fairly and think this is a really good opportunity to buy this property,” Gall said. “And we’re recommending that the Board move to do that.”

The Blue Ridge Bridge Project is part of the Mid‐ America Regional Council’s long range transportation plan. According to a 2014 Grandview Public Works document, the plan calls for this section of Blue Ridge Boulevard to be widened to four lanes, but the older railroad overpass makes that impossible.

In documents accompanying the work session Oct. 1, city officials outlined that the project will be funded by $3,567,500 in grants from the Federal Railroad Administration, an amount that makes up fifty percent of the projected $7,135,000 construction costs. City staff negotiated cost-share agreement with the railroad for it to pay the city 51,783,750, representing half of its match to the grant funds. The city would purchase the 4.2 acres from the Land Trust with cash from transportation sales tax revenue, and therefore would not pay any interest on the deal.

The project will also open up the remainder of the space to become something else. Staff recommended the Board later consider a request for proposals for developers to pitch ideas for the area that will be undeveloped after the project is complete. They would then select from those proposals and sell the remaining property to a developer.

“We already know of two different entities that are interested in the property,” Randolph said, adding that a number of communities use a developer proposal process for this type of project. “It’s a nice piece of property if it’s cleaned up … it has nice potential for us.”

The Board was scheduled to vote at its October 8 regular meeting on approval of the purchase of the property.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Hometown Newspaper Receives Statewide Recognition



The Jackson County Advocate, Grandview and South Kansas City’s locally-owned hometown newspaper since 1953, remains an award-winning news source. The paper received recognition on Saturday, September 28, at the Missouri Press Association’s annual Better Newspaper Awards luncheon, held at the VooDoo Lounge at Harrah’s North Kansas City Hotel and Casino.

Editor Mary Wilson received two first place awards for best story about history (Forgotten Cemetery) and best story about religion (Flourish Furnishings). She also received second place in best story about rural life or agriculture, and best coverage of government; third place in best business story, and best news or feature series; and honorable mention in best coverage of government. Former sports editor Brent Kalwei received third place in best sports feature story; and honorable mention in best sports feature story, and best sports news story or package.

“Of course, we don’t do what we do for the awards,” said Wilson. “But, being recognized for a job well done is always nice and is very much appreciated. I love what I do. I love being able to tell the stories of the community; your stories. I love getting to know the people and places in my hometown, and I love uncovering the nitty gritty when necessary, too.”

The Better Newspaper Awards are part of an annual contest, put on by the Missouri Press Foundation. The Advocate, a member of the Missouri Press Association, has won numerous awards in this statewide contest over the years. Wilson also currently serves on the association’s Board of Directors.

Red Bridge Library Opens



by Stephanie A. Wilken 

Moving 60,300 books is no small feat.

And even though the new Red Bridge Branch of the Mid-Continent Public Library System (MCPL) is located just feet from the old one, moving that collection of books is still a massive undertaking.
The 24 employees at the branch have spent the last month packing those 60,300 books into crates, with books packed tightly so they wouldn’t be damaged in the move. With 130 crates in all, adult fiction totaled 38 crates alone.

Together, they worked more than 1,500 hours to get the job done. And patrons got a chance to see all that hard work September 24, when MCPL opened its new Red Bridge Branch to the public.

Hundreds of visitors lined the street forming a book brigade as employees opened the doors to the now former branch and selected the last of the books from a lonely, last shelf the only thing remaining in the old branch. From little hands to big hands, the books were passed to their new home: A 14,352 square foot modern facility that includes new meeting spaces, a community room and updated technology alongside the previous collection of books.

“We’re so excited to welcome our customers to this incredible new building, which we think will be a tremendous resource for residents of South Kansas City,” said Sherry Bridges, Red Bridge Branch Manager. “The resources and amenities now available at the Library’s Red Bridge Branch better reflect what customers expect and deserve from a 21st century library.”

The new branch is also 2,300 square feet larger and has a new outdoor patio (with WiFi extended outside), lighting designed to mimic natural sunlight, a family restroom and a wellness room, where patrons can have a moment of privacy.

The plan began 14 months ago and included a team of 10 library district employees along with five architects and designers. Renovation began on the new location in January of 2019 – and there’s a purposeful holdover from the previous occupant, a bowling alley: The stairs leading from the reception area down to the main collection are the stairs that once led down to the lanes. Today, the bright, light wood has seating incorporated throughout, creating embankments where customers can relax, kick back and utilize the space for anything from reading a book to using one of the six new laptops and laptop desks.

The former branch opened in 1987, and since then, the services that people need and want have evolved. Other technology upgrades include five new TV monitors and eight public desktop computers.

MCPL Public Relations Coordinator Emily Brown said these new features are the result of public comment. The district reached out to its users through online surveys and public meetings. And the answer was clear: More technology and intentional spaces.

“We really wanted to make sure we are providing the types of things each individual community needs and wants to see,” Brown said. “People use the library a lot differently than they did back then; they actually want to come in and stay, use it as co-working space, study space, and use the Wi-Fi.”

It’s not just about books, Bridges said. Today, patrons want and expect those modern features.

“Serving people through technology is a big part of our services,” she said.

The move to open the new Red Bridge Branch is part of a $113 million capital improvement plan that will upgrade many locations throughout the district. The funding was made possible by increased funding from the passage of Proposition L by voters in 2016. The Red Bridge branch serves an estimated 41,000 customers, with the district serving more than 800,000.

“Every branch will be touched in some way,” Brown said, adding that two new branches, one in Lee’s Summit and one in Independence, will break ground soon.

The library is located at 453 Red Bridge Rd. in the Red Bridge Shopping Center in Kansas City, Missouri. For more information, visit https://www.mymcpl.org/locations/red-bridge.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Rocking the Kindness


Area elementary school students decorate kindness rocks to spread throughout community


by Mary Wilson

Stomp. Stomp. Clap. Stomp. Stomp. Clap. Stomp. Stomp. Clap. “We will, we will, rock you! We will, we will, rock you,” could be heard throughout the halls of one school last Friday, September 13, as students embarked on a journey to send a message of kindness, one little rock at a time.

At Meadowmere Elementary School in Grandview, kindness rocks. Students from kindergarten through fifth grade spent the afternoon last week painting small rocks with thoughtful, kind and inspirational messages on them in hopes to cheer up a stranger’s day. The rocks will be strategically placed throughout the Grandview School District boundaries, including parks, businesses, schools, or churches.

“Meadowmere rocks because each student is so kind, courageous, and respectful,” said art teacher Adryan Steinberg.

When kindness rocks are found, the recipients will find instructions on the back which ask them to take a photo with the rock and post the photo onto the Meadowmere Rocks Facebook page. The person who finds the rock, after posting online, is then instructed to place the rock in a different location for another to find. Teachers will be tracking when posts are made online and informing their students of when their rocks are found.

Students headed to various creation stations throughout the building, making up what Steinberg called “Kindness Crews.” Every student in the building, along with visitors, painted a kindness rock. Once finished, each rock was coated with a shellac and set out to dry.

The Kindness Rocks Project is a national movement which began when one woman lost both of her parents and was looking for some sort of sign or message that she was doing things the right way. Megan Murphy, as the creator of the project, determined that whenever she saw a heart-shaped rock, it was from her dad; whenever she saw a piece of sea glass, it was from her mom.

“When I would find one, I would feel like I was really being supported,” Murphy said. Those were the moments that I really felt something bigger than myself. But, through this process, I realized that the answers lied within me.”

She ended up taking a marker with her to the beach and wrote messages on rocks. That first day, she left five rocks. That evening, a friend texted her and sent her a picture of a rock with a motivational message on it she had found on the beach.

“I didn’t tell anybody I was doing it,” Murphy said. “It was really odd. She said to me, ‘if you did drop this rock, it made my day.’ I thought, ‘okay, I have something here.’”

Murphy’s message of kindness has spread, and it’s now made its way to Grandview through students at Meadowmere Elementary School. Should you find one in the community, take a picture, and post it to Facebook with the instructions that are fastened to the underside of the kindness rock.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Grandview shooting range nearing completion


by Mary K. Wilson

The Grandview Board of Aldermen got the first glimpses of the soon-to-be-open shooting range. The facility will be the first of its kind in the metro, with a mission to become a unique destination for a safe and affordable place for gun owners to shoot outdoors.

On Thursday, September 5, the Aldermen were able to experience first-hand what the range will look and sound like when it opens. A business plan, which includes a partnership between the Grandview Parks and Recreation and the Grandview Police departments, was also recently discussed during a work session. Parks and Rec Director Sue Yerkes said that the process will likely change several times, as they learn how to operate a shooting range.

“Quite frankly, we don’t have any other parks and recreation departments to lean on for this information,” Yerkes said. “We have conservation areas that we have viewed and visited, and we have visited and talked with private entities, but this is a first as far as parks and recreation partnering with a police department for a quasi-public shooting range.”

There are only two other outdoor shooting ranges within a 50-mile radius of Grandview, of which, only one, according to Yerkes, would be viewed as direct competition. The Lake City Shooting Range, located in Independence, offers rifle, pistol, trap and skeet, and archery at $4 per hour.

“We are of the opinion that the project’s recreation market area is a 25-mile radius,” Yerkes said. “We know that we are not going to make a lot of money the first year or two. Our anticipation is to at least break even by year three.”

Building a safe environment and garnering the trust of the public in developing a robust program at the range will be priority. Grandview police will serve as range masters, with Honeywell serving as a second priority for training access behind the police department. The facility has opportunities for rental, concessions, and lane rental fees at $7 per hour.

“We realize that is different than others in the area,” said Yerkes. “This is something different and something special, so we’re okay with charging seven dollars.”

A December 2019 soft opening for the public is anticipated; however, due to grant funding, the shooting range is required to be opened for police department training by Sept. 30. Funding was also provided by Honeywell to help with office space and classroom renovation.