Thursday, December 14, 2017

Grandview leads the way in STEM education

Project Lead the Way President and CEO Vince Bertram discusses the impact his program has made on districts across the country. On the panel discussion with him are: Zakery Smith, Belvidere 4th grade student; Brenda Naranjo, Grandview High School PLTW student; Chianti Harris, Grandview High School PLTW student; Josiah Scott, Grandview High School PLTW student; Patti Lindquist, Grandview High School PLTW teacher; Michael Smith, 5th grade PLTW Launch student at Belvidere; and Tyler Stolberg, Launch Lead Teacher at Belvidere.

by Mary Wilson

Elementary classrooms look much different today than they did 30, 15, or five years ago. A glimpse inside Tyler Stolberg’s fifth grade classroom at Belvidere Elementary in the Grandview School District will not show students at their desks in rows, the teacher standing at the front of the class while students take notes as he lectures, or even a traditional chalkboard.

Stolberg’s room, to the untrained eye, may seem like complete chaos. Some students are standing in small groups around their desks; others are lounging on a rug in a corner. IPads are powered on and students are loudly engaged in their assignment, while Stolberg mills his way around (and over some), to help answer and guide the students in their project.

Three years ago, Stolberg began integrating Project Lead the Way (PLTW) into his fifth-grade classroom. He began with two launch modules, infection detection and energy and collisions. The next year, he added a third module, and the district added two more teachers to launch the program in their classrooms alongside Stolberg. His students have outperformed the district average in testing scores.

“I’ve kept adding to it from there,” said Stolberg. “It’s really been blossoming and our students are getting great opportunities from it. Not only is it a part of my science curriculum, but now, with what we’re doing in the classroom, it’s a part of our entire curriculum. We’re tying it into everything.”

The Grandview C-4 School District prides itself on being a leader in innovative teaching and learning practices in all classrooms.  In fact, the district was one of the first in the area to implement Project Lead the Way; and by the 2018-19 school year, PLTW will be expanded into all schools and implemented at every grade level. The PLTW Launch program empowers students to adopt a design-thinking mindset through compelling activities, projects, and problems that build upon each other and relate to the world around them. It allows students to engage in hands-on activities in computer science, engineering, and biomedical science.

“The district’s commitment to PLTW is more than 10 years in the making,” said Grandview C-4 Superintendent Dr. Kenny Rodrequez. “PLTW has provided additional opportunities for all of our students to have engaging classroom environments where they can solve real world problems while critically thinking and collaborating with each other.”

On Thursday, December 7, PLTW President and CEO Vince Bertram toured Belvidere, visiting the district’s innovation classrooms, which are designed to provide out-of-the box instruction to students.
PLTW, now in its 20th year of operation, is a nonprofit organization which focuses on the belief that all students, of every age, need access to real-world, applied learning experiences that empower them to gain the skills they need to thrive in college, career, and beyond. Upon hearing of the program, Bertram, a principal at the time, implemented it into his own school.

“Within a year, we had 300 students in Project Lead the Way,” said Bertram. “I discovered, as a young principal, that students were dropping out of school simply because they were bored and school wasn’t relevant. I saw something really powerful.”

In 2011, Bertram took the lead position for the PLTW organization, with a goal to expand the program and transform education in the country. To date, roughly 300,000 students in 2,000 schools are impacted by Project Lead the Way programming this school year. The program is seeing tremendous growth and positive results from each district using it.

“We have teachers across the country that believe in this work and have created regional collaborations of this model,” said Bertram. “I think it’s that vision, from a regional perspective, that shows why this work really matters. It’s about amazing teachers. When we can put that combination together and provide relevant curriculum and professional development, we can do great things.”

Bertram said that the PLTW mission and goal is to make the program available to every student in America. Project Lead the Way promotes, according to Bertram, a great K-12 experience that, in turn, leads to a great adult life.

“The relevancy of what students are learning today matters for a lifetime,” said Bertram. “You don’t learn math so you can take a test. You learn math so you can solve real-world problems. You learn science to apply it in the real world. There is a greater purpose in all of this.”

When Rodrequez became superintendent in Grandview, he told his staff that if certain programs were available to students at one school, he wants those same programs available at all schools. The plan was to implement PLTW Launch for fifth graders at one school, and then expand and build it into other schools in the district.

“We want every one of our students to have the opportunity to be exposed to the Project Lead the Way modules,” said Rodrequez. “This is what we consider to be the best in education. The kids deserve that. They love it; it is engaging and teaches them a lot of different things that we can’t quantify in other areas.”

Rodrequez said that PLTW is working in the district thanks to the teachers who have embraced the programming. Recently, the Grandview School District was recognized by Project Lead the Way for offering STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) classes to all students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Grandview is one of 45 districts in the state to be designated a 100-percent access district by PLTW.

Monday, December 11, 2017

MoDOT sees continued challenge with current transportation funding

by Mary Wilson

Missouri Department of Transportation’s budgetary shortfalls have been no secret over the last several years, with attempts at tax increases turned down by voters and creative planning processes for additional revenue on the table. However, MoDOT area engineer Matt Killion told members of the Grandview and South Kansas City Chambers of Commerce last Friday that they’re making the most of their current funds.

“Transportation funding continues to be a long-term challenge here in Missouri,” said Killion. “We’ve, in a way, leveled out. We’re in good shape to maintain what we have today in the condition it is today.”

Missouri has the seventh largest road system in the nation, but is number 47 in terms of dollars-per-mile funding. The state’s fuel tax has not seen an increase since 1996. The average Missouri driver pays about $30 per month in state and federal fuel taxes and fees. When commercial motor vehicle fees and federal general revenue transfers for transportation are included, the average climbs to $48 per month. After distributions to other entities that are required by law, and payment of debt, MoDOT receives less than 60 percent of these funds to design, build, operate and maintain the system.

“People are also driving more fuel-efficient vehicles,” said Killion, “which in turn brings less money to MoDOT. We see all the revenues from the fuel tax, so as drivers are turning to more fuel-efficient vehicles, that is decreasing.”

Killion said that since the last tax increase, revenues have outpaced inflation. The cost of concrete for MoDOT has doubled, while asphalt prices have tripled. Bonds issued in the early 2000s are also being paid back currently.  All of MoDOT’s revenues, about $2.5 billion, come from state and federal fuel taxes and state registration and vehicle fees.

“Almost $1 billion of that, right off the top, is distributed to cities and counties for their road systems,” said Killion. “The bulk of the rest of the money is spent on our construction program.”

MoDOT has a list of high-priority unfunded needs, including improvements to I-70 and other projects that spur job creation and economic activity. To help with the funding shortfalls, a transportation task force, including Representatives Joe Runions and Greg Razer from the area, was developed to come up with a plan of action to present recommendations to the Missouri legislature by the end of this year.

Upcoming MoDOT projects in South Kansas City and Grandview include: the completion of the 155th Street bridge over I-49 (ribbon cutting scheduled for Friday, December 15, at 11 a.m.), continued I-470 bridge rehabilitation, I-49 resurfacing from Blue Ridge to 163rd, 71 Highway resurfacing from Bannister to Swope Parkway, and I-435 resurfacing from Bannister to Stadium. The larger project in the area will be I-435 from State Line to I-49, the biggest in the district’s 5-year plan, is called the South Loop Link project.

“This stretch of road (from State Line to I-49) sees 138,000 vehicles per day,” said Killion. “It is the second-most traveled route in the region.”

The bridges at Holmes and Wornall will be replaced, and a lane will be added between State Line and 103rd. The $70 million project will be a design-build, according to Killion, with a fixed-cost, best value approach. The biggest impact to travelers in the area will be only one lane of closure at a time for a 60-day period. Construction will take place over the next two years and wrap up in 2020 with minimal traffic impacts. 

Friday, December 1, 2017

Lee’s Summit developer seeks annexation of 96 SKC acres

by Mary Wilson

Members of the South Kansas City community have been keeping a close eye on a development off of I-470 and View High Drive in Lee’s Summit, which primarily sits in the Hickman Mills School District. Paragon Star is a projected 210-acre, $400 million multi-phase mixed-use development that will feature a sports and recreation complex including soccer fields, entertainment, and will serve as a major trailhead to the Little Blue Trace and Rock Island Corridor trails.

The developer of the project, Flip Short, is a Lee’s Summit businessman who started a lab company, Viracor, which he sold a few years ago and has since begun a handful of other businesses, including Paragon Star. Short was also the developer behind the Lee’s Summit Magic Tree, which sits on the southern edge of the Paragon Star property at the northeast corner I-470 and View High Drive. The Magic Tree is used to raise funds and goods for philanthropy.

“We plan on Paragon Star being the country’s number-one-used sports facility,” said Bill Brown, project coordinator.

The sports complex will include 10 artificial turf regulation fields and three junior fields, a clubhouse and cantina with viewing decks, and an entertainment district with multi-family housing, lodging, office, dining, boutique retail and entertainment venues. The location also serves as the intersection of the Little Blue Trace Trail and the Rock Island Corridor Trail, and the developer plans to extend the trails through the Paragon Star project with a trailhead.

The project’s current 120 acres is fully in the City of Lee’s Summit, and along the north side of the property is the city limits. According to Brown, the developer would like to go north into 95 acres of South Kansas City with additional development for the project.

“It is a gorgeous piece of property, but it is a very difficult one to develop,” said Brown. The City of Lee’s Summit posted a request for qualifications from development teams to propose a use for the 80 acres owned by the city, and Paragon Star was ultimately selected and will purchase the city’s portion of the property. Short owns another 20 acres, while the remaining will be leased from Jackson County.

A Community Improvement District (CID) has been developed for the property with sales tax generated on the property being captured, and it will be owned and maintained by that CID. The developer would also like to restore the Little Blue River that flows through the property, including building two new bridges and raising flood plain elevation. Local incentives in Lee’s Summit have also been included in the development of the site, including a tax increment financing plan (TIF) and a one-cent transportation development district (TDD) to pay for site infrastructure.

“Over the course of the last six years, we’ve had a lot of public discussions in and around Lee’s Summit,” said Brown. “We’ve had a very public process and each step has required a public process to go through to get the approval of the CID, the TDD and the TIF.”

As part of the process, Paragon Star developers met with the City of Kansas City to discuss standards of the road that will travel through the project. According to Brown, it was suggested from Kansas City staff to annex the area where the initial parkway through the project begins (currently in Kansas City, MO) in order to work with one public entity.

“That got us to thinking into the next phases of the project and what we wanted to do,” said Brown. “We were getting interest in putting other things in the project, and we were simply landlocked at 120 acres. We were already looking north into Kansas City property. We needed another way into the project (from the north), and we began to think there was a way we could catch fire and meet a lot of mutual goals.”

Short has since purchased a portion of the 96 acres to the north in Kansas City and is under contract for the remaining acreage. The goal is to create a parkway through the entire project that will connect I-470 and Bannister Road, paid for by the developer. The City of Lee’s Summit has given the initial nod of approval for annexation of the Kansas City 96 acres, which, if approved in Kansas City, will not change school district boundaries.

“Our application (with the City of Kansas City) is for 98 acres, but in reality only 46 of the 98 acres is developable,” said Paragon Star’s general counsel Christine Bushyhead. “The remaining is that beautiful hillside and other topography that won’t be developed.”

A traffic study will be completed that will determine the impact from the development onto already existing thoroughfares. The developer will also complete right-of-way improvements, and the major parkway through the development will be built to Kansas City standards with a cooperative agreement.

Brown said that there is a timing issue for the developers, who completed a ground-breaking ceremony in November of 2016. Before grading can begin on the initial project, the developers would like to incorporate the additional 96 acres into the grading.

“That’s why we just said, ‘time out,’ on the project, let’s work through the process and see what happens and we’ll make a decision after we go through the annexation process before we make a decision as a developer,” said Brown. “We’re ready to move forward on a lot of the work right now, but this question about the annexation does impact how we proceed.”

The annexation application with Kansas City was unanimously approved by Kansas City Planning Commission. On December 13, 1:30 p.m. at City Hall, Paragon Star will present to Kansas City’s Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee. That meeting will be open to the public.