Wichita Superintendent Alicia Thompson On The School District's Future
Alicia Thompson started work nearly a year ago as superintendent of Wichita Public Schools, but she’s been connected to the district throughout her life — first as the daughter of a teacher, then as a student. After college, she became a teacher in the district.
Thompson sat down with KMUW’s Stephan Bisaha to talk about her first year as superintendent, and the district’s future.
Improving the district’s graduation rates is one of the four main goals for the new five-year strategic plan that Thompson helped create with the school board. The plan — and the focus on graduation rates — was based on listening sessions with staff and community members near the start of the school year.
“We know that’s important for our city because when we have graduates, we have people that can go into the workforce,” Thompson said.
Over the past year, the district has created a task force to work on strategies to decrease dropouts. There also has been a pilot program where staff members intervene when a child is considering dropping out and see what can be done to help the student.
Thompson said the district had lacked that individualized intervention in previous years.
“We did not have someone designated as a stopgap to say to families, 'We’re not going to let you go,' ” Thompson said.
Southeast High School has received attention for having the lowest graduation rate in the district. The school’s graduation rates have grown worse since moving to a new building about seven miles from the old building.
Thompson said the district isn’t focusing on improving the graduation rates for individual schools, but instead looking at how to raise rates across the district.
“We have a systemic problem,” Thompson said. “What we decided to do was to address the systemic issue versus individual schools."
Recent school shootings have drawn attention to the issue of school safety. Thompson said Wichita schools are safe, with police officers and district security in the schools and secured entrances at high schools.
But Thompson said the best way to keep students safe is by dealing with their mental and social needs.
“The number one thing that keeps kids from doing violent acts and things of that nature inside of a school is having a strong social and emotional and character development programming in the schools,” Thompson said.
She is against the idea of arming teachers and would rather focus on training teachers to identify warning signs with students.
“That is arming them with the right things in order to keep our kids safe in the schools,” Thompson said.
Wichita is one of the school districts involved with a lawsuit against the state that caused the Kansas Supreme Court to rule that the state must increase its education funding.
Now, a plan to provide an additional $530 million in education funding over the next five years is hinging on whether or not the court finds the amount adequate.
Thompson did not comment on whether or not she thought the plan provided enough funding. But she did say adequate funding is important for reaching the goals laid out in the new strategic plan.
“I believe that the courts and our community will do what’s right and do what they need to do to ensure that we’re able to meet the objectives for our strategic plan,” Thompson said. “I’m staying focused on the things that matter to the city of Wichita, and I know and have confidence that they will rally around us to get that accomplished."
Stephan Bisaha, based at KMUW in Wichita, is an education reporter for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KMUW, Kansas Public Radio, KCUR and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. Follow him on Twitter @SteveBisaha. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post.