Every year since the Leadership for Tomorrow program was established at KASB in 2004, a session has been held in western Kansas. This year was no exception. Fifteen of the 17 participants were in Ulysses and Hugoton last week to learn about schools in the two communities. As is generally the case, learning about the communities was also a valuable part of the visit. Several of the participants, other than passing through western Kansas on their way to Colorado, had never had the opportunity to learn about the richness of life in western Kansas, particularly in the booming southwest part of the state.
From massive fields of succulent corn enabled by the creeping mechanical giants known as a
center pivot irrigation system to the feedlots that allowed thousands of cattle
at a time to be fattened up on their last stop before a slaughterhouse located
in Liberal, Dodge or Garden City, our travelers were able to observe first-hand
the different industries that feed a hungry nation. They also had opportunities
to learn about the diverse populations of the area. What had originally been
predominantly white communities 20-30 years ago are now heavily Hispanic, while
the schools themselves are a minority/majority district, as in Ulysses, or a
very balanced mix, as in Hugoton. The blending of ethnicities is not the only
change. On top of the original Protestants and Catholics, there is a growing
number of Mennonites arriving from Mexico that speak neither Spanish nor
English, but what is known as Low German. These changes have made for
some tremendous challenges in what these two districts need to do to successfully
offer their students a quality education.
The economic conditions of the two districts have also changed. While both still have high
levels of wealth per student, 2-3 times the state average, student bodies of
the districts have grown increasingly poor. In the 2013-14 school year, Ulysses
reported a free/reduced lunch rate of 62 percent. Hugoton’s was 59 percent. The
state average is close to 50 percent.
In Ulysses,Superintendent Dave Younger, a 2013 LFT alum, led a tour of district facilities.
It included viewing remodeling projects designed primarily to enhance student
and staff security and visiting a new facility the district recently purchased
that will make district maintenance and purchasing operations more efficient by
bringing them together. He cited last year’s LFT visit to Salina as inspiration
for the purchase.
participants were given an extensive opportunity to learn about the district’s
charter school, one of 11 operating in the state, from Superintendent Mark Crawford, another LFT alum. What sets the school apart
from many other alternative schools across the state is HLA's focus on a very unique student population: undocumented students from Mexico that have accompanied their parents from Mennonite communities in northern Mexico. Although many of the students know some English, their parents generally only speak a German dialect. Perhaps even more difficult than overcoming the language barrier is these families bring a tradition where schooling usually ends before 16 for both boys and girls, and that simply doing the necessary work of running a farm or a household are generally the only educational expectations.
On top of the
visits, KASB staff facilitated several spirited discussions. One was on the
importance of identifying the district’s key outcomes and keeping the focus of
district efforts on those outcomes. A second was on the role of evaluation in
keeping instruction at a high level.
As with most
other KASB events, food functions played a key role in building the networking
that is an essential part of the LFT experience. The highlight was a bar-b-q in
Ulysses in the backyard of board member Dave Otis Thursday night. Dave and his
wife were ably aided by the Youngers and Roger Hilton, Ulysses assistant superintendent
and LFT participant, and his wife. It may have been the chilliest July bar-b-q
in southwest Kansas history as many of the folks were sporting sweatshirts and
jackets! Not surprisingly, Mexican food was on the menu for a number of
participants Wednesday night in Great Bend and Thursday for lunch in Ulysses.
Even though a
number of them had a pretty good drive ahead of them, many participants mingled
around after the conclusion of the program talking about the session, what they
would take home with them and what to look forward to at the Sept. 10 and 11
session in Wichita.
LFT participants saw southwest Kansas at the top of its game, the reliance of
the Ogallala Aquifer to fuel the booming farming/livestock industry is always
part of the picture. Read about long-term concerns for the aquifer here.
To learn about
KASB’s Leadership for Tomorrow program, visit www.kasb.org/lft