Some education reform efforts in America’s larger cities struggle to go to scale. Think Los Angeles and laptops, New York City and school turnarounds, or Detroit and school choice.
More modest-sized districts, like Camden, New Jersey, with 15,000 students, are just small enough that face-to-face communications and meaningful community input is achievable with a critical mass of parents and other stakeholders. In the last three years, Camden has become a national model of reform built around deep community engagement.
Kansas City, Missouri has about 27,000 students with a little over half in district schools and the rest in charter schools. Kansas City also has committed local and national funders and buy-in from key stakeholders, like the mayor, the school superintendent and the business and faith-based communities.
About 18 months ago, one of the local funders, the Kaufmann Foundation, hired Awais Sufi, a Topeka-born lawyer who has worked for an international non-profit focused on youth development, to develop a comprehensive reform strategy. His first step was to make friends with as many people as possible.
MY GOAL WAS TO MAKE THIS REALLY INTEGRATED AND OWNED BY THE COMMUNITY“My goal was to make this really integrated and owned by the community,” Sufi said, adding that he still devotes about 60 percent of his time to community outreach. Sure enough, in attendance at the launch of his new initiative, SchoolSmartKC, were community leaders like Pastor Cassandra Wainright of the Concerned Clergy Coalition of Kansas City.