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Cardona visits Kansas schools to gather information on programs to replicate across United States

Cardona visits Kansas schools to gather information on programs to replicate across United States

Raise the Bar bus tour highlights teacher recruitment, academic recovery and mental health

Topeka High School Drumline members pounded out a rhythmic cadence Tuesday morning in front of the Topeka Center for Advanced Learning and Careers (TCALC) as a bright blue tour bus pulled into a circular drive in front of the school. 

Words covered the entire bus. Career Pathways. Accelerated Learning. Academic Excellence. Inclusion. Investment in Mental Health. Teamwork. Rigorous. A rocket carrying four students was at the center of it all. It had the phrase “Raise the Bar” on it. The phrase coming out of the students’ mouths – Lead the World – bore a striking resemblance to the vision for education in the sunflower state – Kansas leads the world in the success of each student. 

Gov. Laura Kelly, Kansas Commissioner of Education Dr. Randy Watson, Topeka Unified School District 501 Superintendent Dr. Tiffany Anderson and other dignitaries watched as U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona descended the steps of the bus and waved to a small crowd of students, staff members and members of the media. 

Topeka was Cardona’s first stop in a weeklong, multi-state “Back to School Bus Tour 2023: Raise the Bar.” Cardona’s road trip showcased the way schools in Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota are doubling down on “accelerating student learning and raising the bar in education,” a U.S. Department of Education news release said. 

While in Topeka, Cardona took a brief tour of TCALC, visiting with students and staff members. TCALC is a high school program created through business partnerships. It provides students with opportunities to explore careers through profession-based, inquiry-based and project-based curriculum. Students must be juniors or seniors to attend TCALC. Pathways that students can take include Animal Science; Baking and Pastry Arts Management; Building and Construction Trades Technology; Engineering and Applied Math (robotics); Law and Public Safety; Medical Professions; Sports Medicine; Teaching as a Profession; and Web and Digital Communications. 

TCALC also houses the Topeka USD 501 College Prep Academy, which offers accelerated courses in math and English. Students are bused from their home schools to TCALC for specialized courses for a portion of the day. Courses offered include seventh-grade honors math, algebra I and algebra II, college algebra, language arts enrichment and 21st Century Global Communications. Students in the College Prep Academy also are exposed to career pathways occurring at TCALC. 

“I want to replicate programs like this across the country,” Cardona told a group of TCALC staff members as he prepared to board his tour bus. 

States, schools, districts and higher education institutions are already working “boldly and creatively to raise the bar for education in our country – from fostering academic recovery to investing in mental health supports, strengthening and supporting the educator workforce to expanding out-of-school time programs and building new career pathways to efforts to increase college access and affordability,” Cardona said. 

“To serve our nation’s students well for years to come, we need to see pockets of excellence in some places become systems of success in all places,” he said. “I’m looking forward to lifting up great models in education and highlighting how our country benefits when we work together to invest in our children and young people – the future of our nation.” 

Cardona’s focus in Topeka was on teacher diversity and recruitment. 

The Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) recently announced the Kansas Registered Teacher Apprenticeship program. The pilot kicked off Tuesday, July 25, with 15 apprentices sponsored by eight Kansas school districts. The registered teacher apprenticeship program combines the rigor and training of a registered apprenticeship with specialized education for individuals who want to become teachers. 

During the four-year program, aspiring teachers work alongside experienced educators, serving as a paid apprentice in a real classroom setting while earning a bachelor’s degree in a teacher training program at a university or college accredited by KSDE. 

Before departing TCALC, Cardona stopped in front of the Topeka High Drumline as they continued to play and took a selfie with his cell phone. Cardona grew up playing the bongos and continues to perform music for his family members, one of Cardona’s staff members said. 

Cardona also toured the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site during his visit to Topeka. While there, he and Superintendent Anderson hosted a panel discussion about the importance of teacher diversity in the profession. 

As part of Cardona’s visit to Topeka, about 20 people, including area superintendents, State Board of Education members and representatives of educational organizations, joined Lauren Mendoza on Tuesday afternoon at the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB) in Topeka for a roundtable discussion on the bright spots and challenges of education in Kansas. 

Mendoza is a deputy assistant secretary for state and local outreach at the U.S. Department of Education. She and Commissioner Watson facilitated the roundtable discussion, and topics included special education funding; connecting businesses and students for learning opportunities; community engagement; and teacher vacancies. 

During Cardona’s bus tour, he also discussed the importance of helping students recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and continue on the road to success. 

KSDE and the Kansas State Board of Education recognize the importance of academic recovery and have used money from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund to address learning loss from the pandemic. In July 2021, the State Board allocated $15 million to address early literacy.  

The initiative – called Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS®) – is a professional learning course that trains educators in the science of reading. LETRS® training is available for free to educators in state-accredited systems. 

More than 7,800 Kansas educators have completed the professional development to date, with additional opportunities remaining. 

Cardona during his tour also highlighted the importance of family engagement and mental health programs. 

In Kansas, the Sunflower Summer program, which was funded by federal COVID-19 money and administered through KSDE, promoted learning and family engagement during the summer months by allowing families free access to museums, zoos, historic landmarks, outdoor locations and other attractions. The 2023 summer was the third summer for the program and had the highest number of participants. 

Other KSDE initiatives, such as the Mental Health Intervention Team (MHIT), provide greater access to behavioral health services for K-12 students. The MHIT project focuses on K-12 students and their families by identifying students, communicating with families and linking them to already existing statewide behavioral health resources. 

Cardona’s trip to Kansas on Tuesday also included stops in Lawrence and Kansas City. On Wednesday, Cardona traveled to Missouri and Illinois, where he connected with K-12 schools, before- and after-school providers and higher education institutions. 

Cardona’s bus tour also took him to Wisconsin, where he highlighted the impact of high school career pathway programs on student success. The tour will end Friday, Sept. 8, in Minnesota. 

“I was pleased to welcome Secretary Cardona to Kansas to showcase how the sunflower state continues to prioritize our students, families and teachers,” Gov. Kelly said. 

Posted: Sep 7, 2023,
Comments: 0,
Author: Ann Bush

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