State department of education presents Kansas vision for education in Manhattan

Kris Long, Print Editor-in-Chief

Kansas State Commissioner of Education Randy Watson and Deputy State Commissioner of Education Brad Neuenswander stopped in Manhattan on their tour of Kansas to engage with community members about Kansas Department of Education’s new K-12 education guidelines Tuesday night at Oliver Brown elementary school. 

The presentation covered subjects ranging from teaching more interpersonal skills in schools to providing better support for early education and further individualizing student’s middle and high school careers. 

The cornerstone of the Kansas Vision is providing students with non-academic skills for success that employers list as lacking in today’s Kansas workforce such as time management, interpersonal skills, vocal communication, creativity and self-regulation. Academics will still be emphasized, but application of those pure academic skills such as math and English to real-world situations and careers will be included in the content.

“There are lesson plans… . that help teachers [understand] ‘how do I use math to teach time management?’ Well, there’s a set of strategies for that. You help kids, it’s not just take it home and turn it in the next day and a third of them don’t,” Neuenswander said. “It takes some skills for a teacher to get a kid to build persistence over and over to keep working at it without getting frustrated and giving up…  If you start that early and continue it on, by the time they get into high school, those types of skills should just be natural.”

Another key point in the Kansas Vision is an attempt to individualize education from an early age through Individual Plans of Study for all students starting in middle school. The IPSs would allow students to tailor courses, extracurriculars and internships to their talents and interests. The goal is to make education more applicable to real world careers while avoiding putting students on a track where they can’t change their minds as they find new strengths.

“It’s never. ‘What do you want to do?’ Because most kids will say they want to do what they saw on TV, or want to do what [their] dad or uncle does, and they’ve never experienced it and it might not match up,” Neuenswander said. “You don’t start out with ‘what you want to be?’ You start out with: ‘Who are you? What are your skills? What are your attributes? What are your gifts? What are your talents and what do you enjoy?’”

They are encouraging more one-on-one counseling between students, parents and teachers starting by at least eighth grade so areas of interest can be identified before students go to college or enter the workforce. KSDE also hopes to hire more counselors and do a better job coaching individual students for success. 

“So many times you say to kids: ‘Where are you going? Baker. To do what? I don’t know.’ Yeah, well, that’s an expensive place to go if you don’t know,” Neuenswander said. “The whole individual plan of study is trying to map out who they are, get them experiences that are aligned to who they are and what they’d like to do and explore before they even leave high school.”

Kansas Vision emphasizes the importance of high school students continuing their education after high school, but are trying to diversify what that means to include two-year degrees and technical training as well as four-year universities. According to KSDE, nearly 70% of all jobs require some form of post-secondary education, so having students academically and socially prepared for postsecondary education after high school continues to be a high priority.

There is concern among some Kansans that the new guidelines will take more resources and increase the tax burden, but KSDE maintains that this is a budget reallocation not an increase in costs. 

“There are times where the community says: ‘is there a cost.’ There might be a cost to maybe busing, to get some kids places. So, then let’s reallocate some of our resources that we currently have,” Neuenswander said. “Most of the time it’s changing human resources in how we spend time and money… That’s why we talked about the school and the teachers cannot do it on their own. That’s why the community, the parents, the families, the businesses, they’ve got to be a part of the conversation because 100% of the time, they’ll come together and figure it out.”

The timeline for integration of these goals specifically into USD 383 has not been set, but the district hopes to start making progress soon. 

“We’ve been talking about doing a lot more with personalized learning, I think COVID has pushed behind a few of those things that we probably would have been farther along on,” USD 383 board member Kristen Brighton said. “Certainly we put a big investment in and I think we’re on board with a lot of these things and hopefully over the years we will continue to add new initiatives.”