Alan Hoskins, Supervisor of Public Information
Monday, October 22, 2012
After 15 years as Vice-President of Education for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, Susan Wally decided she wanted to do more to help urban school districts to improve student success rates.
And thus was founded PREP-KC (The Partnership for Regional Educational Preparation) with a mission to increase college readiness and access to high-quality employment for thousands of mostly low income students in the Kansas City, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri, school districts. Since that start in 2005, PREP KC has expanded into four more school districts in Missouri - Center, Hickman Mills, Grandview and Independence - and today serves more than 62,000 students.
‘The impact of PREP KC’s influence and support of the educational endeavors of young people in the Kansas City area is immeasurable,” says Dr. Tamara Agha-Jaffar, Vice-President of Academic Affairs at Kansas City Kansas Community College.
That impact will be recognized Saturday, Nov. 3, when PREP KC will be inducted into the Mid-America Education Hall of Fame at Kansas City Kansas Community College. A fund-raiser for scholarships for the Endowment Association at KCKCC, the dinner and induction ceremonies are open to the public and reservations can be made by calling 913-288-7166 or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The fact PREP KC has taken on the task of addressing the needs of the districts with the most low income students in the metro area is to be applauded,” says Dr. Ray Daniels, former KCK Superintendent of Schools. “A beacon of hope for our students and communities, it is making a dramatic impact on the education of the neediest students by providing them with a vision for a successful future as they gain access to move into higher education and subsequently successful careers.”
Working with the six public school districts and in partnership with UMKC, KCKCC and other area higher education partners, PREP-KC has:
- Partnered with districts to identify strategic issues which will improve college and career opportunities for students.
- Provided high-quality “coaches” to assist schools in implementing those practices; and
- Created a data dashboard to track progress in improving student achievement in each district.
Working initially in high schools and now in many of their feeder middle schools, PREP-KC has helped districts plan and implement a number of key strategies to address student achievement such as assisting high schools in organizing into “small learning communities” that group students and teachers by career themes by such as health care, engineering, business and arts. “This allows students to develop and pursue career interests while also engaging in rigorous preparation for higher education, including both college or technical training,” says Wally.
The CEO for PREP-KC, Wally said focus is on three strategies - a rigorous math curriculum, college preparation and early-college opportunities and workforce knowledge and preparation.
“We know that when there’s a significant gap in students’ math skills, their access to post-secondary education and high quality employment is reduced.” To address this gap, PREP-KC provides a nationally known math expert to meet with math coaches and teachers to assist them in delivering a more rigorous math curriculum for all students. “The results have been impressive,” says Wally. “A number of our partner schools have made very significant improvement in state math test scores at the high school levels. Center School District, for instance, had a 13.8 percent passing rate four years ago. Today it’s more than 50 percent.”
In addressing college preparation and early college pathways, career academies with hands-on training are established at many partner high schools. Each summer, for example, KCKCC in partnership with the KCK public schools and PREP KC, offers learning academies for high school students in bio-science, engineering and teaching. Careers in health sciences and business and finance are also available with partners in higher education and businesses.
“These academies do not just happen,” says Dr. Ed Kremer, Dean of Math, Science and Technology at KCKCC. “They are specifically designed to build on content from courses taught in the classroom during the school year and truly challenge the student and extend their learning.”
Workforce preparation effectively introduces students into career pathways through visits to various businesses where students can see and hear about opportunities in those fields from professionals. PREP-KC also organizes classroom speakers and career-themed visits to college campuses. “In 2012, PREP-KC team engaged 359 professionals from 123 businesses to participate in 3,598 college and career exploration experiences for individual urban high school students,” Wally says proudly. “This could not have happened without strong partnerships with leaders in each school and without our small-but-dedicated PREP-KC team.”
Funding for PREP-KC is provided by a number of corporate, private and family foundations. The organization has also been selected by the Missouri Department of Education as the provider of technical assistance for districts in the Kansas City area.
“Collectively, the leaders at every level in our partner districts are changing the futures of their students and with a growing number of our urban students prepared for post-secondary education and high-quality employment, the Kansas City region will be a stronger community,” says Wally.
A native of McPherson, Kan., Wally holds a Masters Degree from Kansas State University and an Education Specialist degree from UMKC along with additional graduate hours at the University of Kansas. She began her career in education teaching in Manhattan before coming to Kansas City as principal at Grandview Junior High School. In 1990, she joined the Kauffman Foundation as manager for Ewing Kauffman’s Project Choice and later became the Foundation’s Vice-President for Education.