Show Me KC Schools and Navigate STL Unite in Discussion with Leslie Kohlmeyer

“How do we get to a place where our public school kids are getting as high of a quality education and as equitable an education as some of the students in private schools?”

Leslie Kohlmeyer

Today’s guest is Leslie Kohlmeyer, Executive Director of Show Me KC Schools. Leslie sat down with Staci to discuss the Common App and its benefits to KC residents, focusing on logistics first when choosing a school, and ways for students to get the most out of their K-12 education before entering the workforce.

Leslie’s personal K-12 story

  • Leslie had a very traditional K-12 experience in Kansas City, Kansas
  • Her parents were part of white flight and they moved out to the suburbs and specifically the Johnson County area
  • A couple of times, they changed zip code boundaries. And so she kind of got shuffled around based on that, but overall it was very standard.
  • She now lives in Historic Northeast KC, which is very diverse.
  • Leslie’s children started out at KC Kids Magnet School, Foreign Language Academy, and then for kindergarten and went to Academy Lafayette, which is a high performing charter in the area. 
  • For high school, her children went to Lincoln College, which is a district magnet school.

What motivated you to get started in the work you do today?

  • It was really stressful finding places for her kids to go to school 20 years ago when there were no applications online. It was so bad that it motivated her work today.
  • Kansas City and Saint Louis have very similar landscapes. We have almost exactly the same number of charter lines operating and the same number of buildings and the same strife with the district schools and the same number of district schools.

Saint Louis and Kansas City are the only cities in Missouri with charter schools. We kind of highlighted some of their similarities, but what do you think are the biggest differences? 

  • Kansas City has 50% of their kids in charter schools, while St. Louis has 30%.
  • It’s a very highly charged political landscape school choice.

What is the Common app?

  • The colleges have created the app, and then they decided that they could expand to the K-12 space.
  • Missouri Charter School Association got them started on the Common app about 10 years ago.
  • The first few years there were just a couple of schools involved and then in year three, we kind of asked if we could take it over and be more centralized in Kansas City, and they were happy to kind of hand that off to us.
  • Their first year was 2018 and they started out with 16 schools.

Are there only charter schools on the Common app?

  • There are 17 of the 20 LEAs participating in the Common App. We also have two private schools and we were very intentional about choosing those schools. 
  • They also have 8 Pre-K sites.

So would you say that Show Me KC Schools is a pro charter organization or more of a neutral organization. And then how do you think that impacts the idea of education choice for families in Kansas?

  • “[Show Me KC Schools] is pro getting parents what they want and need for their students, whatever that may be, whether it’s a public district, a public charter, a private school, a parochial school, whatever that is, we help them figure out how to navigate that space, help them understand financial aid if it’s a private school. Just help parents get what they need”

What are some of the things that you encourage parents to consider when they’re looking to select a school for their kids?

  • Logistics are important to consider.
  • We have parents tell us what they want in a school then we filter out what’s available.
  • If you absolutely need transportation, they will avoid schools that don’t have transportation, etc.
  • There is not a current quality rating system in Kansas City.
  • “We don’t have a system in place. How do we help parents understand what quality looks like without being judgmental?”

What are some of the feedback that you’ve received on your website, in the information that you provide, and how has that kind of changed how you program over the years?

  • Just did a survey with Quality Schools Coalition.
  • They have 9000 students on the Common App, so that’s a really good test market.
  • There were 1200 responses and the biggest bit of feedback they got was the need for safety and a sense of belonging.
  • So the hope is that students and parents are taking advantage of school tours.
  • Apply throughout the month of November, December, January and February and January. 
  • During School Choice week, we have school Saturday, which is where the whole city has their schools open so that you can go in and actually see what a school building looks like. 
  • Nobody can predict where you will feel like you belong for you.

You go into a school building, you don’t always see the kind of cracks, like what do you feel like? Are some of the challenges that are currently facing education in the region?

  • Leslie encourages parents to be sleuths when visiting schools. 
  • What are the walls look like? What is the smell? What do the kids look like? Do they look happy? Is the teacher in the front of the room teaching to the kids or is the teacher on the ground with the students learning with the kids? 

Can you talk to us more about your focus on kindergarten readiness in that part of the state?

  • The pre-k landscape is hard to navigate.
  • We’re not trying to promote somebody’s personal business. We’re trying to make sure parents have access to free or low cost seats.
  • Hopefully some legislation requiring universal pre-k will pass in Missouri soon!
  • They wanted to be prepared for when that does happen, which is why they have pre-k seats on their app.
  • There is a podcast recorded about finding the right preschool on Show Me KC Schools website.
  • “How do we get to a place where our public school kids are getting as high of a quality education and as equitable an education as some of the students in private schools?”

What challenges what’s one of the biggest challenges that you would say is facing primarily KC parents? 

  • Kansas City is seeing absenteeism spiking at a huge rate. And how can our kids learn equitably if they are not in a seat in the classroom learning? 
  • Can’t get bus funding or drivers, which they’re working on finding solutions, but it’s an issue.
  • In KC, they’re a little behind the times on market value assets.
  • “In my opinion, every single one of our high school students should be graduating with some sort of credential or some sort of dual credit, anything that puts them a leg up when it comes to their careers or when it comes to shaving off money that they’re spending on college.”

What gives you hope for the future as we move forward?

  • Every time Leslie enters a school, she is hopeful again.

Where do we find Show Me KC Schools?