Education commissioner stops in El Dorado

Deanna Bonn

Dr. Randy Watson, Kansas Commissioner of Education, was joined by Deputy Commissioner Dr. Brad Neuenswander, members of the Kansas State Board of Education and community members at El Dorado High School on Wednesday, August 18, at 6:00 p.m. for the Kansas Success Tour, a community conversation on the current direction for Kansas K-12 education.

Stakeholders which consisted of educators, community members, business members, parents, and current high school students attended the Kansas Success Tour meeting in El Dorado on Thursday, August 18, 2021.

Dr. Watson and Dr. Neuenswander are visiting 50 cities across the state to gather feedback on the state’s vision for K-12 education. The 50 city tour is a follow-up to the Kansas Children. Kansas’ Future. community conversations tour that took place in 2015.

Using the feedback gathered from more than 2,000 parents, educators, legislators, school board members, business community members, and more, the State Board of Education created a new vision for education: Kansas leads the world in the success of each student.

Watson and Neuenswander shared progress made toward achieving the vision established by the Kansas State Board of Education following the 2015 tour.

Of significant note is the fact that high school graduation rates in Kansas are at an all time high. In 2015, that rate was 85.7% and with a 2.6% increase overall that number grew to 88.3% in 2020.

“It is the largest percentage of students graduating in Kansas in the history of our state,” said Dr. Watson. “That is true of the many subgroups.”

The subgroups identified by Dr. Watson were students at or below poverty level and on free and reduced lunch, which increased 3.7%; English language learners which increased by 6.5%; and students with disabilities which increased by 3.1%.

“We’ve made terrific progress in all those areas,” said Dr. Watson. “In all those areas, percent wise, we are graduating more students since Kansas was a territory. We are so excited about the work schools and communities are doing [to support] that.”

“Even though that’s really great,” said Watson, “we are not going to stop until we help every kid be successful.”

El Dorado Public Schools Superintendent Teresa Tosh was glad to have El Dorado High School host this area’s community conversation.

“I’m always excited when the Kansas State Department of Education is here in El Dorado and sharing the great things happening here,” said Tosh. “We had a great turnout from the community, parents and staff members,” said Tosh, “so I think we had a great representation of who we are. We even had state board members here with us and other Superintendents from other districts. It was a great way for us to talk about what the future of Kansas education looks like.”

Attending the Kansas Success Tour was Jordan Buxton, a parent to three students enrolled in the Circle School District.

Dr. Randy Watson, Kansas Commissioner of Education, speaking to attendees at El Dorado High School about the increase in graduation rates seen since the last tour in 2015.

“This meeting was really great to see some of the things happening at the state level,” said Buxton. “I think our educators are tasked with a lot and need as much parent and community support as possible to provide the resources and skills they need.”

Also in attendance was El Dorado High School graduate Sierra Marie Bonn. Bonn advocates for the success of Kansas students, through her initiative “Let’s Go Full STEAM

Ahead!” Her goal is to help equip them to meet the definition of a successful Kanas High School Student as identified by the Kansas State Department of Education.

“A successful Kansas high school graduate has the academic preparation, cognitive preparation, technical skills, employability skills and civic engagement to be successful in postsecondary education, in the attainment of an industry recognized certification or in the workforce without the need for remediation.”

“As a lifelong Kansas public school student, I'm excited for the future of Kansas Schools, '' said Bonn. “I'm glad the Board is holding this tour and including stakeholders from across the state.”

With cities in Central and Northeastern Kansas remaining on the tour, Dr. Watson is encouraging everyone to come to a community conversation and provide feedback.

“We are interested in your feedback so we can make Kansas the best place to educate kids,” said Dr. Watson.