2019 recap

The last twelve months have been very significant for the Park Hill School district. Maybe there have been years with more significant activity, but this is likely high on the list.

The list include:

    Last December, Board of Education voting to redistricting for the 2019-2020 school year
    March, approving $3.6 million for LEAD expansion without consideration for other potential district projects
    April, deciding to slow down their start time proposal, and setting up two committees to provide input
    June, approving a 2019-2020 budget with a deficit
    August, opening up two new schools
    October, approving new start times for 2020-2021 school year
    October, Missouri performance scorecards that have Park Hill in the lower 50% on progress
    December, posting RFP for transportation service in conjunction with new transportation center

Meanwhile, the district has faced more image and reputation pressure than in the past.

  • Images of trees being burned to make space for new buildings
  • Growth in the number of social media groups to share information and perspectives
  • Declining US News rankings for the district
  • Community surveys with declining support for the Board and Administration

For this post, we’re going to group these topics into:

  • Administrative
  • Academic/reputation
  • Financial



Let’s go back to redistricting for a minute. This got a lot of people more highly engaged than in recent years. The district went through a committee process, guided by measurement criteria from the board. The biggest challenge was that the Board criteria were not measurable and objective. This is now impacting the results.

We’ve shared this multiple times, but the primary goal of redistricting was to balance school enrollment. If we’re holding the district accountable for results, they failed on this one.

Enrollments are most variable at the elementary school level. Prior to redistricting, there was a spread of 183 students from the largest enrollment to the smallest. The approved plan was supposed to shrink this to 70 students. Based on 2020-2021 enrollment forecasts, the spread will be 170 students.

This is significant in how the district had a leading criteria, and an outcome that doesn’t come close to achieving the goal.

Start times

After redistricting, the district tried to rush through a new set of start times. This time, the primary goal was to reduce the number of buses and drivers.

Even though they made some efforts, it was apparent that there was not early community engagement in the process. The comment period was met with a flood of negative reactions. To their credit, the Board and administration stopped the process and took steps for greater engagement.

This resulted in a plan that was approved in October. We’ll see how it plays out, but the district had a leading criteria to reduce buses and drivers. The approved plan had the smallest reduction in buses and drivers of the three finalists.

We’re currently in the RFP process. It looks like transportation will be approved in February. We will need to pay close attention to how much buses and drivers are actually able to be reduced. This has a direct correlation to the cost savings the district will see.

Hopefully the process achieves the savings in drivers that are expected. The district also needs the cost savings. We feel for the staff who had to participate in all the committee meetings along the way due to the failed first roll out.


U.S. News and World Reports

Back in April, U.S. News and World Reports published their newest high school rankings. It was a new methodology, and Park Hill and Park Hill South scored lower than in past years.

For Park Hill, it was ranked #39 in the state, or better than 87% of high schools. Park Hill South was ranked #60, better than 79% of schools in the state. These are good rankings, but a little lower than past.

Missouri state APR

Like U.S. News and World Reports, Missouri changed some of their reporting this year. They moved to district and school-level summaries of growth, status and progress. The district was rated well in status, but room for improvement in growth and progress. We published this graphic back in October

This shows that for “progress”, the district is in the lower half of districts, and that for “growth”, we’re in the lower 25%. Not where we should aspire to be.

ACT scores

Recently, the district sent out a communication noting “the highest ACT composite scores in the Kansas City, Missouri, region…”. The district-wide ACT composite score was 22.2. It’s great that we’re the highest in the KCMO region, but it doesn’t say what the trend is, do we explored. Here’s a summary since 2016 when Park Hill started to have nearly all students take the ACT.

2016: 22.3

2017: 22.3

2018: 21.8

2019: 22.2

So, the district is highlighting the highest in the region, but the data shows that district scores are flat over the last four years.

Community surveys

As they do every year, Park Hill surveys patrons on several matters. For a lot of areas, there continues to be strong support from the district. In November, the Board heard a report on this year’s community survey. The recap to the public stated that “91% of respondents would be likely to recommend our district…” and that “93% of respondents gave us an A or B for the quality of our education”.

It didn’t share that there were several areas of lower ratings. These include communication with patrons, performance of administration and performance of the Board of Education.


The district made many big financial decisions this year.

LEAD expansion

In March, the district approved $3.6 million to expand the LEAD building. We discussed this in detail. Our understanding is that LEAD is a really good program. The concern is that the district used operating reserves for the project, and did not appear to consider other uses for the $3.6 million.

Change orders

Maybe this occurs every year, but it seem like there are frequent change orders to approved projects. Changing the scope of the LEAD facility was the largest, but other change orders have included:

  • Walden Middle School
  • Concrete for Support Services Center
  • Track at Walden
  • Walden track concrete
  • Intersection at Hopewell
  • Concrete/asphalt stabilization at Walden and Support Services/Transportation Center
  • LEAD Innovation Studio

Budget Deficit

In June, the Board approved the budget for 2019-2020. Not only was a deficit budget approved, but the forecasts for the three coming years also show deficits of $2-5 million per year.

Additionally, based on the budget forecasts, the district will be below their targets for capital and operating fund reserves

Property assessments will help offset some of the deficit, but the district will have to watch spending, or consider new tax increases. In August the county announced property assessments up 8%. This allows the district to keep the same (overall) tax rate, collect more revenue from each household, and lower the deficits to the district.


This project got started by a group of patrons with concerns about transparency and accountability during a year with a lot of activity. The goal of this isn’t to complain about everything the district. We just got tired of every piece of communication feeling too glossy and perfect when it felt like there were some real concerns. We’ll keep this up in 2020 in order to promote community engagement, sharing of information, and accountability on the decisions that are made for our district.

Annual Performance Review (APR) data

If you’ve watched or read the news this week, it’s likely you have seen a report on new APR data.

This stuff is always complicated and challenging to understand. This year, the state has made changes to how it reports information. This has not made it easier. We’ll try to break it down as best we can.

Instead of giving every district and building a score, the state moved to a color coded category system. There are three categories that they rate. We found descriptions from KCUR most informative. They’re below.

  • The bar graph on the left measures growth, whether individual students made the gains the state would expect year over year.
  • The bar graph in the middle measures status (another word for achievement), which is a three-year average of how well students in the district scored on state tests. 
  • The bar graph on the right measures progress, or how fast the district is closing the gap between where students are and where the state wants them to be. 

If you really want to understand the process and methodology, click the link below for the state’s 76-page guide.


So, how’d Park Hill do?

We’d say mixed. There’s some positive things in English and Math.

In the middle section, current status (achievement) is rated good for the district. That means that current students are performing at high levels. The score is made up of a three year average of other scores (details in the handbook).

On the more challenging side, the left set of charts measure growth – are individual students making gains the state would expect.

On the right side of the page may be the most concerning area. It measures progress. To do this, the state looks at 2016-2017 average date and compares it to 2017-2018 data. It compares the two-year averages to see how much averages are increasing, or not. For Park Hill, those averages are decreasing.

We dug into this further and pulled individual school data from within the district. The next link is a PDF of screen shots for all schools in the district. There is a lag in the data, so it doesn’t include new buildings and still has the 6th grade center.

apr data

Here are two graphics that summarize all of the building and district information. First one is for English Language Arts and second is for Math.

We tried to match the state’s coloring system for each category and building. It reinforces the district summary where buildings are doing good in the middle section (status/achievement), mixed in growth (left side) and most challenged in progress (right side).

We also added state summaries into the graphics above to see how we fit with other buildings in the state. Well use the English Language Arts growth (left side) to explain. The numbers at the bottom of the graphic are the number of buildings in the state that fell into each category. So, for English, 442 (26%) were in the “floor” category. Most of the Park Hill buildings were in the green “on track” category. This means those buildings are in a category with 48% of buildings in the state. Hopefully not too confusing.

We talked about the progress (right side) being most challenging. It wasn’t just Park Hill that fell in that box. For English and Math, just over 50% of buildings were also in the “floor” category.

We did want to dig deeper into this section of date where it appears the district performed weakest.

The Progress category is generated in changes in two-year average normal curve equivalent (NCE) data. We’re not experts in two-stage regressions to fully explain it, but we dig pull the scores for the last three years for each building.

The charts below have three years of data for each school.

Back in the old way of reporting, Park Hill was trending lower in APR scores. The state changed how it’s presenting data and that trend is highlighted in the challenges Progress ratings in this report.

There’s another board meeting this week, we’ll be watching to see if reports on this data make the agenda. They spend a lot of time on buildings, transportation and finances, but there’s nothing more important that student performance.

Redistricting and start time thoughts

In the last post, we revisited redistricting and the large enrollment variation among elementary schools. This is in spite of BALANCED ENROLLMENT being the highest priority goal from the Board of Education.

Now, the Board is close to approving changes to start times. For this matter, the highest priority goal from the Board of Education is REDUCTION OF BUS DRIVERS/BUSES/ROUTES. Maybe not surprisingly, of the final three scenarios, the scenario the Board is set to approve performed worst in that category.

In a previous post, we talked about Adventure Club (AC), and how finding AC teachers and space for growth has been a challenge.

For this post, we’ll show how all of these factors collide.

A few key points, then we’ll go into more detail:

  • There is a wide spread in elementary school enrollment numbers
  • Schools with higher enrollments also have larger AC enrollment
  • Schools with higher enrollments also have larger AC waitlists
  • Schools with higher enrollment move to a later start time
  • Schools with higher enrollments will have trouble accommodating new demand for AC enrollments
  • If you’re a family that doesn’t use AC this year, but may have to next year due to start time changes, good luck.

Here’s a map with summary information, and then we’ll have more data below. Blue boxes are the five elementary schools with more than 500 students and orange boxes are the six elementary schools with less than 500 students.

Here’s some summary data based on the breakdown at 500 students. “Enrolled” is students enrolled in AC, including waitlisted. Waitlist” is AC waitlist. Both are from the August 7 SSTAC presentation.

If you’re child attends a school with more than 500 kids, there is a significantly larger waitlist for AC, and you’re moving to a 9:03 or 9:10 start time. For those with less than 500 students, 3 stay early and 3 move later. Hopewell and Chinn have significant wait lists, but the others are pretty open.

Here’s the more detailed data for each school.

Here’s the same data, sorted on enrollment.

Often with the administration and Board, it feels like we move through a series of single decisions. They try to get through one decision, then move on the the next thing on the list. The reality is that they are all related. Site selection impacts redistricting, which impacts school enrollments, which impacts transportation and AC enrollment, which impacts families when start times change.

There are lots of families at Union Chapel or Tiffany Ridge that are able to get by without Adventure Club today. For many of them, a 30-minute change to start times can be significant. It’s one thing to do a drop-off at 8:20 and to be at work by 9:00. It’s another to do that drop-off at 8:50 and not get to work until close to 9:30.

Then, AC waitlists that are nearly the size of active participants will be another challenge for them. Many won’t be able to get in.

One change impacts the next. Because redistricting barely moved the needle on its most important Board identified goal (BALANCED ENROLLMENT), families will be additionally burdened by the impact of start time changes.

Oct 10 Board mtg and redistricting look-back

There’s a Board meeting this Thursday. It’s a pretty light agenda.

Start times:

Of most interest, there will be First Read on the start time proposal. We’ve written plenty on it, so won’t repeat stuff here. Most importantly, if you have a perspective, or feedback, show up at the Board meeting and make comments. Like Woody Allen said – “80% of success is just showing up”

Here’s the times that will be considered.

Enrollment update:

There will be a short presentation made with current school year enrollment information, by school and grade level.

It’s only four pages, and available here.


Not surprisingly, enrollment continues to grow.

It is interesting to see the enrollment numbers by school. This caused us to reflect on the redistricting process and want to compare these enrollment numbers with the goals and expectations of redistricting.

Redistricting look-back

We won’t revisit all the fun of redistricting, but looking back, the highest rated goal was balanced enrollment between schools.

Now that we have a set of enrollment data after the redistricting process, we can start to evaluate how well the process went.

Let’s start with middle schools.

Here’s a comparison of last years enrollments, expectations from redistricting, and this year enrollments.

For middle schools, the process worked well. Each of the schools is within 30 students of the expected number, which seems pretty good. Interestingly, the total enrolled in 6-8 this year is 68 higher than forecasted at redistricting, but generally spread out across the schools.

High schools – based on the grandfathering accommodations that were made, it will take a couple years to see if redistricting better balanced enrollment. The data makes it look like it going in the right direction.

At the elementary school level, things get more challenging. While there were a lot of kids moved around, we still have a very wide variation in enrollment numbers. Some schools are significantly below capacity while others are above capacity – even after redistricting.

A few examples:

  • Last year, Line Creek had 560 students. Redistricting was supposed to bring that down to 441. This year the school is only at 395.
    English Landing was at 543 last year, supposed to be at 492, but only has 467 students
    Southeast was at 527, was supposed to be at 487, but is at 515
    Union Chapel was at 539, was supposed to go down to 511, but is at 554

Before redistricting, there was an enrollment range of 183 students (largest school enrollment minus smallest school enrollment). Redistricting was supposed to reduce that range to 70. How did we end up performing? The range based on this years enrollment is 159.

This was the highest priority goal for redistricting and we didn’t come close to making progress for elementary schools.

Interestingly, back when the Board was considering 6 different redistricting scenarios, the scenario with the highest range was 153 students.

Yes, we had to redistrict to accommodate growth, and new buildings, but we’re not sure we’re hitting the expected goals.

If you want some assurance that we’ll get to go through the redistricting fun again, stay with us.

A while back we did a post on population growth across the district. We had maps like this that tried to look at current population and expected growth in the new boundaries.

We need to look into this more deeply, but it sure looks like redistricting gave us full schools where we have lots of growth, and capacity where there’s more limited growth.

This goes back to site selection. The district has to do a better job of building schools where we’ll need them.

Start times / Adventure Club

We scanned the Park Hill Listens comments tonight. There is quite a bit of traffic in the first 24 hours.

Generally, the comments are negative, which probably was expected. Change is hard, and there are no simple decisions to be made.

At the elementary school level, there is a general consensus that changes to start times will increase the demands on Adventure Club programs. We thought that warranted a deeper review.

Current Situation

Currently, Elementary schools start at 8:40 and let out at 3:30. Adventure Club runs from 6:30-8:30 in the morning and 3:30-6:00 in the afternoon.

Interestingly, at one of the School Start Time Advisory Committee meetings, staff presented information saying that Adventure Club hours would NOT change based on a tiered start system.

All three of the published scenarios have either start times at 9:30, or release times around 2:30. It seems crazy they would say no changes to Adventure Club hours, and the publish scenarios that would require changes.

Program review

Adventure Club is a program that goes through an annual review. The last one was in November 2018.

Interestingly, two consistent opportunities for improvement included:

  • Need for more teachers, and
  • More space within schools

If the start time changes do increase enrollment, these challenges will grow.

Current enrollment

There’s not a lot of public information on Adventure Club enrollment. The best we could find was from the second start time committee meeting. Here’s what was presented:

Based on this, there are already significant wait lists at all schools. The comments on Park Hill Listens seem to reinforce this. If the district cannot fulfill current demand, how will they address increased demand due to start time changes?


Let’s assume the district moves forward with one of the scenarios. Regardless of which one gets selected, there will likely be an increase in adventure club demand.

This feels like shifting of costs, rather than reducing costs. Sure, the district will be saving several hundred thousand dollars by reducing buses. However, the district does not have an obligation to provide a spot for every child who applies for adventure club. They only enroll based on staffing and space. If they can’t get the staff or space, enrollment will be limited, and families will bear the burden.

For some, this could be due to needing alternative morning or afternoon care and transportation options. For others, it could require changing jobs. At the extreme, it could cause families to move. All of these scenarios would have costs. Costs that would be shifted from the district (transportation) to individual families (am and/or pm care) within the district.

Let’s use a simple example to wrap this up. Let’s assume the district goes with the yellow scenario that saves $800k per year. That causes 8 elementary schools to move to 9:10 start times. Morning Adventure Club costs a family around $2,000 per year. If enrollment increases by 33%, or by 400 students, the transportation savings have been offset by new Adventure Club fees paid by families in the district.

Sep 24 Board Meeting

As we shared, the start time proposals were pushed out last night. Tonight, there’s a Board meeting. A few notes after a quick read through the agenda.

Support Services and Transportation Center

The district is still in construction for the new Support Services and Transportation Center. It’s scheduled to open in early 2020.

At tonight’s Board meeting, the Board will be asked to approve $167,000 to stabilize soil for asphalt.

This sounded familiar. After looking back, it was just in July where there emergency change orders for the Support Services and Transportation Center (and for Walden). Back then, it was $145,000 to stabilize footings and concrete slab.

These things can happen in construction projects, but that’s $300k in unanticipated costs associated with the project.

This is the 9th change order request brought to the Board this year. Again, these things can happen when you’re building lots of stuff, but it adds up to a lot of unplanned costs.

Water main break

In early September, there was a water main break. It caused Congress to miss a day or so if school.

When the line was fixed brought back online, other issues resulted. There are no costs published yet, but it’s causing an emergency expenditure to get the issue fixed.

Summer School recap

There will be an informational presentation on the summer school program. We covered this in a previous post. This summer, there was record enrollment, which allows the district to cover most of the costs from state funding programs. Transportation is a cost item that the district has to cover.


In review of the program, they do go through strengths and opportunities for improvement. These are generated from students and parents.

We did find it interesting that on the summer school opportunities for improvement, a lot of the items are focused on communication and organization. This is interesting because at the last Board meeting, there was an evaluation of communication programs that said the district does a great job communicating.

Construction project updates

There will be an informational presentation on construction costs. This may warrant some more review, and a post specific to it.


Unless you’re at the meeting, it will be difficult to know how this is presented. One this stands out. The district only uses “budget” numbers that are after increases from original expectations.

Two examples:

    Page 2 cites LEAD as a $26.6 million project. In the original long term facilities plan, the facility was planned to cost $17.5 million.
    Page 2 cites the support and transportation center to cost $23.8 million. They were originally planned for $20.8.

We don’t know what the messaging will be, but it seems important to start with original expectations, and build from there. Using “budget” to refer to total approved funds is either wonky school accounting language, or an attempt to forget what we originally thought projects would cost.

Start time proposals

Start times are posted on Park Hill Listens for comment and feedback. We’ll give a few perspectives, but as we’ve stated before, aren’t overly concerned about where we end up. Based on current transportation situation, something has to be done to reduce the number of buses.


There are three proposals listed – blue, orange and yellow.

Blue – four tiers, and 32 buses removed

Orange – three tiers and 24 buses removed

Yellow – three tiers and 20 buses removed


  • Four tiers, with start times of 7:15, 7:30, 8:30 and 9:25
  • High schools would start at 7:15, 15 minutes earlier than they do today.
  • Majority of elementary schools would start at 9:23 and dismiss at 4:15
  • Estimated to save $1.4 million per year


  • Three tiers. High schools start at 8:15, middle schools at 7:33 and elementary schools split between 8:30, 9:30 and one at 7:30
  • Estimated to save $1 million per year


  • Lots of different time, generally in three tiers
  • High schools start at 7:50
  • Three middle schools at 7:15 and one at 8:10
  • Elementary schools split between 8:15/9:03/9:10
  • Estimated to save $851,000 per year

Regardless of what direction they go, there will be lots of people who don’t like the change that impacts them. However, the district needs to save some money and they need to reduce the number of First Student drivers.

If you have thoughts, concerns or just general feedback, get on Park Hill Listens and submit comments. It’s the most effective way to be heard.