Friday, March 14, 2008

The Kansas City School District

As I have made clear in many comments on many blogs, I don't really give two shits about the Kansas City School District.

I don't live in Kansas City. I don't have a child in the Kansas City School District. So not only do I not have any fire in my belly over the issue, I also have no standing to even have a strong opinion on the subject.

I just don't have a dog in that hunt.

But tonight, I joined some friends and strangers at Harpers in the Jazz District to meet Airick Leonard West. Airick is running for the Kansas City School Board.

* blink * chirp, chirp

That's right. There is someone out there who actually wants to step into that dysfunctional shitstorm and try to make a difference.

Airick first came to my attention as a co-contributor on Mark Forsythe's blog, The Kansas City Post. The title of Airick's post was "Why put your child in a KCMO public school?"

He and I (and others) went back and forth for a few days. My position was basically that the Kansas City School District was institutionally dysfunctional and that the only intelligent response was to abandon ship. Airick's response, to me and others, repeatedly, was "OK. But what can we do to fix it?" He refused to accept the notion that the situation was hopeless.

I went away thinking he was probably a Don Quixote tilting at a broken windmill, but I was very, very impressed by his passion, his commitment and his tenacity. Because I haven't seen that in any of the current school board members.

Since then, I listened to Airick and Dr. Robyne Turner on KCUR discussing their "Viable Third" initiative. This was their commitment to exclusively live in and shop in the Third District.

"Aside from catching Spider-Man at the I-70 Drive-In, West hasn't seen any movies on the big screen in the past year — there aren't any theaters in the 3rd District."

I may have to invite him over for a DVD fest to bring him up to speed on what he's missed! Seriously.

More recently, I read the profile of Airick in The Pitch. Reading about his background (not what you probably think) and his motivation, I was even more impressed.

So when I heard about the First Anniversary Celebration of the Viable Third movement, I was anxious to meet this guy.

My take? This guy is NOT a politician! He didn't blow smoke up any one's ass, he didn't solicit any campaign contributions, he didn't ask for any body's support, he didn't kiss any babies, he didn't ask for any one's vote. We just hung out together, ate some INCREDIBLY SCRUMPDILLYICIOUS munchies provided by Harpers, and we talked. I honestly think that Airick's motivations are pure and honest. I think he really wants to solve problems and make things better.

I was particularly impressed when a PLAIN BROWN ENVELOPE was delivered to him by the folks from Harpers. It contained a CD from The Pitch with pictures of him and the kids that he works with that were taken during the interview but not published. His eyes lit up with excitement and he asked "Is there a laptop in the house?". There was and he set about working up a slide show of the kids which are his real passion.

At the risk of dooming his candidacy ( anyone gives a shit what I think!) I like him.

Since, as I stated up front, I don't live in or have a personal stake in the Kansas City School District, I would feel like a douche telling people in Kansas City how they should vote.

But I will encourage anyone who has not met Airick to do so if you have the opportunity. He is an intelligent, passionate, energetic, committed, and idealistic young man who lives what he believes. He walks his own talk and that is an admirable quality in anyone.

Good luck, Airick! I hope you succeed!


Kanga said...

I was Harpers with XO and the others. Ditto on this Airick guy. The dude seems to have his head (and ego) in the right place.

Fate said...

I met him a few months ago. I was very impressed. Very approachable, very passionate about his cause. In general, if more people thought about the community and city like him, things would be a lot better off.

Kansas City suffers from apathy and self-loathing. It is the goth kid of the major cities in the US right now.

Doc said...

i met him at another venue and liked what i heard. more, i agree that people in general should have his level of engagement with their community; i have a certain amount of neighborhood and larger community involvements -housing associations, membership in citizen sewage/runoff, watershed and general city wide infrastructure committees- and have observed that the folks who populate these working groups also have a tendency to make their own little corner of the world as viable as possible - it is that commitment writ large that changes the world.

having said that my oldest attends a charter school, as will my youngest when she is old enough.

i admire airick’s tenacity and his obvious character but that alone is not, in my opinion, enough to overcome 3 decades of deliberate mismanagement combined with barely concealed institutional racism. moreover, the school board (unlike the parks board which has been a blatant patronage system) has evolved into a combination soapbox/supposed launching platform for the publicly ambitious. the state has recently said they refuse to dirty their hands with the district. the school board is nominally headed by, what, it’s 20th superintendent in 30 years? and the progress made in revamping and improving the quality of education? right…

one of the things that you quickly notice when volunteering is that you tend to see the same people over and over again, who never get their names in any paper much less on any news channel, people who do not expect money, medals or even strokes: they are, mostly, people who see a need and move to fill it because that’s what you do.

airick strikes me as one of those folks.

problem is he’d most likely be, if not the only individual of that ilk, one of too few. and every time it came time to stand again, i fear the situation would remain the same – at least, that has been that pattern for the last 30 years.

i wish him luck, as i do everyone working to make the world better. but my truth is that i can not in good conscious subject my children to a haphazard education in order to…forgive me…make a point.

i do not have an answer but my instinct says that the current situation is so byzantine that the only answer is going to be a razor edge applied with some force.

Doc said...

The state of eduction at Paseo High School.

News link here.

I am willing to entertain the notion that this is a 'checp shot' in the ongoing discussion, but it will take an awful lot of persuasion...