WPSLead - Superintendent's Blog

  • Superintendent Kelly Bielefeld is a frequent author on topics related to leadership in education, as well as college and career readiness. As the superintendent of Kansas' largest and most diverse school district, WPSLead allows Mr. Bielefeld to share his perspective weekly on issues related to public education in Kansas. Occasional guest contributors, including other WPS educational leaders, will join him in sharing insight on what it takes to support innovative and impactful educational opportunities for ALL WPS students.

  • Budget Decisions: Prioritizing People

    Posted by Kelly Bielefeld on 1/26/2024

    This week we shared an update with the board of education about our budget situation for next year. It was hard news to hear.

     

    Our vision is to be the premier district of choice for the region, to create schools that are connected and create a sense of community and belonging for every student. The idea that we might lose some of our school communities creates anxious feelings and emotions for everyone across the district. It has some asking, “What has led us to this extremely difficult decision?”

     

    A piece of the puzzle that is important to understand when it comes to our situation is the COVID relief money, often referred to as ESSER (Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief). ESSER was an unprecedented influx of money that was approved by the Trump and Biden administrations to help schools through the pandemic and after. The money helped to provide PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), support facilities changes for safety, learning loss, staff recruitment and retention, and behavioral support in the aftermath of a traumatic time for students across the country.

     

    Now that those funds have been exhausted, we have decisions to make as to how we can move forward. In November and December, we gathered large amounts of feedback from staff and from the community — thousands of staff and community members processed information in listening circles in schools and through site councils. More than 500 group responses were submitted. Over and over we have heard that the support staff, mainly counselors, social workers, and school psychologists, are critical positions that we need to keep even though ESSER money can’t continue to fund them.

     

    But the main point of data that we hope to address is unfilled teaching positions across the district. We know that the most important investment that we make is investing in our people. Our board of education committed to this in 2023 by approving a two-year contract for staff that included no increase to insurance premiums and a 4.5-5% raise for all staff in both 2023-24 and 2024-25. This was approved by both United Teachers of Wichita and Service Employees International Union. With a starting salary above $50,000 per year for a new teacher, we hoped our vacancy issue would improve. Despite this investment, we still see vacancies across the district, especially in hard-to-fill positions like math and science.

     

    We want great staff, we want great support staff, and we know our people are vitally important. We also know that enrollment has declined around 8.5% over the past 8 years and we haven’t made any adjustments to our school landscape to match that reality. Enrollment declines, while small, are projected to continue over the next few years.

     

    We value our staff and know that our priority is our people.

     

    This leaves us with choices to make. As we look to balance the 24-25 budget, our board of education is choosing to continue to invest in people, not spread resources so thinly, and make difficult decisions about closing buildings so that we can provide a high-quality teacher in every classroom.

     

    District leaders will be ready to propose a list of building closures at the February 12th board of education meeting. They will share details about impacted staff and families: which buildings are impacted, where students will be reassigned, what options families have, and where staff will go to find information about their options.

     

    Despite the difficult decisions we have before us, and the resulting challenges of those decisions, we are committed to do what is best, not only for our students, but for our staff as well. We believe that retaining and relocating staff is ultimately a better option than retaining buildings and dismissing staff.

    Our district has faced challenges before, and I am confident that we will emerge from our present challenges together, strong, and focused on educating our wonderful students.

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  • Unlocking Potential: The Crucial Role of School Facilities in Education

    Posted by Kelly Bielefeld on 1/19/2024 7:00:00 AM

    HVAC repair at Hadley Middle SchoolThis week, I’m excited to highlight the thoughts of our Division Director of Facilities, Luke Newman. - Kelly

    Unlocking Potential: The Crucial Role of School Facilities in Education

    Education is a powerful tool that shapes the future of individuals and societies. While the focus is often on curriculum, teachers, and students, the role of school facilities is equally paramount. Recognizing the profound impact our facility environments have on learning outcomes and overall well-being, our school district is on a mission to ensure our students and staff are consistently provided with optimal facilities.

    The Power of HVAC: Delivering High Quality Air

    Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems stand as linchpins in creating conducive learning atmospheres. Studies reveal that these systems, when delivering optimal air temperatures and humidity levels, can significantly reduce absenteeism, enhance focus, and improve overall health. Proactively addressing this, our district has intensified preventive maintenance efforts, resulting in fewer comfort complaints, system failures, and extended equipment lifespans. Centralized computer management of HVAC controls ensures constant monitoring, allowing us to identify and rectify issues before they escalate.

    Illuminating Success: The Role of Adequate Lighting

    Adequate lighting is a key factor in any educational environment. Embracing this, we've been transitioning to energy-efficient LED lighting and increasing natural daylight in classrooms through strategic window replacements and remodels.

    Safety First: Providing Secure and Welcoming Spaces

    Understanding that student behavior is influenced by their surroundings, we strive to ensure our facilities are safe, comfortable, and welcoming. Controlled vestibule entrances, upgraded security systems, and swift emergency response measures ensure a secure learning environment. From foundations to roofs, safety is our top priority, and we consistently address emergency maintenance needs in this regard, such as: broken window repairs, electrical outages, plumbing leaks, HVAC failures, fire alarms, snow removal, and many others.

    Vibrant Learning Spaces: Investing in the Future

    We believe that vibrant learning environments shape successful educational journeys. From interior finishes to specialized spaces for life skills and mixed abilities, we're committed to continuous improvement. Our Child Development Centers provide safe and stimulating spaces for our youngest learners, making it easier for high school parents to pursue their diploma. Strategic investments in technical education, career pathways, and college-bound programs further underscore our commitment to excellence and future-readiness.

    Custodians: Unsung Heroes of Clean and Welcoming Spaces

    Our custodians play a crucial role in maintaining clean and welcoming buildings. Their dedication ensures that our facilities are clean and healthy spaces to learn, which in turn promotes positive growth, development, and well-being. We recognize and strive for excellence in this aspect of our operations.

    A Vision for the Future: Dreaming Big Together

    Quality facilities are not just a matter of pride; they are catalysts for educational opportunities and positive outcomes. They attract talent, boost staff satisfaction and retention, and strengthen community engagement. As we develop our long-range facility master plans, we invite you to join us on this exciting journey of possibilities and dreams. Together, we're shaping an even brighter future for Wichita Public Schools!

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  • Making Choices

    Posted by Kelly Bielefeld on 1/12/2024

    Students at Enders doing a craft2024 looks to be a year of choices for our district…and it started already with some (complex) challenges about canceling school for weather conditions.

     

    These decisions to cancel school are a good microcosm of other challenging choices that lie ahead. Multiple options exist, we have data to use to guide the decision, but ultimately, we are making a prediction with the best information available within a short time frame. We have heard feedback from staff that they desire us to be transparent in our decisions and processes in making them. We have heard this and will continue to explain and make sure we know what to expect, as much as possible, moving forward.

     

    Other choices that need to be made soon are for our families and parents. The Showcase for Choices and Opportunities event will be hosted from 5-7:30 p.m. on January 24 at Century II. This event is a chance for current and future parents to learn about the options available for their student’s education. We have many outside options at all levels; we hope to see a great turnout as families make choices for the future.

     

    And an exciting development on the heels of this is a chance for parent feedback about these options. During the week of January 22nd, we will be sending a survey to parents about the future of our schools, how we want them structured and what options we want for students when it comes to themes, instructional methods, and enrollment options.  We hope to be the district of choice for all families in the region, and our goal is to work with parents and community members to make this happen. We want teachers and parents to choose us to help achieve our vision of becoming the premier school district in the state of Kansas!

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  • Twas the Night Before Winter Break

    Posted by Kelly Bielefeld on 12/14/2023

     

    'Twas the night before Christmas in Wichita's embrace,

    Where the Arkansas River flows with gentle grace.

    The stockings were hung in the classrooms with care,

    In hopes that St. Nick soon would be there.

     

    The children of ICT were nestled in beds,

    Visions of the Keeper danced in their heads.

    And I in my Wildcat cap, and ma in her Shocker gear,

    Had just settled our minds, spreading holiday cheer.

     

    When out on the street, there arose such a clatter,

    I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.

    Away to the window, I flew with a flash,

    Tore open the shutters, threw up the sash.

     

    The moon on the Keeper's flame made it gleam,

    Gave a luster of midday to the river's stream.

    Then what to my wondering eyes did appear,

    But a miniature sleigh and eight reindeer near.

     

    With a jolly old driver, lively and quick,

    I knew in a moment, it must be St. Nick.

    More rapid than Shockers, his coursers they came,

    And he whistled and shouted, called them by name:

     

    "Now, Benton! now, Beech! Now, Adams and White!

    On, Irving! on, Enders! on, Wichita's delight!

    To the top of AMAC! To the top of Dunbar

    Now dash away, dash away, dash away far!"

     

    Like planes on their runways, before taking flight,

    Up to the housetops, they soared with delight.

    And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof,

    The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

     

    Down the chimney, St. Nicholas came with a bound,

    He was dressed in WPS pride, all around.

    A bundle of joy he had flung on his back,

    And he looked like a tour guide, unpacking his pack.

     

    His eyes, how they twinkled! His laugh, oh so merry!

    His cheeks were like sunflowers, his nose like a cherry!

    His smile was as wide as the Arkansas River's flow,

    And his beard was as white as the Kansas snow.

     

    He filled all the stockings with goodies and fun,

    Then sprang to his sleigh when his work was done.

    With a tip of his hat and a nod to the city,

    He bid Wichita, "Happy Christmas, oh so pretty!"

     

    He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a cheer,

    And away they all flew, spreading joy and good cheer.

    But I heard him exclaim as they flew out of sight,

    "Happy Holidays WPS, and to all a good night!"

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  • A Fine, Fine District

    Posted by Kelly Bielefeld on 12/8/2023

    Sheril Logan and Kelly Bielefeld greet employees at Good Apple AwardsWhen I was a principal, I would visit classrooms at the start of the year to get to know the kids. I would learn their names, interact a little bit, and read a picture book entitled "A Fine, Fine School" by Sharon Creech.

     

    The book is about a principal who is so proud of his school that he keeps wanting to do more and more “school”…first school on Saturdays, then school on the holidays, and then school every day of the year. It is funny because no one wants to tell him that it is too much because he is so proud of the school. They don’t want to hurt his feelings.

     

    We celebrated our staff this week with the Good Apple Awards, and I felt just like the principal. I was beaming with pride about our fine, fine district. There were many representations of the awesome employees we are blessed to have in our district; even a therapy pug decked out in his tuxedo was there. Our staff are incredible, and over and over I witness how dedicated we are to our kids. It was a blast to celebrate them and their loved ones.

     

    I’m still beaming with pride about our fine, fine district.  It is an honor to serve and support our amazing people.

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  • The Plan

    Posted by Kelly Bielefeld on 12/1/2023

    Teacher at Pleasant Valley Middle SchoolA large part of what we do in our district is to make plans. We plan for school, we plan lessons, we plan for bad weather, and we plan for many, many activities.

    Plans are important. They provide a way to accomplish goals and a roadmap to get there.  We are embarking on a new strategic plan for the next 3-5 years. We have engaged community, parents, teachers, and staff in helping to shape the outcomes we want for our students in the future.


    We also will begin work on a facilities plan. In a similar way, our facilities and programs help to support our mission as a district. We want every student to thrive and exceed their potential. In order to do this, we need facilities that are conducive to future-ready learning, staff who are qualified and trained for this, and a community who supports our vision.


    Ultimately, we have a critical question that we have started to ask our community: What do we want out of our schools?  The strategic plan listening sessions answered some of this. We want graduates with academic knowledge who are ready to be successful in life and career after high school. Our goal is to keep kids safe and give them a sense of belonging while we do this.  In a nutshell, this is the basics of what we hope to achieve for our community.

    But for our students to thrive, as our vision statement indicates, our kids need more than just a diploma and a safe school, they need future-ready skills that will equip them with tools for their future. They need credentials and communication skills, they need internships and community service, they need access to college credit and access to hands-on learning. They need our community to support them both inside and outside the classroom walls.


    We hope the three goals of our strategic plan articulate these priorities for our district. We aim to produce academically prepared graduates with the skills and assets they need for their future. If we can accomplish this for every child, our students and our community will thrive.

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  • Defining Future Ready

    Posted by Kelly Bielefeld on 11/17/2023

    Health care students checking vitals on a mannequinI believe that one shared goal for every parent is for their student to be well-prepared for the future. Our collective aim is to empower every child to be “future ready.”

    Often, catchphrases like “future-ready” can lose their significance over time, becoming challenging to define. To address this, we use a strategy that involves clarifying a term by providing examples and non-examples of that word, a method we also apply to the concept of being “future ready.”

     

    What are some examples? One example is equipping our students with future-oriented skills such as coding, drone operation, and networking technology. Another example are the extracurricular activities that many of our students participate in, including athletics, fine arts, and community service organizations like Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and 4-H. These activities nurture essential skills we know they will need in the future: teamwork, perseverance, communication, and contributing to the greater community. Our district continues to support the development of these future ready skills in various ways.

     

    All aspects of a student’s educational journey should point forward and should extend over the horizon.

     

    To achieve this, it is important then to consider what “future ready” is not. Encouraging careers that may become obsolete or teaching skills that won't be relevant in the future are non-examples we need to be mindful of. We've seen professions like telephone operators and milkmen disappear.  Likewise, we must question whether certain skills, like shorthand or how to use a floppy disk or fax machine, are still “future ready.” Looking ahead, we wonder whether skills such as keyboarding will remain relevant, or if advancements like self-driving cars will reshape how we approach driver training. How will AI impact the way that we teach and learn?

     

    You might wonder how WPS addresses these examples and non-examples…how are we adapting to make sure that students are truly future ready?  Through our current strategic plan, we are defining life readiness through a future ready lens.  We know that this is a moving target that will require ongoing refinement and development.  And more than anything else, we must have community support and input to ensure we both know and teach the skills that students need for the future.

     

    By providing a forward-looking education and fostering qualities that are vital for the evolving landscape, WPS seeks to actively instill the cutting-edge skills and knowledge in our students to ensure that they will graduate “future ready.”

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  • Safe Schools

    Posted by Kelly Bielefeld on 10/27/2023

    Bailey Gutzmer leads a restorative practice circle at Colvin ElementaryOur work to keep schools safe is essential to our success as a district. 

     

    As part of our work on the current strategic plan, we have added many measures over the past years and a few specifically this fall. We have new secured access points at 13 schools as part of capital investments. We have added additional assistant principals at a few buildings. We are in the process of shifting some key personnel, who were hired with ESSER funds, to the permanent budget. These staff include security guards, counselors, and social workers across the district. We are also in the process of consolidating mentoring programs under the office of Equity, Inclusion and Accountability. 

     

    Through all this work, we have embedded the use of Restorative Practices, a tool that helps to strengthen relationships between individuals as well as social connections within groups. Restorative Practices training helps adults create a climate of belonging and trust into each of our school communities. It is rooted in restorative justice and the idea that when we cause harm, we have to restore the relationship for the sake of the team. This does not mean students who cause harm don’t also receive consequences. Consequences alone many times do not change behavior, which is our ultimate goal for preparing students for life. None of us wants to live in a future where students bring harm to the community. As best we can, we hope to support all students to lead a productive and meaningful life.

     

    Restorative Practices is not a magic bullet that will solve all behavioral issues in our district, especially some of the more intense. When we hear about students who are disruptive in our schools, the common gut-reaction might be a feeling of “kick them out” or “lock them up.”  We know that taking an approach like that with a dysregulated student doesn’t serve the student or our society well. 

     

    This is a gap in our system and one that we are focusing more resources on. We need restorative and therapeutic options for students who have experienced trauma and for students with a behavioral disability that might impact their learning. Through community connections, wrap-around services, and specialized training for teachers, we believe we can improve our system in this area.

     

    We have work to do, but we continue to see improvements in safety as a district. I believe the incorporation of Restorative Practices has helped, in part, to bring about the improved safety.

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  • We have been listening!

    Posted by Kelly Bielefeld on 10/20/2023

    This summer, the strategic planning team began their work to create a new five-year strategic plan for the district. “New” might not be the most 

    Listening session for new strategic plan precise word to use…more of a refresh or revision of the current plan that sunsets in 2023.

     

    We began our work by adjusting the mission and vision to reflect our “future ready” focus we want to continue to have as a district.  As we unpack our plan, we will show how the goals of the plan align with who we want to be in the future and our vision as a district.

     

    Most recently, we have partnered with the Center for Evaluation and Educational Leadership out of KU to help gather feedback from the field about our goals and which future-ready skills our students need. The feedback has been outstanding.  They facilitated 13 listening sessions that involved community members, teachers, administrators, non-profit organizations, retired teachers, classified staff, and parents. Over 200 individuals participated in these face-to-face feedback sessions. Following that, we received almost 600 responses to the online survey we sent to all parents in the district.

    Listening session with Community Partners

    Now that we have all this great information, the real work begins.  Over the next few weeks, the planning team will create our new/revised/updated Student Outcome Goals for our district. At the November meeting, we will submit the Board of Education our recommendations for updated goals for the next five years.


    These goals will guide our work and help us to focus on improving outcomes for our students. To all parents and community members who have been involved, thank you for your engagement in the process. We are creating a strong foundation for our future growth and success as a district. We have listened and we better understand how we can create students who are future-ready to succeed in our Wichita community. 

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  • Every Student. Every Day.

    Posted by Kelly Bielefeld on 10/13/2023

    Coming out of the Covid pandemic, we are seeing a nationwide issue with student attendance, which is understandable. In order to keep everyone safe, we asked parents to keep students at home who could possibly transmit the virus. Because we have moved beyond those protocols, we now need all families to hear, loud and clear, that we need students in school every day. So much happens during the school day that goes beyond the “make-up work” that a student will complete when he or she misses school.

    This matters for your student to learn what they need to in order to become Future-Ready. Chronic absenteeism directly affects our ability to achieve three of our four long-term goals.

    1. Graduation Rate: Students who are chronically absent in a single year between grades 8 and 12 are seven times more likely to drop out of high school.
    2. 3rd Grade Literacy: Students who are chronically absent in Pre-K and Kindergarten are less likely to be reading on grade level by 3rd grade.
    3. Safety: Students who are chronically absent are more likely to engage in risky behaviors and show increased risk for suicidal behavior, depression and anxiety.

     

    If you need support for your family to remove barriers for better attendance, please contact the office at your student’s school. We are here to work with you to make sure your student is prepared for their future. - Kelly

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