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.

  • 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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  • Future Ready Learners: Equipping Students with Skills for Tomorrow

    Posted by Kelly Bielefeld on 10/6/2023

    This week, I’m excited to highlight the thoughts of our CIO, Rob Dickson.  Here are some of Rob’s thoughts about the future, skills, and our obligation to create an impactful and innovative educational experience for all of our students. - Kelly

    What are the essential skills students need to succeed in the future?

    As a parent of three daughters in their twenties, I understand it's natural to compare their education to what I received. However, as a Chief Information Officer with a passion for transforming learning environments, I believe that students must be Future Ready Learners to thrive in the digital age. Our district's new mission, "Wichita Public Schools prepares each student to achieve readiness for life, college, and career through an innovative and impactful educational experience," supports this. In this blog post, we'll delve into the necessary skills students require to succeed in the future and the crucial role public education plays in nurturing tomorrow's leaders.


    The Digital Revolution

    The digital revolution has drastically changed our daily lives, including the way we work, learn and interact. Technology has become an integral part of our existence, and it's essential to recognize that the skills needed for success are constantly evolving. Today, students require a diverse skillset that extends beyond traditional academic knowledge. Technology has even disrupted the learning environment, as shown in the diagram below, with changes occurring across all grade levels.

    Here are some Future Ready Skills needed to succeed in tomorrow’s landscape: 

    Adaptability and Resilience

    One of the most critical skills for future-ready learners is adaptability. The pace of technological change means that job roles and industries can shift rapidly. Students must be prepared to pivot and adapt to new challenges and opportunities. Resilience goes hand in hand with adaptability; it is the ability to bounce back from setbacks and learn from failures. In the fast-paced world of technology, the capacity to persevere through challenges is invaluable.

    Digital Literacy


    In today's world, digital literacy is no longer a bonus but a necessity. Students must be proficient in using technology to communicate, research, and solve problems. Additionally, they should be aware of the ethical implications of the digital realm, such as online safety, privacy, and responsible digital citizenship. By working with Dyane Smokorowski, the District's Digital Literacy and Citizenship Coordinator, we have witnessed the positive effects of empowering students with these essential skills. Our 12 Verizon Innovative Learning Middle Schools focus on obtaining digital citizenship certification through Common Sense Media to help students understand the impact of their digital footprint.

    Collaboration and Communication

    The future of work is collaborative. Students must learn to work effectively in teams, both in person and virtually. Effective communication skills, including the ability to articulate ideas, actively listen, and provide constructive feedback, are vital. Public education plays a crucial role in creating environments that foster collaboration and communication, preparing students for the collaborative nature of modern workplaces.

    Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving

    In a world inundated with information, students need to develop critical thinking skills to discern credible sources, analyze data, and make informed decisions. Problem-solving is another cornerstone skill, as students will face complex, real-world challenges that require creative solutions. These skills are central to design thinking, which, as a team leader and mentor, I've found to be a powerful approach to problem-solving and innovation.

    Continuous Learning


    Learning doesn't end with a diploma. Future-ready learners understand the importance of continuous learning and self-improvement. They seek out opportunities to expand their knowledge and skill set, whether through formal education, online courses, or professional development. Public education institutions can facilitate this mindset by promoting a love for learning and providing resources for ongoing growth.


    Embracing Technology


    Technology is not just a tool; it's a driver of innovation and transformation. As the leader of a virtual school and an esports program in my district, I've witnessed firsthand how technology can create engaging learning environments. Future-ready learners embrace technology and view it as an enabler, not a barrier. They are open to new tech trends and are willing to adapt to emerging tools and platforms. 

    What is the role of public education in shaping these future leaders?

    Public education is the cornerstone of society, and its role in preparing students for the future is paramount. I've had the privilege of spearheading initiatives that bridge the gap between technology and education. We must continue to invest in our public education system to ensure that all students have equal access to the skills and knowledge needed for success in the digital age.


    Public education should focus on:

    • Innovation: Embrace innovative teaching methods and technologies to create dynamic and engaging learning experiences.
    • Equity: Ensure that all students, regardless of their background, have access to quality education and the tools required for digital literacy.
    • Collaboration: Forge partnerships with universities, businesses, and communities to provide students with real-world experiences and opportunities for mentorship.
    • Teacher Professional Development: Support educators in staying up-to-date with the latest educational technology and teaching strategies. Knowing many of our staff are digital immigrants, we need to meet them where they are at and help them progress to where our student’s meet technology.


    In conclusion, the future of work in technology holds incredible promise, and public education is the key to unlocking this potential. Future-ready learners, equipped with adaptability, digital literacy, collaboration, critical thinking, and a passion for continuous learning, will lead us into an era of innovation and progress. I am confident in the abilities of our students, and I am positive that Wichita Public Schools will continue to play a vital role in shaping these future leaders. Together, we can ensure that every student is prepared for success in the exciting and ever-evolving world of tomorrow.

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  • Every Student Future Ready

    Posted by Kelly Bielefeld on 9/29/2023

    In our district, we want every student to become future ready…and when we say every, we mean EVERY.  This week I have asked Dr. Vince Evans, our Assistant Superintendent of Student Support Services, to describe how we truly live this mission for every student in our district. - Kelly


    Jefferson special education teacher working with studentsWhen you think of the phrase “student with special education needs” what type of image comes to mind? I’m sure our responses would vary, and that makes sense given the plethora of characteristics that makes each of our students unique. Through a student's Individualized Education Program (IEP), specialized supports and services are tailored to meet the diverse needs of that specific student. 


    Nationwide, approximately 15% of students have an IEP.  Wichita Public Schools slightly exceeds that number (we’re closer to 17%) with approximately 8,000 students with IEPs. The needs of these students vary radically, as do the range of supports that we have to offer each of them. To meet the needs of our students requires numerous dedicated people, including (but certainly not limited to) special education teachers, paraprofessionals, counselors, psychologists, social workers, speech language pathologists, nurses, occupational therapists, physical therapists, audiologists, interpreters, and many more. Another role that is crucial in meeting the needs of students with IEPs is that of the general education teacher (as well as all our general education colleagues). Most of our students with IEPs spend the majority of their school days in the general education classroom, and the support of general education teachers is critical in meeting their needs. Many educators start in general education before being drawn to a special education role. Our district’s forgivable loan program is a convenient way to provide free tuition for those who are interested in making this type of transition.     


    A student’s IEP can call for specialized transportation, gifted instruction, support for a visual impairment, assistive technology, orientation/mobility, and many, many other ways to help meet their unique needs. No matter the circumstances, we’re ready to help our students achieve life, college, and career readiness.


    If you or someone you know would like to join us in this pursuit, please consider applying today

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  • Post-Secondary Success

    Posted by Kelly Bielefeld on 9/26/2023

    When the state of Kansas updated the regulations for school districts in 2015, K-12 schools were tasked with looking at a piece of data we have never looked at before: post-secondary effectiveness.  This isn’t a term that most people in the education world were familiar with, let alone individuals outside of the education realm.  Simply put, we are now tracking how well our students succeed after graduation.

    At the start, it might seem unfair to hold schools accountable for this data. Historically, K-12 schools have seen graduation as the goal…once students cross the stage with a diploma, we have “done our job.”  But what we have learned from listening to community and business leaders is that our students need more than just a diploma to be ready for life after high school. 

    This is why in 2021 we began Graduation +, a system for helping at least 70% of graduates to have something in addition to their diploma upon graduation.  This “something” might be college credits, a credential, or a work-based learning opportunity such as an internship.

    Preparing students for post-secondary success has many elements. In Wichita Public Schools we support students with college applications, applying for FAFSA, scholarship applications, and making the right choice for their path after they graduate. We also have implemented routes for students to obtain industry recognized credentials through their CTE courses so that they are work ready if they want to go straight into the workforce. Finally, we have increased and expanded  students’ opportunities to earn college credits while still in high school. This prepares students for the rigor of college while at the same time  giving them the confidence to know that they can be successful at the next level if that is what they choose to pursue.

    Three years ago, around 25% of our graduates had one of these market value assets, either a credential, college credit, or a work-based learning opportunity.  The class of 2024 already has almost 50% of students who have already earned one of these…and that number will move up as the year moves on. 


    We have more work to do, but we are headed in the right direction in Wichita and in Kansas to help ensure that students who graduate can be successful in the next phase of their life.   

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  • It's not a bill

    Posted by Kelly Bielefeld on 9/15/2023

    The psychology of money is interesting. When it comes to how we spend and what we spend it on, perspective matters.

    Take for example your water bill. If your bill, like mine, has increased greatly over the past year, it hurts the bottom line.  There is less money to go to other things like food, entertainment, and savings.  But our family needs water, so we pay the bill.

    Other expenses are much more optional.  Our family can skip a meal out, a trip to the ballpark, or a movie night. We don’t like to make those choices, but sometimes that is reality.

    And then there are investments in our future: saving. We might be saving for retirement, saving for a home project, or just putting away money in case of an emergency. Sometimes we can save more than at other times depending on our current circumstances.

    When it comes to paying for education, our perspective also matters. Do we see it as paying a bill; paying for something “extra” that can be cut if necessary; or are we making an investment for the future? I hope our perspective is that of an investment.

    When we take money and put it toward our retirement account, we don’t see that as a bill we are paying. We will “get that money back” someday, and hopefully with a rate of return that actually increases our investment.

    The same is true of our tax dollars being invested in education. As a community, our investment in kids produces a “rate of return” for our community. As we shared at the BOE meeting this week, by increasing our number of graduates and decreasing our number of dropouts, we create affluence in our community.  More graduates equal an expanded GDP for Wichita…which is good for everyone in the city.

    We pay our bills, we pay for entertainment, and we make investments.  A better perspective of funding education, for students of WPS, is not to think of it as a “bill” we have to pay, but an investment in the next generation.

    Our increase of graduates from 74% of students five years ago to 80.4% of students today benefits all of us.  We still have work to do; the impact could be even greater with an 85% or 90% graduation rate…but the investment that our community makes through tax dollars helps all of us. When our students do better, everyone in our community benefits.

    Thank you to all of our taxpayers who make the investment in our students. We will continue to track outcomes, listen to the needs of our community, and respond appropriately to improve the overall success of each and every student in our district.

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  • Remembrance and Service

    Posted by Kelly Bielefeld on 9/8/2023

    South JROTC students folding the U.S. FlagMonday is September 11th.

    As the years have gone by since 2001, the reflection and memory of the day has probably morphed and changed for some. However, I remember so many vivid details from that day. I was in my second semester teaching at Goddard High School. From the reactions of students to the tears from adults, pain and shock was all around. 

    This date, September 11th, now referred to as Patriot Day, is a day of both remembrance and service. The innocent lives that were lost, the senseless violence, and the pain of feeling vulnerable in a way that many of us never had before…those are the details that I remember from the past. It is important to remember those details, no matter how painful they are.

    But Patriot Day is also about service. Serving one another, serving our country, and serving the common good…The American Dream. Most of us who work in public schools feel this kind of calling: a calling to serve. We serve students and their families during the school day, but we also serve the greater community on so many levels. We coach youth sports, we teach Sunday School classes, we serve on local community boards, we serve at 4-H, Girl Scouts, and Boys and Girls Club, and when we retire, many teachers provide countless hours at non-profits all around the city.

    Teachers know that the investment in a student is the ultimate service to our future. By investing time in our kids, we are investing in the hope of a better future: a future with less violence, less tragedy, and more peaceful understanding.

    On Monday we remember, and on Monday we serve…and continue to serve…with the hope of a better future for Every Student. - Kelly

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