The McPherson USD 418 Board of Education unanimously voted Monday to pursue becoming an innovative school.

The McPherson USD 418 Board of Education unanimously voted Monday to pursue becoming an innovative school.

The decision came after Governor Sam Brownback signed a bill that will allow loopholes in Kansas school requirements. The measure, called the Coalition of Innovative Districts Act, would allow up to 10 percent of Kansas school districts to opt out of most state laws, rules and regulations to improve student achievement. This status would be granted for five years, after which schools would need to re-apply.

A board, which would oversee the coalition and report annually to the state Legislature, would be made up of representatives from each innovative district. The districts within would need to prove they have met testing standards and achieved progress described in its application.

The McPherson board’s actions communicate a desire to be one of the first two schools in this coalition.

Once two districts are approved by legislators at the state level, the two districts would then determine the standards for admission and continued membership of additional schools.

Last week, McPherson board members Chris Wiens, Jeff Johnson, Terry Krier and Superintendent Randy Watson met with Senator Steve Abrams, the chairman of the Senate Education Committee and a key proponent for the bill.

“I thought it was a good meeting,” Krier said. “I came away feeling like it was something our school district should do. Not only is it beneficial for us but it’s also beneficial for the whole state of Kansas.”
Krier said Abrams communicated a genuine interest to remove the restrictions from schools and that previously has prevented them from trying new ideas. Krier said Abrams understood each district’s approach would look different.

“It needs to be at a grass-roots level,” Krier said. “They need to decide for themselves and make the change themselves. But at least it gets the districts talking.”

Board member Pam Lawson said being a part of a coalition might make their federal waiver more convincing.

One negative aspect the board discussed was possible litigation issue due to lifted regulations. Board members or administration might also receive criticism if they would become an innovative district.

Watson expressed several positive outcomes for becoming part of the coalition, such as leadership within the state and the opportunity for staff development in McPherson.

“I think the bets part of this bill is that once there’s 28 school districts, there’s the synergy of those districts to…feed off each other to try to raise student achievement,” he said. “The real hard work is now starting. We’ve got to get kids to higher levels. We’ve got to fine tune what we’re doing and get really good at that, and that will really take a lot of effort.”

Applications to become an innovative school can begin July 1.

In other news:

- The board approved $70,000 for playground equipment for Roosevelt and Washington Elementary Schools as part of the district’s bond issue. Roosevelt’s equipment costs will exceed that total by $2,193, and will be paid for by the PTO. Lincoln Elementary’s costs fall under this total at about $8,000, as the area only needs swings and a handicap accessible ramp.

- The board approved a recommendation to keep textbook fees flat for the upcoming school year. Fees will remain at $75. There will also be no changes in classroom fees.
- The board approved a change in policy in the McPherson Middle School student handbook involving electronic devices. Students will now be able to use these devices as their agenda and for other teacher-approved classroom use.

- Board member Chris Wiens reported on a career camp at McPherson College for high school students.

The students attended workshops, met with admissions counselors, took campus tours, and participated in other activities. The event was aimed to further prepare students for post-secondary education as part of the district’s Citizenship, College and Career readiness initiative.

Contact Jenae Pauls at and follow her on Twitter @PaulsSentinel