Kirsten Lipari-Braman Testimony

Good morning Members of the Senate Education Committee and thank you for the opportunity to testify in support of SB 218. My name is Kirsten Lipari-Braman and I am the Chief Executive Officer of Gordon Parks Elementary, a PreK-4 public charter school in Kansas City. I have a passion and love for the work I do with my staff each day to meeting the myriad of needs our students bring to us. I am also a very strong advocate for family choice when it comes to education. 60% of children and families of Gordon Parks receive SNAP or TNAF benefits. These families in poverty and urban areas deserve the same opportunities that their suburban counterparts receive.

Gordon Parks Elementary School, a Kansas City, Missouri public charter school, currently
serves over 160 prekindergarten through fourth grade students. Founded in 1999 by
Dorothy Curry and Sue Jarvis, Gordon Parks was named in honor of the groundbreaking
African-American photographer, filmmaker, musician and author who proudly endorsed
the school’s mission of educating urban core children to reach their full potential. Our
student demographic is 63.3% African-American, 16.1% Hispanic, 11.7% Multi-Race, and
8.3% White. We have 14.4% English Language Learners, 7.78% special education and that
number has increased by 2-3% each year. Our staff demographics include 49.7% of staff
holding advanced degrees, 19% African-American, 19% Male, and 81% female.
Our team stands committed to creating a school environment with high expectations for
our students in the areas of achievement, attendance and behavior. To meet the individual
educational needs of our students and to close academic achievement gaps, there are two
adults per classroom. This impressive low student-teacher ratio of 15:1 enables GPES to
closely monitor student achievement and implement individualized educational support. In
addition to academic support, our CARE team provides an added layer or more intensive
care-taking of the social, emotional, and physical well-being of our students, staff and
families. Approximately 5% of our families’ experience homelessness throughout the
school year. 87% of our student population has experienced at least one traumatic event in
their lifetime. 47.9% of children surveyed by the National Survey of Children’s Health have
experienced at least one traumatic event. This makes Gordon Parks almost double the
number of the National norm. Of the 87% of our GP students, 40% of them have an Ace
score of 4 or higher. These children are 4 1⁄2 times more likely to engage in drug abuse, 7
more times likely to be alcoholics, 19 more times more likely to have attempted suicide, 5
times more likely to have attendance problems, 2 times more likely to fail academically,
and 3 times more likely to have behavior problems at school. 13% have an Ace score of 6
or higher. These children are 30 times more likely to have attempted suicide than those
with an ACE score of 0. “The healthier relationships a child has, the more likely they will be to recover from trauma and thrive. Relationships are the agents of change and the most
powerful therapy is human love.” – Bruce Perry. This is the foundation we have built our
mission and vision around. We work fully from the work of Trauma Informed School
knowing and believing all students can succeed, even in the face of adversity. It is our
responsibility and obligation to create as many conditions for success as we can. Creating
this environment means not only hiring and retaining a highly-qualified and dedicated
team, but also allocating our funds strategically and carefully.
 
At Gordon Parks Elementary School, we believe culture creates connection which drives
collaboration which then allows for strong core instruction. The Gordon Parks Way begins
each day with a Responsive Classroom approach at our Morning Meeting. This is an
engaging way to start each day, build a strong sense of community, and set children up for
success socially and academically. Students then enter a day of instruction, activities and
opportunities designed under the guidance of the Responsive Classroom approach,
delivered by two full-time teachers in each classroom and supported by our CARE Team.
Responsive Classroom is an evidence-based approach of teaching that leads to greater
teacher effectiveness, higher student achievement and improved school climate. This set
of practices helps educators develop competencies in these four areas: engaging
academics, effective management, positive community and developmental responsive
teaching. At Gordon Parks Elementary School, we believe that how we teach is as
important as what we teach. The Gordon Parks Way also includes two full-time teachers in
each classroom which makes our student-to-teacher ratio 15:1 while incorporating a
collaborative teaching model. This approach allows our teachers the ability to respond to
students' academic and social-emotional needs through a balance of individual and small
groups.

Working hand-in-hand with the Responsive Classroom approach, our CARE Team strives to
build resiliency in students using a trauma-informed model that promotes student, staff
and family healing and growing together. Our CARE Team is comprised of a licensed
Mental Health Therapist, a Behavior Specialist, two Resilience coaches, and a Family
Advocate.

As a charter school, Gordon Parks receives public funding. Currently, one of our challenges
is we are funded based on 15 year old data from 2005. As an educator, Kansas City resident
and taxpayer, I am concerned that the funding my GPES students receive is not fair and
equitable like other public schools in Kansas City based on current year local revenues.
Gordon Parks depends on the generosity and dedication of community partners and
volunteers to support our small classes, enhanced curriculum and intensive support
services. Collectively, this team provides the environment, resources and high expectations
necessary for our students to thrive. 40% of our funding is raised through private
donations and grants to make our budget to provide door to door transportation, breakfast
and lunch for all students free of charge, provide supplies, and meet the needs of families such paying electrical bills, buying groceries, assisting with medical needs such as glasses
and dental appointments.
 
With the monies that our students are entitled to, we could hire additional staff, purchase
resources allowing us to better serve our students, and provide more resources for our
families to thrive. Our students enter our school one to two grade levels below their peers
and require strategic interventions to move them forward to grade level. Despite the
unequitable resources, we work diligently to provide rich, personally meaning experiences
and relationships. Equitable funding would be used to hire additional experts and specialist
in reading and math to provide more intensive one on one and small group support for
students, purchase curriculum to meet the needs of struggling students and curriculum to
enhance our classrooms for children who excel faster and need more challenge, as well as
extend our CARE team to provide more family resources and training.
 
I strongly urge you to move forward with SB 218, This bill is not seeking more funding for
charter schools. It is ensuring every public school students has the funding they are
entitled to receive. Thank you for your time and dedication to the work you do each day
for all the Missouri’s families.