When Murray L. Woodard II looks at the performance and data points of Kansas City education, he doesn’t just see numbers, he sees his community. He sees himself.
Being born and raised in Kansas City, Murray was one of the students that he is now passionately serving. This gives him a unique perspective and an inner drive to bring people together in order to improve educational outcomes for students of his home city.
Murray is the Program Officer for Education at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, where he provides support to the Foundation’s education-focused initiatives through program development, program management, building relationships, and research.
Previously, Murray was the External Partnerships Coordinator for Kauffman Scholars, Inc. (KSI) and an integral part of the operations team. Earlier, he was a post-secondary coach for KSI and worked to support Scholars facing the challenges of life in college.
Murray now leads the Foundation’s community engagement and ownership work, which includes the Great Schools Visits (#KCGreatSchools). The program started in the fall of 2015 and it takes members who represent a cross-section of Kansas City around the country to visit high-performing urban schools.
These visits are about bringing together a group of people who normally don’t communicate, having them see what is possible and then coming back to Kansas City with new ideas to form actions plans.
With 5 visits per semester, the Great Schools Visits is a long-term strategy for the foundation. It’ll run for at least the next 5 years.
One of the visits that touched Murray was a trip to Boston where they visited an alternative school who takes on students that everyone else has thrown away or given up on. Murray shares how he watched a panel of students talk about their hardships and the responsibilities they have at such a young age in addition to going to school. These are issues that a system faces every single day.
More takeaways from the trips are:
- We can learn from every city
- There is no one way to do this
- There are several different schools in each of the cities that are similar to Kansas City schools
- People really care about education in Kansas City
- You don’t have to be a top performing school to do great things for kids
Another pillar of Murray’s work are the community meetings he is hosting. The meetings are both large and small, with targeted audiences and mixed audiences. Murray’s mission is to get everyone involved. In order to achieve that, they try to meet people where they are.
In our conversation, we address the biggest challenges in education. Murray’s opinion is that there are many different challenges, but the lack of communication and collaboration are the biggest ones. In order to accomplish what needs to be done, the Kansas City community has to work together: the startup and entrepreneurship community, the students, the parents, the entire community needs to communicate more efficiently. Murray is certain that the more informed people are the more positive will the outcomes for the kids be.
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