School of Education launches a laboratory of learning

With a celebratory air, the UMKC School of Education formally launched its Urban Education Research Center on October 29 at the Atterbury Student Success Center on the UMKC campus.

The Center, directed by Michele Foster, Ed.D., will conduct cutting-edge research and analysis, develop data-rich approaches, and disseminate this information with the goal of promoting excellent schooling and improving the lives, opportunities and communities of urban residents throughout the United States, with a focus on the Greater Kansas City community.

A brief conversational video, featuring current and prior students as well as some partner school district administrators, provided context of the School’s investment, innovation and collaborative approach to revolutionize urban education and set the stage for the evening.

The launch event attracted more than 300 leading educators, administrators, donors, community leaders and students. Shirley Brice Heath, Ph.D., was the featured guest speaker.

Heath, professor emerita at Stanford University, urged the audience to leverage the Kansas City community’s inherent advantages. A specialist in building highly effective learning environments, especially for students of color and those in urban settings, Heath said she was struck by the number and quality of museums, libraries and other cultural amenities in the city.

“I have never seen a city of this size with such a wealth of cultural resources,” she said. “You need to think deeply and seriously about how to use these resources.” Local public schools need to “link with, work with and grow with these other resources,” she said.

UMKC Chancellor Leo E. Morton called the Center “a place where the hope and promise of urban education are respected and advanced.”

Wanda J. Blanchett, Ph.D., School of Education Dean and Ewing Marion Kauffman/Missouri Endowed Chair for Teacher Education, described the Center as “a think tank to address some of our country’s most perplexing urban education issues.”

The status quo is no longer working for students, particularly students of color and those in urban communities.  Blanchett stressed that, “as the School of Education nears its 60th anniversary, we have come to understand that we must better coach our educators and mental health professionals to provide culturally-appropriate instruction and services, and validate and build upon the knowledge and life experiences all children bring into our schools.

“With the addition of the Center,” Blanchett continued, “the UMKC School of Education continues to “lead the charge toward the light at the end of the tunnel of darkness that exists in far too many urban classrooms and communities.”

Philanthropist John Sherman, who with his wife, Marny, funded the Sherman Family Endowed Chair in Urban Education Research and Center start-up costs, said the Center is designed to help urban schools become “the great equalizer that levels the playing field,” allowing all children to reach their full potential.

“This is such an exciting day for us, launching an Urban Education Research Center that fortifies our strongly held belief that we cannot allow urban schools to fail because there is simply too much at stake,” Blanchett said. “John and Marny, I stand here today on behalf of my colleagues at UMKC and the School of Education, both humbled and inspired by your generosity.  Our commitment to you is that we will work tirelessly in the years ahead to remain worthy of your confidence.”

Morton, in turn, offered a tribute to longtime School of Education benefactor Hugh Zimmer. He announced the creation of a new, special award for community champions: the Hugh J. Zimmer Award for Excellence in Urban Education.

“In 2008, Hugh and Eulalie Zimmer and their family endowed the Hugh J. Zimmer Family Scholarship at the School of Education,” Morton said. “Because of his enthusiasm and passion, Hugh attracted other benefactors to the cause:  John and Marny Sherman, Jerry and Patty Reece, and the Aquila Foundation Fund at the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation, among others.

“Hugh led by example, giving time, financial support, and influence to help the School of Education become a preeminent member of the teaching and learning community,” Morton added.   The crowd responded with a standing ovation for Zimmer.