The best side dish to go with your Kansas City BBQ? Public education.

There’s a constant debate happening in Kansas City around which barbecue joint is the best.

At every local meeting that I’ve been to, I’ve been the outsider from Chicago, and each person has an opinion about which restaurant I should sample while I’m in town. This barbecue debate is something that everyone is passionate about in Kansas City, and it can be a tense topic when someone mentions Oklahoma Joe’s in the presence of a Gates fanatic. U.S. Presidents have even gotten involved in the barbecue conversation, frequently making one of the local restaurants a stop on their U.S. tours.

As a frequent visitor to this great city, I make it a point to sample the various sauces and sides, and I usually enjoy my meal when I’m discussing another topic that everyone in Kansas City is passionate about: education.

Over the last year, I’ve had the opportunity to sit down with a variety of people who are invested in public education in Kansas City, and dedicated to improving it for students.

The Kansas City public school system has struggled; it lost state accreditation in 2011 because it didn’t reach state performance standards. But now, with a mayor dedicated to improving schools, an optimistic new superintendent, and student performance results reaching the state accreditation mark, Kansas City is a great place for new leaders in education who want to lead ambitious change for students.

I’ve been lucky to talk to leaders from the district, nonprofits, charters, and with funders, and the message from all of them has been clear: Kansas City is a great city with a great future, and that future lies within its students. The leaders I’ve talked to also believe that it takes an investment in teachers and leaders to realize success for students, which is why Education Pioneers is working to recruit, connect, and advance individuals to become the next great education leaders in Kansas City.

It’s not just education folks who see Kansas City’s potential. In 2012, Google Fiber chose KC as the spot to test new technology and provide wireless internet access to the region’s entire population. The Kansas City Start Up Village is a place for local entrepreneurs to collaborate and build ideas, and Kansas City is being recognized as an up-and-coming city for innovators.

The city’s focus on technology and innovation also flows into classrooms: local leaders see the need to  prepare students for a world where technology knowledge is essential, it pushes teachers to think creatively about how they teach, and requires leaders to design forward-thinking policies and strategic plans to best serve the students to prepare them for the future.

Education Pioneers recently hosted an event in Kansas City centered around the work that’s being done in the education technology and innovation field, and it was fascinating to hear what organizations are doing with the help of local communities and teachers. Whether it was giving teachers a platform to innovate in the classroom or teaching community members of all ages how to code, there was so much to discuss that we didn’t have the time to get all of the audience’s questions answered. It was a great thing to be in a room with dedicated people who are so laser-focused on improving technology for students and teachers that they disregard what time it is and keep talking.

This one event is just the beginning of the opportunities that will be available in Kansas City this year with Education Pioneers (EP). This summer, we’ll be hosting professional development workshops (through the EP Fellowship) in Kansas City for the first time, giving us the opportunity to learn more about the KC landscape directly from the leaders in this space and to become more connected across the city to the education network and to the communities that we are serving.

 >>  Learn more about our work in Kansas City at a free webinar on February 16, 2017.

Transforming education in Kansas City requires people who are up for a challenge. Innovation requires diverse skill types, a persistent attitude, and patience to succeed. I truly believe that those who find themselves placed in Kansas City for short- or long-term impact through the Education Pioneers Fellowship will find that here, there is an opportunity to have a great impact and that the work itself is joyful.

As an EP Fellow, you’ll also get to join the great Kansas City debate over which barbecue is the best. I’ll even take you to my favorite place personally. But to find out which restaurant it is, you’ll have to join me there.

Annie Davis-Korelc is the Director, Midwest for Education Pioneers, where she works to connect education organizations in Chicago and Kansas City, MO with talented leaders to advance their mission-critical work on behalf of students. A former teacher, Annie joined Education Pioneers because her passion and determination drive her to ensure that all students are guaranteed the opportunity to an excellent education. Wanting to be a permanent part of the conversation in education policy and reform, Annie is excited to use her experience as a classroom teacher to engage policy makers in the conversation of an equitable education for children.