Launching a Laboratory of Learning

UMKC renews commitment to urban education

With fanfare and resolve in equal measure, the University of Missouri-Kansas City celebrated the launch of a new effort to realize the full potential of children in urban schools nationwide.

The Urban Education Research Center (UERC), part of the university’s School of Education, 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.

The center was officially launched at a special campus ceremony attended by more than 300 donors, leading educators, administrators and community leaders. Shirley Brice Heath, professor emerita at Stanford University, was the featured guest speaker.

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.”

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

Keynote speaker Heath 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.

A big part of the event involved expressing gratitude for the donors who make much of the work of the School of Education possible. Blanchett addressed John and Marny Sherman directly.

“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 J. 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.

Zimmer responded that he was motivated by enlightened self-interest.

“Our business is to bring new businesses to Kansas City, and helping established Kansas City businesses to grow,” said Zimmer, who runs a 65-year-old commercial real estate firm. “If we don’t have a well-trained workforce, the Zimmer Company won’t be around for another 65 years.”

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