1,200 Look For Solution In District Overloaded With At-Risk Students

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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) -- Topeka schools have more at-risk kids than the USD 501 staff can handle, Superintendent Dr. Julie Ford admitted on Tuesday night.

“We need your help in our schools and community with the problem of poverty in [the district],” she told over a thousand people in attendance at the Downtown Ramada.

Approximately 1,200 people – many from 16 area churches – were on hand for the Topeka Justice and Unity Ministry Project (JUMP) project. The group was there to present a plan of action to the district and win a commitment from school administrators.

They estimated there were over 5,000 at-risk students in Topeka schools, according to JUMP. Rev. Ray Berry of Gethsemane COGIC said over 75% of students in Topeka’s elementary schools live below the poverty level.

As it stands, right now, JUMP says it only can help about 600 of them.

Dr. Ford told the crowd she is a champion of communities in schools, but needs those communities to “work with us, not against us.”

She told JUMP she could not expand Communities In Schools, a crisis intervention program for at-risk students, to 10 schools because the district doesn't have the money for that many.

"I'm totally behind the Communities In Schools program. We have it in several of our buildings and we would like to expand it. This group, they are very passionate about wanting to expand it, but at this time I really couldn't promise to expand it to ten schools. We just don't have the financial resources at this time."

Organizers then cut that number to 6 schools and were again turned away over a lack of funds with Dr. Ford saying she is all for finding a way to make it happen. She told everyone there she wants the community to become involved so it can happen.

Reverend Sarah Marsh of Tecumseh United Method hoped for a better ending to the evening, saying, " We are concerned about the education of our children and our children's needs right now and into the future. We are very disappointed that we came out tonight with no next steps and no commitment to action."