Kansas superintendent touts ‘rebranding’ in an era of declining test scores

(The Sentinel) – The Olathe school district does not permit school board members to conduct annual needs assessments to improve student outcomes as required in state law, but district officials…

(The Sentinel) – The Olathe school district does not permit school board members to conduct annual needs assessments to improve student outcomes as required in state law, but district officials are devoting considerable time and energy to rebranding the district with a new logo and “brand identity.”

It will be interesting to see how the new design will reflect what Superintendent Dr. Brent Yeager says is the district’s dedication to “its vision of students prepared for their future,” given that a quarter of Olathe students are below grade level in reading and math and less than half are proficient.

Rebranding will not improve low student achievement

Olathe USD 233 will spend $18,600 on the re-design of the rebranding effort and says that cost will come from gifts and grants and not from funds budgeted for classrooms.  Even if the district doesn’t replace existing logos as it says, a lot of time and energy will go into the project that should be devoted to improving student outcomes.

According to the campaign’s website, the focus of the “rebranding” appears to be competition from a new Kansas law taking effect this year, as well as ongoing labor shortages:

“Olathe Public Schools is a destination school district and we want our visual identity to reflect that for recruitment efforts both with families and teachers amid the current landscape in education of open enrollment and teacher shortages.”

Open Enrollment takes effect in the upcoming school year and will allow any Kansas student to transfer to a district other than the one prescribed by the student’s zip code, subject to the receiving school’s capacity.

Superintendent Dr. Brent Yeager, in a video message announcing the rebranding project, invited input from community members “…in words, drawings and full-fledged designs.” The previous logos, beginning with the 1965 edition at the district’s unification, had not been designed with community involvement, according to the website.

Dr. Yeager added:

“Let’s come together as a community and create an identity that reflects our current shared values, aspirations, and the incredible spirit that truly makes this school district extraordinary.”

Sentinel readers may remember that USD 233 Olathe and USD 229 Blue Valley expressed their elitist “values” in a joint statement opposing open enrollment legislation.  Yeager effectively said open enrollment would force the district to accept students they don’t want —  kids who are from poor families or have special needs.

Photo of Dr. Yeager courtesy of Olathe Schools

We reached out to the district for comment and focused our questions on the issue of declining student achievement, asking if the current logo is detrimental to student achievement and how the new branding will improve it.

The district did not respond to our specific questions, and one would never suspect that Olathe has more high school students below grade level in math than are proficient from the flowery remarks emailed by Assistant Director of Communications Erin Schulte:

“This rebrand is in alignment with several components of our district’s Strategic Plan. Specifically, the district’s plan lists priority outcomes around streamlined communication and community engagement, as well as recruitment/retention of high-quality staff. As we look ahead to the new Open Enrollment requirements outlined by the state, as well as the continued teacher shortage and competitive job market – intentional marketing of Olathe Public Schools has become more important than ever. Creating a strong, cohesive visual brand will serve as the foundation of these comprehensive marketing efforts as our district continues to compete with local and national school districts to hire the best educators for our classrooms and create an identifiable brand that truly reflects our Olathe community.

“Through this rebranding process, it is important for us to engage our community – students, staff, families and patrons – and ask them what Olathe Public Schools means to them. Community input has not been a part of the previous iterations of the district logo, and that was a key priority for us in this process. In addition to community input, our Communications Department is leading this effort, working alongside Mammoth Creative Co., specifically with an Olathe South High School grad who used the skills he learned here in our classrooms to become a Creative Director.

“One of the goals of the rebrand is to align our visual identity with not only the rich history and legacy of our district but also to communicate our vision of preparing all students for their future to prospective families and educators. We believe this long-term investment will yield benefits for our community’s pride and engagement for years to come. This is why we are committed to an open and transparent process, asking our community to tell us what is important for them to see in the visual identity. We want it to truly reflect who we are, what we stand for, and where we are going.”

Dave Trabert, CEO of Kansas Policy Institute and The Sentinel, says Olathe’s rebranding effort is just another example of why parents cannot count on the education system to resolve the state’s student achievement crisis.

“The best way to attract families and staff is to show steady gains in proficiency levels, but Olathe district officials and the school board refuse to acknowledge low achievement for many students, let alone to take corrective action.”