Hickman Mills Supt. Dennis Carpenter will soon have a new job at the Lee's Summit R-7 School District.
“How do you live in a metropolitan area and believe yourself to be a school leader and not jump at the opportunity to serve as superintendent in one of the top places to live in this country?” Carpenter said Monday at a news conference.
The Lee's Summit Board of Education is finalizing Carpenter’s contract for the 2017-18 school year. It’s likely to be approved at the Jan. 19 board meeting.
Carpenter, who hails from Georgia, has served as the top administrator for Hickman Mills since 2013.
“My current district is a district in which 100 percent of children qualify for free or reduced lunch, and many of those students reside at least one standard deviation below the poverty line,” Carpenter say.
Under Carpenter, Hickman Mills retained provisional accreditation with the state. But last year's annual performance score was the lowest of any metro district. After those scores were released in November, Carpenter sharply criticized the state's accountability system, saying it was biased against high-poverty districts.
The situation isn’t as dire in Lee’s Summit, where less than 20 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch.
Still, Carpenter says there are at least 300 to 400 kindergartners from low-income families entering the district each year.
“If a child resides one or more standard deviations below the poverty line, their quickest ascension into the middle class is early learning,” Carpenter says. “But is that a need for every student in Lee’s Summit? Probably not.”
Carpenter helped launch a universal pre-kindergarten program for 4-year-olds in Hickman Mills. But he says he’s not planning big changes for his first 100 days as superintendent in Lee’s Summit, which will begin this summer.
“I think when you have a district that scores nearly a perfect score as it relates to the state’s accountability system, there’s no urgency around change,” Carpenter says. “The urgency should be around developing a community goal for greatness.”
In a statement, Board President Bob White called Carpenter “the perfect fit for Lee’s Summit R-7. Our Board of Education was especially impressed with Dr. Carpenter's extensive experience in instructional leadership, student success, fiscal management, operations and school renovation/construction.”
The Board started searching for a permanent superintendent last summer after David McGehee stepped down amid citizen accusations of improperly handled contracts and a public spat with some school board members. Board members were concerned about a possible conflict of interest created when McGehee began a relationship with a lawyer that represented the district.
Elle Moxley covers Missouri schools and politics for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.
Digital editor Cody Newill contributed to this report.