New Lee's Summit Superintendent: 'There Is A Place For Equity In The Suburban Districts'

Aug 18, 2017

Former Hickman Mills Supt. Dennis Carpenter has started his new job in Lee’s Summit.

Carpenter, whose Twitter handle is @EquitySupt1, has advocated for an accountability system that was fair for poor, high mobility districts.

He says that work isn’t over now that he’s in Lee’s Summit, one of state’s most affluent school districts.

“We've started some of that conversation (in) the last couple of months, realizing that there is a place for equity in the suburban districts,” says Carpenter. “That's something that we're going to work with through the board's priorities.”

KCUR sat down with Carpenter on Wednesday, the first day of school in Lee’s Summit.

On how it went: “Extremely smooth, minus the downpour. Awesome group of teachers – I’ve had a chance to meet with about 11 schools. That work, of course, is ongoing. And the leadership, it’s phenomenal. They can really execute vision very, very quickly, I'm learning.

On what he’s learned since taking over July 1: “My greatest piece of learning is the level of community support for the school district. I mean, this tradition of excellence and the buy-in and the support of the community to assist the district? ... I think every day, I learn something new about the district, and the team will hear me say, ‘I didn't know that.’ That's the exciting part of the job in the first 100 days.”

On whether he feels like his relationship with the community has improved since a tense first meeting back in January: “At the end of the day, I worry when communities are not involved in their public schools. So when they are, that places us in the position we should be in, which is realizing we do the work of the community. When we do that work, it stands to reason that we'll hear community sentiments and community questions. We're prepared to answer those because we're always going to do what's best for children.”

On what he’s looking forward to this school year: “The Missouri Innovation Campus, of course the community is completely excited. ... This time of year you're always excited about the athletic season, getting ready to kick off the football season. We have some soccer practices going on, too. That's a part of my job that doesn't feel like work.”

On continuing to advocate for equity now that he’s in Lee’s Summit: “Our board has adopted three priorities for the coming year ... around achievement and making sure every child is participating in our mission statement. (We’re also) enhancing our facilities and making sure that every child in our district has access to a 21st century learning space. So both of those have an equity focus. We're going to push ourselves to learn more about equity-based decision making, and it's going to make us one of the school districts in the country.”

On communicating with the community: “That's a board priority steeped in some of the challenges that the community experienced in the last few months. We do lots of great things in the area of communication, and we're going to do even more as it relates to back-and-forth with our community, whether that be internal stakeholders or external.

“(We’re going to have) a broad, broad decision making protocol that honors and hears many different voices. In addition, constant updates ... what we're going to do is a monthly update on those priorities in the board space, posting them to our website, and then a quarterly presentation so the community knows. We're going to be purposefully redundant with them in terms of communicating the work of the school district.”

On how you define success in a high-achieving district: “Our mission statement gives us the framework. When you talk about ensuring that every student is prepared for life, that's a phenomenal undertaking. Big data is always going to tell us that we're scoring well, that we're in the top tier. But as a district, we must have the moral courage to look deeper than the big data. That's our opportunity to really demonstrate our success.”

On how he’s talking to his staff about the neo-Nazi rally last weekend in Charlottesville: “I have not any given any building-level guidance as it relates to Charlottesville, but there is a framework for getting such conversations on the table that I've started to use with my leadership team. That's prior to beginning a meeting, just checking in. You know, how are you showing up to the meeting space. I will tell you (this week), my check in was related to my feelings about Charlottesville ... just creating the space and the opportunity to have that conversation. My guess is that the folks at the curricular level that have direct responsibility for our elementary and secondary schools, they are going to continue to create a space to have those dialogues at the building level. Maybe at some point it's appropriate to have them at the student level.”

On the decision to cancel school for the solar eclipse: “We purchased 21,000 pairs of these glasses, and we're prepared to send those home with kids on Friday. But once they came in and we started examining them, we started thinking about some of our most vulnerable learners, our kindergartners and first graders, and how they might be able to manipulate those glasses. I heard an optometrist say the safest place to watch an eclipse is from behind a computer screen, and the second safest place is in a one-on-one environment supervised by an adult. I don't know if the school district can provide that one-on-one environment.”

Elle Moxley covers Missouri schools and politics for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.