I lost track of how many times KCUR Up to Date host Steve Kraske tried to steer his recent conversation with Lee’s Summit R-7 Superintendent Dennis Carpenter to race and race relations.
Carpenter did what he could to refocus the discussion, but after 15-20 minutes or so, we unfortunately learned little if anything about recent boundary changes and the Comprehensive Facilities Master Plan work done by some dedicated district stakeholders.
It was unfortunate to hear Kraske’s lack of preparation for the interview, leading off the discussion claiming that “Just guessing here, 2018 was a tough year for the district.” In what way would 2018 have been tough for students, staff and residents of the R-7 district? That opening salvo set the tone for an interview that did little to move the conversation ahead.
“Well actually, 2018 was a great year of learning and we made significant progress on behalf of our students,” Carpenter said, correcting Kraske.
The interview kicked off with the proposed contract to engage the controversial Pacific Education Group. Was that a missed opportunity?
Carpenter said it was likely an opportunity to learn more and that the Board of Education would be bringing forward a new plan in February to possibly move forward.
“It’s been fun watching our community moderate itself,” Carpenter said. “Sometimes you have to go slow to go fast.”
Carpenter has certainly learned this “go slow to go fast” lesson since taking the helm of the district more than 18 months ago. Communication between board members and the superintendent and the board's role in not only keeping a superintendent in check but managing that employee are lessons we should have nailed down prior to his arrival. And revelations that two board members were applying for jobs within the district —and one was a finalist — casts a cloud over our processes of checks and balances, board roles and understanding of policies.
When Kraske asked again, why not hire P.E.G. and Glen Singleton and what that failed contract told us, Carpenter replied, “that the community needed more information.”
Kraske wondered aloud if the community wasn’t ready to have the conversation and suggested the controversy forced this conversation in Lee’s Summit. This simply isn’t true.
This conversation is happening all over the community among a multitude of residents, groups and in other circles.
Kraske again took the conversation on an odd course, floating the ridiculous theory that Lee’s Summit West parents didn’t want their kids going to Lee’s Summit High because — gasp — it may have a higher percentage of black students in attendance.
“A lot of parents didn’t want their kids to wind up going to Lee’s Summit High School, that’s the oldest of your schools, and it’s also the high school with the most black students, right?”
While Carpenter did an admirable job of redirecting Kraske during this interview, I would have hoped the leader of our district could have, and would have, stopped the blatant misinformation and complete overlooking of the CFMP team and process — both topics that at least one board member said on social media would be the basis of the interview.
The fact of the matter is, Lee’s Summit and Lee’s Summit West both have nearly the same black population (11.6 and 12 percent, respectively) while Lee’s Summit North is at 16.2 percent.
And for the sake of fact finding, here are the other statistics: white students make up 77.9 percent of the population at West; 70.6 percent at North; and 75.9 percent at Lee’s Summit.
There were a few other facts and figures thrown out during Carpenter’s talk with Kraske, most notably the 17-34 percent achievement gap between black and white students, something that Carpenter said was of “statistical significance and that is not by chance.”
Carpenter said that, ultimately, there are many reasons for achievement gaps and that they want to look at “barriers to access and opportunity and how do we remove said barriers. Those that are within our control and those that are outside of our control.”
In an odd twist, Carpenter’s contract became a talking point during the interview. And while the discussion of whether or not to renew Carpenter’s 3-year deal should absolutely be a topic of conversation in closed session among the Board of Education right now, that discussion absolutely does not belong on the radio.
In this district, there are simply too many story lines going on that are worthy of grabbing headlines and air time. It is up to the communications department, and the administration, to make sure those stories of students, victories, challenges and opportunities are finding their way to not only those in the district, but the entire Kansas City area.
Editor's Note: John Beaudoin is a Lee's Summit resident and award winning writer and former newspaper publisher in the Lee's Summit community. Views and opinions expressed in his columns do not necessarily reflect those of Link 2 Lee's Summit, it's employees or any other guest contributors.