A little district housecleaning as we head into summer

As the barrage of unsavory press continues to unravel in our school district, it’s probably time we tie up a few loose ends as we head into the summer break.

The Lee’s Summit R-7 School District, board of education and administration are likely still recovering from that lethal work session meeting on May 22. It was a meeting featuring anger and outrage, confrontation and confusion. And it has resonated in discussions and debate time and again throughout this community.


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One of the hallmarks of Lee’s Summit has always been its school district. For longer than I can remember, the district has been held up as shining light to those looking to move or do business here. When you couple our parks and recreation options, downtown Lee’s Summit, safety and livability, you have listed out what many say are the reasons they come to town.

And while a year or so of less-than-desirable press doesn’t undo decades of work, we would be foolish to think future business relocation, new resident possibilities and the considerations of major employers wouldn’t factor in now when viewing Lee’s Summit from an outside lens.

The chaos on the Lee’s Summit City Council from a few years ago certainly shows us that prolonged lapses in leadership and a stream of bad press is contradictory to development and overall marketing.

On that May 22 LS R-7 Board of Education meeting, it was widely known a closed session was planned to discuss personnel and legal matters. What’s not known was what was accomplished during that meeting. And the short answer is, nothing.

While discussions took place among six of the seven board members (Jackie Clark announced during the open meeting she had a conflict and wouldn’t attend) and legal counsel Joe Hatley, nothing regarding Dr. Dennis Carpenter or any other issue was resolved as a result.

According to district communications director Kelly Wachel, “The Board relays that it was a productive discussion but, again, no decisions were made. The Board will be meeting again when all members can be present to continue the discussion.”

Will that closed session next time around be centered around the future of Dr. Carpenter, other personnel issues or perhaps other legal discussions? We unfortunately head into the summer not knowing those answers. This is something we’ll all have to watch for as another closed session has been set for Monday, June 3.

Another issue dogging the district recently was a dated story circulating (and brought to light in the local media) about elementary students at Underwood singing a song titled “Pick a Bale of Cotton.”

The song was originally written by a legend in folk and spiritual music, Huddie William Ledbetter (better known in the music world as Lead Belly) and the original lyrics are offensive and outdated. There is much history to that tune, though, that is worth diving into. If you don’t know about it, look it up.

And while the song has been covered time and again by major recording artists, used in lyrics by others, and incorporated into children’s music medleys, it seems to be at best questionable and at worst just bad judgment to have it sung at any grade school.

Like many issues we’re are dealing with in our district, no one has really asked the leaders to weigh in on this particular topic. So, I did. Here is Wachel’s response:

“We worked with our team at Underwood Elementary to process through this when it happened. We understand how wrong the song selection was and we are listening to the magnitude of hurt for our students and families who experienced this. It is never our intention to hurt our students and families, and as such, we have been connecting with our families and are in conversation about how to reconcile and reflect. We have also discussed protocol to avoid this from happening again. We are so sorry and we are committed to correcting our actions moving forward.”

Wachel went on to say the district is taking steps to support students and parents in instances such as this, although I didn’t dive in to ask specifically what that means. Perhaps we can get into that in the future.

For the now, things seem to still sting. Emotions are raw. Social media is bombarded with opinions from outside of Lee’s Summit (as well as within our own 100 square miles or so of school district).

Summer begins for R-7 with a lot on the table and, for many, in a defensive stance filled with uncertainty.

 

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.