John Covington, former KC school superintendent, leaves Michigan post

06/16/2014 6:11 PM

06/16/2014 6:29 PM

Former Kansas City Superintendent John Covington always said he keeps his bags packed.

Less than three years after his sudden departure tossed Kansas City schools into chaos, Covington is walking away from his chancellor’s job in Michigan.

In a statement, Covington said he was leaving to care for his ailing mother in Alabama and start a consulting business to help schools create the student-centered classrooms he started in Kansas City and in Detroit.

Most of the classroom reforms Covington started in Kansas City were subsequently dropped by a new administration that turned its focus to recovering from the tailspin that followed Covington’s departure in August 2011.

Two months later, in October 2011, the Missouri State Board of Education voted to strip Kansas City’s accreditation effective Jan. 1, 2012 — a designation the district hopes to escape this fall.

While test performance under Covington’s reforms ultimately suffered in Kansas City, his dramatic operational reforms — closing nearly half of the shrinking district’s schools and slashing contracts — put the district on the necessary road to financial stability.

He left without warning to take a job as the first chancellor of the Education Achievement Authority of Michigan — a special state-operated district that was charged with overseeing the state’s lowest performing schools.

All of the first 15 schools in the special district were Detroit schools, and Covington stepped into a political firestorm between supporters and opponents of state-operated districts.

Covington’s tenure in Michigan drew extra heat when reports in the Detroit News detailed records of tens of thousands of dollars a month spent on travel expenses.

Covington did not reply to a phone message left by The Star. In his statement, he said the special Michigan district was working.

“Students are taking responsibility for their education and they are preparing to become ‘Next Generation Ready,’” he said.

The turmoil following Covington’s departure from Kansas City came close to bringing the district under state control or even seeing it broken up.

“A lot of people panicked,” said former school board member Duane Kelly.

The board scrambled to bring in a new superintendent — current leader Steve Green — who now says the unaccredited district is performing well enough that it will be poised to earn at least provisional accreditation this fall.

The district had put itself in a precarious position, being attached to one leader and his dramatic reform ideas, said former board member Crispin Rea.

“We learned we can’t allow ourselves to be so vulnerable so one individual leaving can set us back so far,” Rea said.

Covington’s run was too short to know what he could have done here, said Tony Stansberry, the state’s regional director for school improvement.

“He helped get the budget under control, but he did not stay around long enough to see if his educational innovations could work,” Stansberry said.

To reach Joe Robertson, call 816-234-4789 or send email to jrobertson@kcstar.com.

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