As the newly named superintendent of the Lee’s Summit School District, Dennis Carpenter will leave an academically struggling district for one that’s among the top performers in the state.
Carpenter, who has led the Hickman Mills School District since 2013, will officially take the reigns in Lee’s Summit on July 1. Lee’s Summit chose Carpenter from among six final candidates after a regional search that began last summer.
“We believe we have found the perfect fit for Lee’s Summit,” Bob White, president of the Lee’s Summit school board, said Monday in announcing Carpenter’s hiring.
White said Carpenter “has a solid record in improving student achievement as well as extensive experience in strategic planning and facilities and budget management.”
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Carpenter will replace David McGehee, who resigned in May after he and the board agreed to a one-year buyout of $450,000.
Carpenter has been pushing Hickman Mills in south Kansas City toward regaining full accreditation from the state for the past three years. In 2014, one year after Carpenter arrived in Hickman Mills, the district’s annual performance report increased by 18.9 percent, the largest increase of any K-12 urban or suburban school district in the state that year.
The annual performance review, or APR, is a state-issued report that measures progress in a number of areas, including how well students did on standardized tests. Hickman Mills’ performance score of 67.9 percent in the latest APR released in fall 2016 fell just below the 70 percent score needed for a district to be at full accreditation level.
Carpenter has said that poverty in the district and a tremendous number of students moving in and out of the urban district daily have presented unusually difficult challenges for Hickman Mills, where 100 percent of the students get free or reduced-price lunch.
By contrast, Lee’s Summit produced a near perfect score of 97.9 percent on the APR.
Lee’s Summit students scored above the state average in each tested area, and at each grade level tested, as part of the 2016 Missouri Assessment program, standardized tests. And Lee’s Summit high school students, with a composite ACT score of 21.8, scored above the state average of 20.2 and the national mean of 20.8 for college-bound seniors.
In remarks Monday, Carpenter noted Lee’s Summit’s “rich history of academic excellence.”
Although Lee’s Summit gets high marks for academics, the district has not been without controversy.
McGehee resigned amid controversy between him and members of the school board who questioned whether McGehee’s romantic relationship with a lead attorney for the district presented a conflict of interest.
A group of community members including parents protested outside school board offices, calling for McGehee to resign after the controversy erupted.
McGehee was the highest paid superintendent in the state of Missouri, with a compensation package that totaled $397,000 in 2015-2016.
White said the Lee’s Summit school board will vote on a contract for Carpenter next week. At Hickman Mills, Carpenter gets a base salary of $185,366 plus a $9,806 annuity.
David Benson has served as Lee’s Summit’s interim superintendent since last summer.
White said that since the controversy, the district has been working toward regaining community trust.
“I think that with Dr. Carpenter’s leadership, we can move this district to the next level,” White said.
Carpenter said he is committed to continuing that work and would spend his first 100 days on the job talking with community and business leaders, district administrators, teachers and parents.
Teachers in Lee’s Summit said they are eager to meet and talk with Carpenter.
“I am excited to hear that the board of education has hired a new leader for our district,” said Michelle Uptegrove, a Cedar Creek Elementary School teacher and the district’s teacher of the year for the 2015-2016 school year.
“I feel that the biggest challenge for our district for a number of years and for the future is keeping the level of our excellence intact taking into consideration the rapid growth in our community,” Uptegrove said.
Carpenter has 21 years of experience in public education. Before leading the Hickman Mills district, he was deputy superintendent of operations and the associate superintendent for human resources for Newton County Schools in Covington, Ga. He had previously served as a principal in other Georgia school districts.
Hickman Mills school board members congratulated Carpenter on his new job.
“We are grateful to Dr. Carpenter for his years of service to our district and its children,” said Darrell Curls, board president. “We have made significant progress under his leadership. Lee’s Summit is the recipient of a great leader who cares about all children.”
Carpenter said one of his accomplishments in Hickman Mills that he is most proud of is the implementation of free, full-day prekindergarten for all 4-year-olds.
Demographics in Hickman Mills are vastly different from what Carpenter will find in Lee’s Summit, where 19.2 percent of students are eligible for free or reduce-price lunch.
Lee’s Summit is one of the largest districts in the Kansas City area, with more than 17,900 students enrolled and 2,652 staff members.
In August, Lee’s Summit will open a new Technology Academy/Missouri Innovations Campus. The new $40 million school is a partnership with the University of Central Missouri and will house a school-to-career program praised by President Barack Obama in 2013 as a model for the nation.
Carpenter and his wife, LaQuanda Carpenter, who is principal at Lee A. Tolbert Charter public school in Kansas City, have two children — Landen Drake Carpenter and Layla Dee Carpenter — whom he introduced at Monday’s Lee’s Summit announcement.
Carpenter will continue leading the Hickman Mills district through this school year. The Hickman Mills school board is expected to discuss the superintendent issue at its next meeting on Jan. 19.