Longtime educator-turned-school board member Kim Fritchie’s didn’t raise any eyebrows by being elected to the Lee’s Summit R-7 School Board back on April 4.
A retired teacher and administrator — and a Lee’s Summit High grad herself — Fritchie had very much a “start to finish” run during the campaign months. She was seemingly first up with yard signs, out on social media and in front of the masses at every turn. When you couple that with strong name recognition and an ability to question board policies and procedures (something we all received a hard lesson on over these last 18 months), it’s easy to see why Fritchie was far and away the top vote getter (more than 5,000).
A former English and journalism adviser with the district, Fritchie’s ability to not only strongly communicate, but to ask the right questions and raise the right flags, will serve this community well as we move out of the funk of school board missteps and severe communication issues that dogged this district.
The new board — one that includes Jackie Clark and Dennis Smith — will in days welcome new superintendent, Dr. Dennis Carpenter, a hire from nearby Hickman Mills School District.
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Carpenter has been and about in Lee’s Summit since his hire earlier this year, going on listening tours, taking city leaders to lunch and even attending many Lee’s Summit community events with his family. The learning curve among school board members – old and new – and among the new super will be a dynamic to watch closely over the next few months.
Since April, though, the mood has been promising, Fritchie noted. Prior school boards (and this went on for many years under many different boards) would tuck a lot of open meeting business under what is known as a “consent agenda.” We see these on our city council and many boards and bodies. They use this function as a way of approving routine business that has had prior discussion and dissection.
For R-7, though, it seems that far too much business over the years was filed away in this fashion. In her first 100 days, Fritchie said she has noticed more work sessions to go over agenda, policy and other items, not to mention more of a willingness to pull “consent agenda” items off the list for separate discussion, something she herself did twice in her first meeting.
The board is also in the process of tackling the single biggest issue it has had, one that has been ignored or set aside for many years: communication. The CSIP (Continuous School Improvement Plan) will be adopted through 2021. In it, the plan addresses governance, student performance, staff, facilities, support and parent/community involvement.
In that final category, we find several goals and tasks related to communication, including creation of a comprehensive communications campaign to market volunteer opportunities; development of creative global communication vehicles to promote family/community/business engagements; and updating and enhancing communications through targeted audiences and messages.
Translated: survey your parents and community more often, be very deliberate about communication delivery methods, keep the website and social media platforms fresh and informative and update best practices for communication in all the buildings and at central office.
This CSIP is one of hundreds of documents the board members must read and be proficient in on a regular basis.
Fritchie, like all board members, serves on several different committees as well as giving her time to regular meetings, events, graduations and civic and city events. Those hours add up, which begs the question if we should start giving board members a stipend of some sort. Fritchie, though, says she’s not advocating for that.
“When you sign up to do this job, you’ve made a strong commitment,” Fritchie said. “I made a commitment to them and I want to honor that to our community.”
Drastic changes have been realized in the last year or more in our school district. The public, our new board members and business community need to continue to keep a watchful eye on what is ahead.
Lee’s Summit resident John Beaudoin writes about city and civic issues, people and personalities around town. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.