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‘Good Riddance.’ ‘We’ll miss you.’ Lee’s Summit divided over loss of superintendent

Lee’s Summit superintendent’s plan for racial equity leads some to call for his ouster

A leader of the Lee's Summit NEA teachers union advised the school board against extending the contract of Superintendent Dennis Carpenter.
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A leader of the Lee's Summit NEA teachers union advised the school board against extending the contract of Superintendent Dennis Carpenter.

Lee’s Summit school Superintendent Dennis Carpenter walked away with a $750,000 contract buyout Tuesday and left behind a community still deeply divided over the racial equity training he fought for.

“Good Riddance,” Steve Young posted to Facebook.

“I’m so sorry that we couldn’t go with your plan to punish the majority of students for the minority,” Brian Cooper tweeted. “Good luck screwing up someone else’s district.”

But on the other side of the divide, “Big loss for Lee’s Summit,” Randy Withers of Kansas City posted to Facebook. “It’s disappointing to see him go. And the misinformation the tinfoil hats are alluding to is just that. It’s amazing what people will do to justify running off a man that stood in the way of their bigotry.”

By the time much of the Lee’s Summit community heard about Carpenter’s resignation late Tuesday afternoon he was already gone from the administration building. When The Star called the district office on Wednesday, a spokeswoman said Carpenter is no longer superintendent and no longer there.

Tuesday’s announcement set off passionate reactions on social media, for and against Carpenter.

“We just wanted training on more than just bias about black kids,” Meredith Kenworthy said in a Facebook post.

“It makes me furious that our district failed you and all of our children,” Lee’s Summit parent David W. Congdon tweeted. “This will motivate me to continue to fight the systemic racism within @LSR7 and the wider Missouri region. Best wishes for your future.”

“Thank you, Dr. Carpenter, I can understand why you’d resign, but it makes me sad,” Laurel Clark tweeted to @EquitySupt1, Carpenter’s Twitter handle. “I was really feeling hopeful about the growth LS was beginning. Pressure’s on the school board to continue with the equity focus and find a supe to take our town to the next level.”

“You will be missed!” Alicia Miguel tweeted. “ Sad that a push for equity was seen as a threat by those who never experienced discrimination or low expectations. What message are we sending to those we are supposed to be educating?”

Carpenter’s resignation came after months of ridicule and threats from the mostly white and fairly affluent community opposed — along with the majority of the district’s all-white school board — to administrators’ attempts to train employees in equity and inclusion.

Carpenter, who came to the district two years ago from Hickman Mills, at one point had become so frustrated with the board’s unwillingness to trust his leadership that he threatened to leave.

Carpenter had proposed the training to help narrow the achievement gap between white and black students, a gap that was spotlighted in a district-commissioned study.

The superintendent and his staff sought to challenge the implicit bias of teachers, staff and administrators that experts in equity and inclusion say shapes their interactions with children of color.

On Twitter, Lee’s Summit resident and former Kansas City Chief Danan Hughes called Carpenter’s resignation a “Sad state of affairs.”

“Shame on Lee’s Summit, they should be ASHAMED!! Should’ve been more embracing! Been here 26yrs, solid in community + 5 kids through the School System!! Closed mindedness has equated to an excessive amount of tax $$ being flushed away!!! So Sad!”

Laurie Betz- White, a resident who until this year had four children in district schools, had her own theories about why Carpenter left.

“I am outraged that he was pushed out of his position,” Betz-White told The Star.

“I think it is a big loss for the district. … I think it is a shame. No one wants to confront the problem that has always existed in Lee’s Summit.” Betz-White, who is white and grew up in Lee’s Summit, was among the many parents who had been fighting to get equity training and to keep Carpenter.

She said Carpenter’s push for employees to discuss race “made them uncomfortable. “

In February, the board had approved an equity plan for the district. But it couldn’t agree on a firm to train employees.

Each of the two proposals Carpenter put forth were met with fierce opposition from many in the community who said that equity training wasn’t needed or that the training was too focused on race and the idea of white privilege.

Last month, after being accused by some of being racially insensitive, the board finally approved $97,000 worth of training for a year, with an option for more training for an additional three years.

Parents who packed the district board room for that vote considered it a victory for the district. Carpenter and members of the board talked about moving forward together.

“I did not feel that there had been any change of heart,” said Betz-White, a former Lee’s Summit teacher who now home schools her children.

The school board had renewed Carpenter’s contract in March, but the following month’s election changed the makeup of the board. Betz-White worried, she said, that when the new board said it was entering mediation with Carpenter over his contract that he would be leaving.

She, as well as several other parents who talked with The Star but wanted to remain anonymous, said they did believe most of the district supported equity and many parents would be watching the board closely to make sure that even in Carpenter’s absence, employees are trained.

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Mará has written on all things education for The Star for 20 years, including issues of school safety, teen suicide, universal pre-K programs, college costs, campus protests and university branding.
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