Four Northland school districts began the year with new superintendents.
The North Platte and West Platte school districts filled the top administrative position in December of last year and both superintendents started their terms on July 1.
Park Hill and North Kansas City school districts expect to have new superintendents in place for the 2016-2017 academic year. Until then, two established educators are filling in as interim superintendents.
West Platte School District
John Rinehart’s job as the new superintendent of the West Platte School District comes with a new office — eventually.
Construction on the campus was already underway when Rinehart began his term on July 1. The first phase of an estimated $15 million improvement project began in June with plans to build a new district stadium.
“It will be a beautiful facility,” said Rinehart, 46.
The plans calls for converting the current high school practice field into a game field, building bleacher seating for 1,500 spectators and replacing the asphalt track with a new eight-lane synthetic track.
Mark Harpst, a former district superintendent now overseeing the construction, said the first football game will be played in the 2016-2017 season.
As for Rinehart’s new office, he’ll have to wait until September of 2016 when a new central office building will be ready.
The second phase of the construction includes a new elementary playground as well as a new central office. For many years, an old white house has served as the central office. That house — where the superintendent’s office is now — will be demolished and a new facility built for office space and a meeting room that will make school board meetings more accessible to the public.
Other improvements include expanding the band room, increasing parking spaces by 40 percent, relocating the playground and creating a better student pick-up and drop-off arrangement for traffic flow around the school.
The construction is scheduled in four phases and is projected to be completed by November of 2016, Harpst said.
“One big feature is more space dedicated to academic use,” Rinehart said.
At least four more classrooms will be built.
The new superintendent is also a student himself.
While overseeing a district with an enrollment of 586, Rinehart is enrolled in the doctorate of education program at the University of Missouri.
He began his career in education as a science teacher and coach in 1992. He comes to the West Platte district from the Albany, Mo., district, about 20 miles from where Rinehart grew up in Grant City.
A colleague, Bruce Johnson, characterized Rinehart as “a quick learner.”
Johnson was the superintendent of schools at Stanberry for 17 years — a neighboring school district and football rival of Albany. He worked with Rinehart on school finance and administration issues.
“Of all the people I’ve mentored over the years, John is at the top,” Johnson said.
Rinehart served as superintendent of the Albany district for three years before beginning his work in Weston.
Completing a dissertation for the doctoral degree requires research involving a topic Rinehart cares deeply about — the future of rural school districts.
“The mindset and values of rural places are what built our country,” Rinehart said.
He characterized the West Platte district as a little larger than the one in Albany, a town of some 1,800 north of Weston, but similar in its rural setting and population of “hard-working people who want the best for their kids.”
North Platte School District
Choosing a career in education was a natural choice for Karl Matt, the new superintendent for the North Platte School District.
He grew up in a family of educators.
Matt’s mother is a retired schoolteacher. His sister currently teaches in the Platte County R-3 district. He has cousins who teach and his grandfather served on the school board in Minneapolis, Kan. His wife also teaches.
He briefly considered accounting as a major at Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield but changed to mathematics education during his sophomore year.
“I knew education was where I should be,” Matt, 40, said.
Before beginning the school year as superintendent of the North Platte district, Matt was the principal at the high school and a coach of the girls basketball team.
His promotion to superintendent was announced in December of 2015 by the school board. The search began after the November board meeting when Jeff Sumy submitted a letter of resignation as superintendent.
During the 13 years Matt has been with the North Platte district, he has taught math, coached boys basketball, served as junior high school principal and athletic director and coached girls basketball. Accepting the superintendent position meant relinquishing a winning streak with the girls team who went to state twice, district six times and conference four times during the seven years Matt coached.
“Matt was ready for the next level of responsibility,” Sumy said. “He is truly a student of all aspects of education.”
Matt said Sumy mentored him for the position as superintendent by working together on the budget and on filling principal positions.
“That’s what’s special in a small school,” Sumy said. “We cross-trained to know what each other’s roles were and treated all staff as family.”
Sumy is now superintendent of the Crest Ridge School District in Centerview, Mo.
Enrollment in the North Platte district is 615 this year, a slight increase from last year. The district has three campuses in northern Platte County spanning some 115 miles. Kindergartners through third-graders attend elementary school in Camden Point. Fourth through sixth-graders attend intermediate school in Edgerton and students in junior high and high school attend classes on the campus in Dearborn.
The new superintendent often eats lunch at the high school and strives to visit all the buildings every week to keep in touch and show support.
“I believe in site-based management — the principal is in charge of the building,” Matt said. “I want them to see me and know that I am interested in the different activities going on.”
While driving to schools throughout the district takes time, Matt’s commute to his office is a short walk. Work is as close as the school parking lot behind his house.
Matt graduated from Platte County R-3 High School in 1998 after attending classes in the Park Hill School District from kindergarten through his sophomore year of high school. He completed an education specialist’s degree at Northwest Missouri State University in 2011 and also holds a master’s degree in educational leadership from Baker University.
North Kansas City School District
Paul Kinder enjoyed a year of retirement before he returned to educational administration.
Kinder retired in 2014 from the Blue Springs School District after 14 years as superintendent and a total of 38 years in education.
He was asked to fill in at the North Kansas City district while the school board conducts a national search to replace Todd White who resigned.
Recently, the school board announced its decision to hire McPherson and Jacobson, LLC, a national executive recruitment and development firm, to assist in the search.
The firm “has roots in the Midwest and specializes in assisting boards such as ours in the search for superintendents,” said Joe Jacobs, president of the school board.
The quality of the district and its similarity to Blue Springs, also a large suburban school district, lured Kinder back.
“The North Kansas City School District has been known as an outstanding district for many years,” he said.
Returning to education agrees with Kinder. He is filling in at a time when an important construction project is already underway — the Northland Innovation Campus, a 60,000-square-foot facility located on North Oak Trafficway built in partnership with the City of Gladstone.
The center will house the elementary gifted student program for the 2016-2017 school year and provide other instructional space and offices, he said.
The district is growing at a manageable rate — by about 150 to 300 students a year. Such growth allows the district to adapt and plan for future facility and faculty needs. This year’s enrollment is projected at 19,500.
The most pressing need in the district is handling “all the changes in testing and the way students are assessed,” he said. “In the past three years, there’s been a different test every year.”
Yet, despite all the revamping by state legislatures and departments of education, “We do quite well internationally,” Kinder said. “We’re still the education system most countries aspire to.”
Park Hill School District
Jeanette Cowherd, who was assistant superintendent for school improvement, was named acting superintendent in April with the resignation of Scott Springston.
Later, she was asked to serve as interim superintendent through the 2015-2016 school year while the school board worked with School Exec Connect, a Minnesota search and consulting firm, to help identify both internal and external candidates nationwide.
The top position has given her “a bigger scope to work with and connect with the community, the parents, the students and the staff,” she said.
“The superintendent becomes the face of the district.”
Cowherd has been with the district since 2005 when she served as assistant principal at Park Hill South High School. From 2003 to 2005, she was assistant principal at Winnetonka High School.
She earned a doctorate in educational leadership from Baker University in 2008. For her dissertation, Cowherd researched the effect of an incentive-based program on attendance and studied the program in place at Park Hill South at that time.
She found the incentives to be effective in keeping attendance steady and she recommended that students be asked again for suggestions. When they were, a preferred parking space proved to be the most popular incentive.
Cowherd also holds a bachelor’s degree in music education from the University of Arkansas, majoring in trombone and minoring in piano. She was an instrumental music teacher and band director in southwest Missouri and at Shawnee Mission West High School.
She is a fan of Park Hill High School and Park Hill South High School bands and “a big believer in those programs.”
Playing in the band “gives students one more reason to want to be in school,” she said.
The school district posts updates on the search for a new superintendent to a Web page and allows patrons of the district to participate through an online survey and other opportunities.
More information can be found at http://www.parkhill.k12.mo.us.