The contentiousness that followed the hiring of Charles Foust as the new superintendent of Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools probably was not the best way to greet the district’s new leader. But the fallout shouldn’t distract from the urgent needs of children in a district that counts 80 different languages spoken among its students.
The acrimonious response wasn’t entirely unexpected since Foust was selected over Jayson Strickland, a long-time administrator in the district and the favorite of many to replace retiring Superintendent Cynthia Lane.
Many believe Strickland, the district’s deputy superintendent, was Lane’s hand-picked successor. That doesn’t matter, though, after the board finalized Foust’s three-year contract worth $230,000 per year, plus benefits and other allowances.
He starts in August. His wife and two children will move to Kansas as well.
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Foust is currently an upper-level administrator in Union County Public Schools in Monroe, N.C. He previously taught in the Houston Independent School District.
Some residents fear an outsider coming in and shaking things up. The district has had only three leaders in 20 years. Others are concerned about a majority faction of the board creating an unnecessary rift.
The board approved the hire 5-2.
“My goal is to do great work,” Foust said Wednesday. “I will use a straightforward, team-first approach.”
The new superintendent will have his work cut out for him. He will be leading one of the more diverse school districts in the area. He and his team must focus on strengthening the district’s early childhood education and English as a Second Language programs as well as improving graduation rates.
About half of the district’s 22,000 students are Latino. Black students make up about 30 percent. The remaining 20 percent are white, Asian or of mixed race.
“The goal of any educator is to make sure every student is successful,” Foust said.
During Lane’s eight years at the helm, she was fortunate to have overwhelming support from a board that has drastically changed since November’s election. Four new members have essentially formed a voting bloc with Board Vice President Valdenia Winn, a potentially troubling development.
Lane has been an outspoken advocate for adequate funding for Kansas schools as the fight to improve school finance in Kansas has played out over the last two years. Foust should pick up where Lane left off in these efforts.
To be sure, the new superintendent’s resume and background are impressive. However, whether Foust may just be passing through Kansas City, Kansas, is an open question.
He’s a first-time superintendent. He has no ties to the area. And he has applied for numerous leadership positions. This opportunity may prove to be merely a stepping-stone for him.
Regardless, district stakeholders must give Foust the tools to be successful. Lane said as much on Wednesday.
“Kansas City, Kansas is a welcoming community,” she said. “This is a terrific place. We need to give him a chance.”
Transition and change are never easy, but supporting the district’s new leader is essential to improving student achievement. And that is where the focus should be.