The fight for racial equity in the Lee’s Summit school district appears to be back at square one.
And parents of minority schoolchildren in the mostly white, affluent district have reason to be concerned about its commitment to improving educational outcomes for students of color.
In recent years, students of color in Lee’s Summit have consistently been outperformed by their white peers in nearly every academic category, according to the district’s own analysis. So when Dennis Carpenter, Lee’s Summit’s first African American superintendent, was forced out in July for merely advocating for racial equity efforts to close the achievement gap, the imbroglio highlighted the district’s discomfort with addressing and adapting to its changing demographics.
Last week, Dawn Smith, the only minority among the district’s top leaders, resigned as the assistant superintendent of equity and student services to take a job with North Kansas City Schools. Smith’s duties in Lee’s Summit will be split between current administrators Rexanne Hill and Christy Barger.
Nothing suggests Hill and Barger aren’t capable of filling in on a short-term basis. But the question remains: How does the district plan to effectively address equity and access for all students with a leadership team devoid of diversity?
Smith’s “departure will not impact LSR7’s commitment to its plan to ensure that our district-wide practices reflect and support the needs of our diverse community,” interim Superintendent Emily Miller said in a statement to The Star Editorial Board.
Will diversity efforts continue in Lee’s Summit?
Board President Julie Doane, who once equated being blonde to being black, said diversity efforts will continue on all fronts.
But Doane misses the overriding concern expressed by Lee’s Summit resident and equity advocate Lia McIntosh and other parents of African American students. In a district where about 12% of the nearly 18,000 students are black, diverse leadership at district headquarters is sorely lacking.
The Lee’s Summit board of education also has no people of color.
“We are concerned that LSR7 has some of the best salaries and benefits, yet leaders of color who are committed to equity are not retained in an inclusive and equitable workplace,” McIntosh wrote in an email.
“If staff (does) not feel valued, imagine how students of color feel.”
Carpenter’s recommendation to contract with Pacific Educational Group for equity work was met with scorn. After an ugly battle played out in public view — Carpenter threatened to quit over the impasse — the district reversed course and approved district-wide equity training for teachers and staff.
Carpenter eventually received a $750,000 buyout from the Lee’s Summit district to go away.
Now, the only remaining minority on the superintendent’s leadership team and executive staff is out. And it is not known whether she will be replaced.
The district will adjust to the change during the next several months, the superintendent wrote in her statement. But homogeneous leadership in public education is troubling.
If officials are serious about their equity plan, the first order of business should be to recruit someone with relevant experience in equity work.
Five cohorts of teams have already undergone racial equity training conducted by Educational Equity Consultants. But recent events highlight how much work Lee’s Summit school officials still must do.