LEE’S SUMMIT, Mo. — Listen to understand by maintaining eye contact with the speaker; demonstrate positive non-verbal communication; remain attentive by avoiding side-bar conversations.
Those might sound like lessons teachers will be giving their students on the first day of school.
On Thursday they were new “Governance Norms,” some of the first items on the agenda in the first Lee’s Summit School Board work session for Dr. Emily Miller.
A year-long bitter battle between the school board and Superintendent Dr. Dennis Carpenter ended with his resignation and a $750,000 buyout of his contract, which was announced Tuesday.
“We see smirks. Instead we see people drinking water and turning their head,” Lee’s Summit parent Roderick Sparks said at Thursday’s meeting, referencing talking at a contentious May meeting.
In the previous meeting, the Lee’s Summit School Board voted down hiring equity consultants Carpenter recommended in part of an effort to institute a district-wide equity plan.
The next month, they changed their minds and voted to hire the consultants. And then a few weeks later, Carpenter would be leaving the district.
Parents question the board’s real intentions with mediation of the superintendent’s departure following so quickly on its heels.
Other “Governance Norms” discussed Thursday included:
- Engage in purposeful deliberation and discussion by staying on topic; being clear and concise when sharing ideas; and thoughtfully considering all points of view.
- Recognize that differences of opinion will arise and ensure that all members are able to share their thinking by avoiding interruptions; pausing before responding to a differing opinion; and remaining respectful during all interactions.
“That speaks volumes right there. There’s the problem. If board members don’t know how to work as an executive over this large of a school district, then they need to re-evaluate their position,” parent Pam Hatcher said.
Parents worry their children have been watching feuding adults.
“I’m concerned about the safety and welfare of our children with all the stuff that’s been going on in our community,” Michael Shaw said.
“It’s not enough to identify as ‘not racist,'” Lynn Wilson said. “You have to be actively and intentionally doing the work against the things that oppress, dehumanize and marginalize the children of LSR-7.”
Carpenter is now the second superintendent the district has bought out in three years.
“We paid an exorbitant amount of money to buy out their contracts. As a tax payer that pisses me off,” Carla Dial said.
District leaders didn’t shy from acknowledging the tension.
“We acknowledge that the past several months have been difficult with a range of emotions involved,” Miller said in her first superintendent’s report.
“Tonight was a time to listen to our public and hear some thoughts from them, to also understand that we have some work to do,” district spokeswoman Kelly Wachel said.
Thursday’s work session also included a discussion about limiting public comment to only Lee’s Summit parents and teachers, and requiring comments to relate to agenda topics.
They’ll vote on whether to change the policy at a later meeting. Board Member Jackie Clark questioned whether this was the right time for the board to appear to be limiting public input.