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New Kansas City, Kansas, School Chief: Need To Boost Performance — And State Aid

Union County Public Schools

The new Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools district superintendent says he wants to increase graduation rates and make sure every student is reading at grade level by second grade.

But Charles Foust will have to make those gains with a budget that the Kansas Supreme Court found doesn’t live up to the “adequate” standard set in the state constitution.

The high court’s ruling this week gave the Kansas Legislature a year to fix its school funding plan. In the meantime, schools will have to make do with what they have — a boost in funding that it says is not large enough. The district is a plaintiff in a years-long lawsuit over state aid to local schools.

Choosing Foust, instead of a candidate with local ties, drew criticism for the school board from staff and parents. They’ve worried about what sort of change it would mean for a poorer district that’s seen uncharacteristic stability for an urban school system.

Foust said school financing will be the biggest challenge facing the district. With a limited budget, he said he will look at how money is being spent.

“What are we actually doing that is effective,” he said, “and what are we doing that's not effective and how our finances based on the effectiveness of that?”

Foust said he will measure the return on investment by looking at factors like the graduation rate, staff turnover and morale.

Early inspiration

A fifth grade teacher and a failing classmate helped inspire Foust’s interest in education.

Foust credits his fifth grade teacher with building his confidence and challenging him to turn in the best work. In high school, a failing classmate, who aced tests and quizzes but didn’t turn in homework, taught him to question how schools measure success.

“The teacher could not see the talent because (the classmate) didn't follow directions,” Foust said.

After high school, Foust went to North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University for a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for a master’s degree in school administration and to the University of Houston for a doctorate in professional leadership.

Foust has worked as a teacher, principal and administrator. He said his turnaround work—taking underperforming schools and bringing them up to standard — qualifies him to lead Kansas City, Kansas, schools.

As a school support officer for the Houston Independent School District, he helped reduce the dropout rate and increase the graduation rate, according to a press release from the Kansas City, Kansas, district.

Now Foust is the chief school performance officer at Union County Public Schools in North Carolina.

Chilly welcome

Foust wasn’t surprised when community members reacted negatively to his selection on Tuesday.

“They don’t know me in Kansas City and so that’s just human nature,” he said, “to be apprehensive over something that they don’t know.”

The board’s decision to select Foust triggered gasps and a loud boo from the audience at the Tuesday school board meeting. At the end of the meeting, a few community members walked away in tears. Board member Janey Humphries said the majority of public feedback she received supported selecting Jayson Strickland, the current deputy superintendent.

That’s who Raqeisha Portley wanted. Portley works in the district’s central office and said the board’s decision to select Foust was “hurtful” because the community supported Strickland.

Portley said she was considering moving her son to the district. After the board meeting on Tuesday, Portley is reconsidering.

“As a mom, as an employee, I have to tough it up and I have to decide tomorrow: Am I walking in the doors at 7:30? And the answer is yes,” Portley said. “But I have to decide in August, will I walk my son in one of those doors? And right now, the answer is no.”

Foust doesn’t know when he will officially start. In the meantime, the board hired Julia Ford to serve as interim superintendent.

Aviva Okeson-Haberman is a KCUR news intern.

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