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Lee's Summit Teachers Union Wants Superintendent Out, Citing 'Controversial' Diversity Training

Luke X. Martin
KCUR 89.3
Dennis Carpenter became superintendent of the Lee's Summit School District in 2017, after several years at the Hickman Mills District. Now, the teachers union wants him out, but not all teachers are on board.

In a strongly-worded email to the school board, the Lee's Summit teachers union urged the board not to extend Superintendent Dennis Carpenter's contract.

In the email, the Lee's Summit chapter of the National Education Association (LS NEA) said Carpenter shouldn't have pushed for diversity training during a contentious boundary change process.

The email  from the teachers union said Carpenter's diversity training was "controversial" and "put its focus on 'white privilege' as a means to draw attention to diverse bias."

The LS NEA added that Carpenter's creation of an assistant superintendent for Equity and Student Services was not necessary, and said more attention needs to be paid to the disparity in student achievement with all minority populations, "not just focused on our black population."

Carpenter is the district's first black superintendent, and racial tension has roiled the district for months.

At a school board meeting last Thursday, many spoke out against the email.

Mary Humphreys has two daughters in the district, and she teaches at Lee’s Summit West High School. She said she never gave the executive team of the LS NEA the authority to speak for her.

"This email in no way represents me or my views," Humphreys said. "I hope that as a district, we can finally put to rest that we are only focusing on one marginalized group as this is not representative of what I’ve experienced at all."

Michael Shaw, who is black,  has three children in the district. He said he was "very disturbed" by the email. 

"Put my son on your shoulder," Shaw said to the board. "Statistically [my children] are going to achieve less than their peers. That's not fair ... You have an absolute responsibility to me, my family and my son to ... provide them an equitable education."

He praised what he called Carpenter's "courageous" decision to bring diversity training to the board, and urged them to extend his contract.

District parent Erica Wilson echoed this support for Carpenter, who she said has handled difficult issues head-on with "grace and charm."

"Tackling the challenges of shifting boundaries, issues of equity, access and opportunity, and ultimately, these achievement gaps we keep hearing about is not necessarily comfortable work. In fact, chipping away at systems of oppression is not cozy work," Wilson said.

District parent Christine Bushyhead pushed back and argued that the "stage was set" for Carpenter when he became superintendent in 2017, but that he has held the district back.

"Please stop fostering a racist label on our community. This community has embraced these issues since July 2017 with specific direction about culture change and about the achievement gap. It's time we stop being represented differently than that," Bushyhead said.

In a statement released Friday, the Board of Education said it voted to enter negotiations with Carpenter for an extension of his contract, and "hopes to complete an agreement with Dr. Carpenter in the near future."

Andrea Tudhope is a reporter at KCUR 89.3. Email her at andreat@kcur.org, and follow her on Twitter @andreatudhope.

Andrea Tudhope is an award-winning multimedia journalist based in Kansas City, Missouri. She is currently coordinating producer for America Amplified, a national public media community engagement initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. 
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