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How Kansas City, Kansas' New School Superintendent Grades His First Semester

Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools

Charles Foust received a tepid welcome when he arrived in August as the new superintendent of the Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools. But after his first semester, Foust said he is settling in.

Many district patrons and employeeshad vocally supported the other finalist for the job, deputy Superintendent Jayson Strickland, a career district teacher and administrator who was respected and liked.

But a majority of the school board wanted change, and that’s what Foust said he intends to deliver for the district of 22,000 students, many of whom come from immigrant and low-income families.

“It's about how do we get better," Foust told host Lisa Rodriguez on KCUR’s Up to Date."I would say that I'm never going to appease or please everyone, and that's not my goal. My goal is to make sure that all of our students are getting a quality education.”

After January, that work will take place without Strickland. Foust confirmed that the deputy superintendent will be leaving for another position.

“It will leave a huge hole,” said Foust, who added that he and Strickland had enjoyed a productive working relationship.

“The day after the board named me as superintendent, he and I spoke over the telephone for probably about an hour and a half,” Foust said. “And one of the things that we stated is that our names will not be the headliners of why our school district will not move or perform.”

Besides the upcoming vacancy from Strickland’s departure, Foust is working to fill several other top-level vacancies, including chief financial officer and the assistant superintendent in charge of elementary education.

The last three superintendents had come up through the district’s ranks, and many district supporters had expected that to continue. But a majority of the school board had been vocally critical of the former superintendent, Cynthia Lane, and her administration, and wanted to chart a new course.

Although Foust came to Kansas City from an administrative position with Union County Public Schools in North Carolina, he honed his reputation as a principal,working with low-performing or “turnaround” schools in the Houston Independent School District.

And so one of his first moves in Kansas City, Kansas, was to focus on school leaders.

“We are bringing our principals in monthly and keeping them all day and training them,” Foust said.

He said he also plans to bring in a consulting firm to work with principals on turnaround practices.

“Our problem is that our school leaders have not been introduced to do turnaround work and it's a different type of work. So that's what you're going to see on the horizon.”

Foust said Lane, his predecessor, “did a wealth of things for our school district to bring us to this point.”

But he said not all the instruction currently in place is working.

“We are starting a lot of things but we're not following them through with completion,” he said. “Have we looked at the numbers? Are we looking at the data? A lot of people say, ‘Well, we've always done this.’ But it's not bringing you anything.”

Foust agreed with descriptions of himself as competitive and ambitious, but said those qualities will only benefit his own career if they help students.

“I'm not one who just jumps in and moves,” he said. “Superintendent has always been my goal and that's where I am. I'm actually living my dream right now.”

Barbara Shelly is a freelance contributor for KCUR 89.3. You can reach her at bshellykc@gmail.com.

Barbara Shelly is a freelance reporter and editor based in Kansas City, Missouri.
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