Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools Superintendent Cynthia Lane attributes her three decade career in education to a frog.
Lane went to college to be a clinical psychologist but a required biology class asked her to insert a needle into a frog’s brain.
“It was a live animal that we were going to do an experiment on to see reactions,” Lane says. “I could not do that. So I left class, went down the hall and said, ‘I need to change my major.’”
Lane decided to go into education.
She’s spent 29 years in the Kansas City, Kansas, district, serving a variety of roles during her career including teacher, principal, director of special education and, finally, superintendent. After eight years in that office, she announced her retirement in January. Lane’s last day of work is June 29.
More than 100 colleagues, friends and community members attended an emotional retirement reception for Lane on Sunday.
It was an event Lane was reluctant to have.
“Anything that puts her kind of at the center of attention is probably a bit uncomfortable for her,” says Kelli Mather, chief financial officer for KCK public schools.
Mather says Lane prefers the focus to be on educating students.
It’s a preference that hasn’t always been easy to achieve. Lane attracted media attention after the Kansas City, Kansas, district became a plaintiff in the Gannon school funding case that argues Kansas’ school finance system is unconstitutional. The Kansas Supreme Court ruled in the districts’ favor saying the state legislature should increase education funding.
That wasn’t Lane’s last time in the spotlight. In 2015, state lawmakers criticized her for spending $47,000 on a new piano for Sumner Academy. It replaced a 50-year-old piano.
That same year the Kansas School Superintendents' Association named her superintendent of the year.
Deputy superintendent Jayson Strickland has known Lane for almost two decades. Strickland says Lane’s defense of the old piano purchase is just one example of her tough nature.
“Do not let that small stature fool you. She is a tough lady. She is a smart lady,” Strickland says.
Gary Enrique Bradley-Lopez graduated from Wyandotte High School two years ago. He first met Lane when she attended a poetry slam he participated in.
He says he was impressed with Lane’s involvement in the community.
“She's just visible so it's like there's no way that you can’t know Dr. Lane,” Bradley-Lopez says.
Monica Portley, a family community school specialists at Northwest Middle School, echoes this sentiment. She wrote and sang an original song in honor of Lane for the retirement event.
She says Lane always made an effort to attend high school basketball and football games. When a middle school coach asked her why she didn’t attend middle school games, Lane said she would make a note.
“I mean literally she showed up the next game,” Portley said.
Strickland says Lane pushed the school district to improve.
“She gave us permission to think more, to think bigger than what we had in the past,” Strickland says.
Aviva Okeson-Haberman is a KCUR news intern. Follow her on Twitter @avivaokeson.