What The Lee's Summit School Superintendent Hopes His Staff Learn From Diversity Training | KCUR

What The Lee's Summit School Superintendent Hopes His Staff Learn From Diversity Training

Jun 30, 2019

If Superintendent Dennis Carpenter's relationship with the Lee's Summit R-7 Board of Education is strained, he's not saying so publicly.

Over the last few months Carpenter, the school board, and Lee's Summit parents have gone back and forth over plans to have district staff take part in racial equity training. The plan prompted tense Board of Education meetings, a social media uproar, and racist threats directed at Carpenter, who is the district's first black leader and was assigned at one point a security detail by the Jackson County Sheriff's Office.

Despite all that, the training was approved last week, and the worst Carpenter can say about anybody involved is that he's "pretty disappointed and pretty sad" that someone would threaten his safety.

"It doesn't take a long Google search to see that there are some communities that grapple with this type of work," he says.

As for the board, "I hope through all of this we can all come together and agree that we have to work together in the most effective way," he says, "so we are never portrayed like this on the local, the regional or the national stage again."

The training in question hasn't been scheduled yet — Carpenter says those conversations are ongoing — but the superintendent already knows a few lessons he hopes district faculty and staff come away with.

Think critically about professional practices and personal beliefs

"To make sure that all students are reflected in the curriculum (and) all students see themselves reflected in the classroom space," Carpenter says, educators should examine their own way of doing things, "whether they be around hiring, whether they be around the purchase of curriculum resources, whether it be around things as simple as what books are in our libraries."

Those conversations will be tough at times, he says, but the training should help educators understand "What are some things that I can reflect on personally, and really put my beliefs under a microscope, to approach my work with a different lens?"

"That's exciting but difficult work," he says.

A more equitable education system helps everyone

"It's in all of our best interests to make certain that we prepare each student to the highest degree possible," says Carpenter. That means making sure each student has the same access to district resources.

Dennis Carpenter became superintendent of the Lee's Summit School District in 2017, after several years at the Hickman Mills District.
Credit Luke X. Martin / KCUR 89.3

For example: If an internship program offered by the district requires a student to provide their own transportation, "that's a barrier for some young folks" he says. "So how do we start re-imagining our spaces to provide more kids with great access and great opportunity? It only makes all of us stronger."

The benefits of a better-educated community extend beyond the classroom, too.

"When you think about workforce development," he says, "that begins, in terms of the training element, when a child enters a place called school."

The training isn't a fix-all

Carpenter makes clear the district's commitment to racial equity needs to be long-term and depends on faculty and staff taking this training to heart.

Now that the arguments over it have ended, "I don't know if we're better today," he says. "I think the future will tell that story. How well do we embrace the training will tell that story. Do we become a district that provides greater access and opportunity for all students? ... That'll tell the story."

Carpenter says it's also important to remember the racial equity training is just one part of the district's unanimously-approved equity plan.

"If this training causes us to put our practices under a microscope and look at them with a different lens, then we can't do anything else until we've done that work," he says. "So it's an important element, but it's only one element."

Dennis Carpenter spoke with Steve Kraske on a recent episode of KCUR's Up To Date. Listen to their entire conversation here.

Luke X. Martin is associate producer of KCUR's Up To Date. Contact him at luke@kcur.org or on Twitter, @lukexmartin.