Updated, 3:51 p.m. Tuesday – The Lee’s Summit school board has hired a new superintendent, David Buck.
Buck has served as superintendent for the Wright City schools, a tiny district about 40 miles west of St. Louis, since 2015. He’ll start in Lee’s Summit on July 1.
Dennis Carpenter, the district’s first black superintendent, resigned in July amid ongoing tension over diversity training for teachers and staff.
Carpenter’s efforts to close the achievement gap for students of color roiled the community for months, though the school board ultimately passed an equity plan. Implementing that equity plan to improve outcomes for students of color should be Buck’s No. 1 priority, said parent Erin Gregory, who serves on the district’s citizens advisory committee.
“It’s really critical for the 18,000 students in this school district that we close this achievement gap and bring about equitable access to future-ready learning for all students,” Gregory said.
She said there were mixed feelings in Lee’s Summit after the superintendent announcement Monday night. Buck was chosen from a pool of four final candidates, all of whom are white. The district is 25% students of color.
“I shared that concern,” Gregory said. “There’s a lot of research that points to the importance of kids coming into school and seeing people who look like them – teachers, administrators, staff leaders, the superintendent. When our board of education is white, when our entire school district leadership is white, we’re not representing all of our students.”
Megan Marshall is one of two candidates of color running for a seat on the Lee’s Summit school board. The seats held by Kim Fritchie, Jackie Clark and Dennis Smith will be up, and so far only Fritchie has filed for re-election.
“Every district has their moments where they have some challenges,” Marshall said of the last year, which has been a contentious one. “But I believe the district is going to turn the corner. ... The community is ready to have a fresh start and support the new superintendent.”
In a statement, board president Julie Doane said she believes Buck will continue the work on diversity issues that began under Carpenter.
“The community asked us for a leader who will build unity throughout the district, continue and expand upon the equity work the district has already started, be a champion for our educators and lead other major LSR7 initiatives that promote student success. I’m proud of our process, and I believe Dr. Buck will do great things for LSR7,” Doane said.
Buck has experience closing achievement gaps, according to a press release from the Lee’s Summit school district. In Wright City, student performance moved from the bottom 4% of Missouri schools to the top third.
But the move from Wright City to Lee’s Summit is significant. Wright City enrolls about 1,600 students. That’s fewer students than are enrolled at Lee’s Summit’s smallest high school.
Some Lee’s Summit residents thought the job should’ve gone to Emily Miller, who has been serving as interim superintendent, especially since the district is trying to pass a bond issue in April to build a fourth middle school. She was the only candidate with experience running a district as large as Lee’s Summit.
But Gregory wants people to give Buck a chance.
“I don’t think our last superintendent got that,” Gregory said. “And it was to the detriment of not just our entire student population but our community as well.”
In a statement, Buck said everyone he met during the interview process made him feel at home in Lee’s Summit.
“My personal mission is that every kid grows up to be an adult we all would be proud to call a neighbor,” Buck said. “I’m excited about being part of LSR7’s mission to do just that.”
Buck earned his doctorate degree from Missouri Baptist University. He got his educational specialist degree and his master’s degree from the University of Missouri and his bachelor’s degree in secondary education from Southeast Missouri State University. He and his wife have three children in ninth, fifth and second grades.
Lisa Rodriguez is a reporter and newscaster for KCUR 89.3. Follow her on Twitter @larodrig.
Elle Moxley covers education for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.