By Mallory Herrmann

The Lee’s Summit R-7 Board of Education was once again discussing educational equity at their Nov. 15 meeting. Several members of Superintendent Dr. Dennis Carpenter’s leadership team spoke about their recent visit to the Parkway School District in Chesterfield, Missouri. The daytrip was an opportunity for Lee’s Summit staff to discuss Parkway’s successful implementation of equity practices and their ongoing efforts to close achievement gaps, particularly between white and black students.

Parkway was chosen for having similar demographics to the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District, after the leadership team considered many districts doing equity work, including regional and international schools. They cited in particular that American School Board Journal had recently highlighted Parkway’s success.

Associate Superintendent of Equity and Student Services Dawn Smith described larger group discussions as well as “work-alike” small group conversations among professionals focused in areas including academics, student services, data, communications and public relations. She said they talked about success stories, missteps and defining moments in their work. Smith and Carpenter both stressed that this is a fluid process. They both said that Parkway staff indicated their work was not finished, and that while they’ve created a culture of equity, achievement gaps are still there.
Carpenter called it “the work of effectively educating all children” and asked that the board and leadership team proceed with enthusiasm.

Smith said their intent after returning from Parkway is to develop an equity plan for the district and to put out a request for proposals for an equity training consultant to support ongoing leadership and staff training. Leadership will also continue pursuing opportunities to promote diverse hiring practices in line with the board-approved Destination 2021 strategic plan.

“We are ready to move forward,” she said, acknowledging that it will be a journey for everyone. She wants to make sure everyone is going in the same direction.

No specific actions were taken by the board. They have a scheduled work session for Dec. x, during which they plan to continue the conversation. Smith anticipates having a drafted timeline for implementing an equity plan for board review in February.

Smith and Carpenter’s comments were echoed later in the evening, when Rev. Lia McIntosh spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting. McIntosh is a parent of three students at Cedar Creek Elementary and a member of Suburban Balance, a local nonprofit whose mission is to inform, educate and empower families of color. She read a prepared letter that expressed gratitude for the board’s prioritization of equity and specifically thanked Carpenter, Associate Superintendent of Academic Services Katie Collier, Board President Phyllis Balagna, and board members Bob White and Ryan Murdock for their engagement in conversation and attendance at recent equity forums.

McIntosh also called on the board and leadership team to focus on equity training, curriculum review, diverse hiring, program review, and IEP and discipline policy review. In all five areas, she hopes that the district will ensure an inclusive learning environment that is culturally sensitive and ethnically diverse.

All members of the board and approximately 50 members of the public were present. The board’s next regular meeting is scheduled for Dec. 13 at 7:00 p.m. Suburban Balance will next meet on Dec. 6 at New Generation Christian Center at 6:30 p.m.