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Kansans list preferred qualities for new education chief at State Board of Education’s Wichita meeting

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, May 29, 2014, at 9:09 p.m.

The crowd inside Christa McAuliffe Academy on Thursday was small.

But its list of preferred qualities and characteristics for a new state education commissioner took up several pages.

“I’m from the Goddard school district, and I like their mission statement: We educate children for life,” said Jody Dendurent, the mother of a Goddard middle schooler.

“They are more concerned about educating that person than what’s popular at the time or what might be trendy” in education, she said. “That’s what I’d like to see at a state level.”

Kansas State Board of Education members Jim McNiece and Kathy Busch hosted the focus group to gather ideas about issues constituents see as crucial and qualities they think are essential for a new education commissioner.

The board is searching for a new commissioner after Diane DeBacker stepped down from the job to become an adviser to the director general of the Abu Dhabi Education Council in the United Arab Emirates.

About 20 people attended the forum, including some who wanted to voice their opposition to Common Core state standards.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea. It’s going to cost schools a lot of money to implement, and that’s just one part of this,” said Rosy Schmidt, an Andover parent.

She also expressed concern about data being collected about Kansas students and about a Toni Morrison novel, “The Bluest Eye,” which is listed among sample texts for 11th-graders in an appendix to the Common Core standards. The book, which tells the story of a young black girl and describes scenes in which the girl’s father rapes her, has been a target of Common Core opponents across the country.

McNiece, the state board member, tried to direct discussion back to qualities the board should seek in a new commissioner.

“I’m going to bite my tongue and just say I support Common Core 100 percent,” he said. “I’m not going to argue with you. I’m just telling you where I stand.”

During the hour-long discussion, constituents listed several characteristics they’d like to see in a new commissioner. They said they want someone who has visionary leadership, advocates for students, listens to parents, can deal with politics and has a passion for Kansas education.

“I’d love to find someone … who is an innovator, who has good communication skills, who looks at things fairly from both sides,” McNiece said. “Not necessarily a Republican or a Democrat, but a Kansan.”

Busch said board members plan to compile feedback garnered from Thursday’s forum in Wichita and others around the state and will collect more input online. The board hopes to name a new commissioner by Nov. 1, she said.

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @suzannetobias.

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