Resignation stirs troubled Kansas City school district

KANSAS CITY, Mo. —The possible departure of a popular Kansas City schools superintendent has stirred concerns that the historically troubled district could fall back into a routine of uncertainty, one that has seen heavy turnover in the top leadership role for years.

A closed session that school board members called Thursday to discuss Superintendent John Covington's resignation ended without a decision. Board president Airick Leonard West said they did not accept the resignation and planned to talk to Covington to "explore whether there is another path forward."

Covington later issued a statement saying he wouldn't retract his resignation and that continuing to talk about it "distracts the district from its primary focus, which is educating students."

Meanwhile, Missouri Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro said she was disappointed by the turmoil and questioned whether the Kansas City district's plan for improvement could be in jeopardy.

Covington became superintendent in 2009. His efforts to transform the district have included a school-closing plan shutting down nearly half of the buildings to avoid bankruptcy.

He and board president West have clashed. And many think the key to keeping Covington is to get West to resign instead. In fact, a coalition of black political leaders and city council members has been working to convince the board president to leave, school board member Arthur Benson said.

"West and Covington are oil and water," Benson said Thursday. "Covington isn't going to consider coming back if West has anything to do with the school board, and I don't blame Covington one bit."

If Covington does leave, state leaders said the district's accreditation could be at risk and it could have a tough time finding a replacement for the superintendent's job.

The district's accreditation is under review, even as its performance has continued to fall below accreditation standards.