Editorial: Promising pick for schools

As a new leader takes the helm of the Lawrence school district, early indications look positive.

The Lawrence school board is to be commended for the open process it used in selecting the district’s new superintendent, Anthony Lewis.

Lewis was formally hired at a board meeting Monday night, after the public was given the opportunity to provide final comments and feedback on the decision.

Earlier in January, the board named Lewis, an assistant superintendent in the Kansas City, Mo., school district, and Jayson Strickland, a deputy superintendent in the Kansas City, Kan., school district, as finalists for the position. Last week, the board scheduled separate events with each finalist, providing the public with the chance to meet the superintendent candidates and provide feedback to board members.

“Dr. Lewis’s passion for education and his commitment to putting students first was abundantly clear to the board,” board President Shannon Kimball said. “He has a proven record of improving student achievement while building strong relationships with students, families, teachers, and the community. We are excited for the future of Lawrence Public Schools under Dr. Lewis’ leadership and look forward to working with him.”

In selecting Lewis to become the ninth superintendent for the unified school district, the district made a departure from recent superintendent hires.

Lewis is the first superintendent to come to the district from outside the state since Kathleen Williams, 1998 to 2000. Last summer, Anna Stubblefield became the school district’s first black superintendent when she took the job on an interim basis. Lewis becomes the first black man to lead the school district, an important distinction given that diversity and equity are perhaps the school district’s most pressing issues.

Recent school district statistics show that minority students — especially black students — are under-represented in gifted and advanced placement courses. They are also two to three times more likely than white students to be identified as learning disabled or discipline problems.

Lewis comes to Lawrence from a school district where 55 percent of the students are black. He has a track record of turning around underperforming minority schools, first as a principal at an elementary school in Montgomery, Ala., and most recently in the Kansas City district, where he helped the district more than quadruple its Annual Progress Report scores from 22 to 98 in a span of five years.

Feedback from the public meeting with Lewis last week described him as charismatic, personable and confident, traits that shouldn’t be undervalued. Perhaps as much as anything, the Lawrence district needs a champion comfortable serving as the face and voice of the district, its staff and all of its students. Lewis appears ready to do just that.

“This was a very important decision for us, as we are looking for a community that we can be a strong part of, as well as a school district that is the right fit for us to live in while our children complete their education,” said Lewis, who has six children with his wife, Tiffany. “We feel that the Lawrence school district provides this opportunity.”

Time will tell, but on the surface, Lewis seems a bold and appropriate choice to lead the school district.