Lawrence school board picks KCMO’s Lewis for superintendent position; announcement made before official vote taken

Anthony Lewis, a current assistant superintendent in the Kansas City, Mo. school district, and one of two finalists for the Lawrence school district's superintendent position, participates in a meet-and-greet in the Lawrence High School cafeteria Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018.

The Lawrence school board on Monday announced that Anthony Lewis will serve as the district’s next superintendent, pending board approval.

Lewis, an assistant superintendent in the Kansas City, Mo., school district, will begin his new post July 1, according to the school board’s news release Monday morning. The board will conduct a special meeting at 6 p.m. Monday to approve a three-year contract with Lewis, at a salary of $215,000 for the 2018-2019 school year.

Though the school board came to a consensus about selecting Lewis during an executive session last week, board President Shannon Kimball said, the official vote will not take place until Monday’s meeting. The public will have the opportunity to provide feedback before board members vote to approve Lewis’ hiring. Lewis will also be introduced formally to the community at the meeting, Kimball said.

“Dr. Lewis’s passion for education and his commitment to putting students first was abundantly clear to the board,” Kimball said in the news release. “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’s leadership and look forward to working with him.”

The news arrives one week after the board’s interviews with Lewis and Jayson Strickland, a deputy superintendent in the Kansas City, Kan., school district. Both finalists attended community meet-and-greets last week at Lawrence High School.

Anthony Lewis

On impression forms filled out by meet-and-greet attendees, community members described Lewis as charismatic, personable, confident, professional, genuine, compassionate, thoughtful and a good fit for Lawrence, according to the school board’s news release. Community members also said Lewis had impressed them with his “passion for students, broad leadership experience, systems-thinking approach and good sense of humor.”

“I am extremely humbled and grateful to be given the opportunity to serve the Lawrence community. My education, work, and other community experiences have all prepared me to lead a district like Lawrence Public Schools as superintendent,” Lewis, 42, said in the news release. “My family and I are excited about being an active and involved part of Lawrence Public Schools and this great community. 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. We feel that the Lawrence school district provides this opportunity.”

Originally from Talladega, Ala., Lewis began his career in public education 16 years ago as a special education teacher and, later, as an assistant principal and head principal, in Montgomery, Ala. He was recruited in 2011 by the Kansas City, Mo., school district to serve as principal of Benjamin Banneker Elementary School, later moving into roles as the district’s director of elementary education and as an assistant superintendent. Lewis has served in that position since 2016.

According to the school board’s news release, Lewis holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree in special education, in addition to a degree in educational leadership, from Alabama State University. He also holds a doctoral degree in educational leadership and policy analysis from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Lewis and his wife, Tiffany, are the parents of six children, the news release said. His selection follows a national search process aided by firm Ray & Associates, which the school board hired at a cost not to exceed $30,000. Ray & Associates contacted more than 900 individuals in 48 states regarding the superintendent vacancy, resulting in 60 applications. The two finalists came from the Kansas City area.

Anthony Lewis, a current assistant superintendent in the Kansas City, Mo. school district, and one of two finalists for the Lawrence school district's superintendent position, participates in a meet-and-greet in the Lawrence High School cafeteria Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018.

When he moves into his new role July 1, Lewis will become the ninth superintendent to lead Lawrence’s school district. He replaces current interim superintendent Anna Stubblefield, who has served in that role since summer 2017.

Check back for more on this developing story.

Profile of Anthony Lewis, originally published in Sunday’s Journal-World

By Elvyn Jones

Anthony Lewis has studied enough data to know the odds against children with his upbringing.

He grew up in a single-family home in Talladega, a town of about 15,000 in east-central Alabama. To help him overcome those circumstances, his mother surrounded him with positive role models and instilled the value of education. A teacher at the Helen Keller School for the Deaf and Blind in Talladega, she also influenced his career choice.

“As I got older, I volunteered at Helen Keller,” Lewis said. “That’s where I first developed a passion for special education.”

That passion led to a special education degree from Alabama State University in Montgomery and then a special ed job in the Montgomery school district. After five years in the classroom and earning his master’s in educational leadership from Alabama State, Lewis was offered an assistant principal position at E.D. Nixon Elementary in Montgomery.

A year later, when he became principal of the school, he got his first chance to work at turning a school around. The elementary school was on the verge of being taken over by the state due to its poor performance.

Teachers were at the center of the turnaround, but Lewis admits one of his first actions was encouraging the retirement of some teachers who were on staff.

“There were teachers with 20 or 30 years experience who had used the same lesson plan over and over again and expected to get different results,” he said.

Tamika Townsend was a second-grade teacher at E.D. Nixon when Lewis arrived. She said he created a positive school environment that welcomed all students That was key in the school’s 50 percent reduction in disciplinary actions while he was principal, she said.

“He was very hands on,” she said. “He was in classrooms and part of every activity. We had an after-school program, and he was very good at pulling in students, even those with behavioral issues.”

Awards followed for Lewis and the elementary school. Among them was a 90/90/90 designation, meaning the school was one where 90 percent of the students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, 90 percent of the students were ethnic minorities and 90 percent of the students scored highly on academic achievement tests.

The success in Alabama led to a job in the Kansas City, Mo., school district, which had failed accreditation processes in Missouri for nearly three decades. Lewis was hired in July 2011 as the district’s director of elementary education. He was promoted to his current $143,000 per year position as assistant superintendent of leadership in December 2016.

There have been signs of improvement in the Kansas City, Mo., district in recent years. In 2012, the district’s Annual Progress Report score was 22 out of 140. In 2016, it improved to 98, which was good enough to qualify the district for accreditation for the first time in 30 years, Lewis said.

However, in 2017, the score slipped to 89.5. The Missouri education department, though, notes two assessment scores were omitted from the state’s 2017 APR scores because of testing problems, which may have contributed to the drop.

Lewis said he’s taken lessons from the district, including the importance of spending money on professional development for staff.

“The district spends a tremendous amount of money on vendors expecting there to be results,” he said. “There was a lot spent on programs and not professional development. We spent a lot of time making sure programs would be tighter aligned with curriculum.”

He said he would be excited to work with Lawrence teachers.

“Lawrence is poised to be one of the best school districts in the country,” he said. “That’s the vision I have for the Lawrence school district if I am afforded the opportunity. My goal is to make Lawrence a model school district in the United States.”