Lawrence school district selects KCMO leader as new LHS principal; director of facilities and operations also named

photo by: Contributed photos

Jessica Bassett and Larry Englebrick

Story updated at 9:02 p.m. Monday:

The Lawrence school district made two administrative appointments Monday, including a new leader for Lawrence High School.

The district announced in a news release that Jessica Bassett would be the next principal of the high school beginning July 1. Bassett is currently the principal of Southeast High School in Kansas City, Mo. She will succeed Cynthia Johnson, who has served as interim principal since 2019. LHS serves about 1,600 students between ninth and 12th grades.

The district also announced that Larry Englebrick would become the next executive director of facilities and operations on March 15. Englebrick is currently the director of facilities and operations for the Kansas City, Mo., school district.

The Lawrence facilities and operations director oversees all buildings, grounds, custodial and maintenance functions for the district. Englebrick will replace Tony Barron, who recently left the district to take a similar position in Johnson County.

The school board approved the hires during its meeting Monday evening.

“Both have wide ranges of success and experiences as educators and educational leaders who will be great additions to our team,” Superintendent Anthony Lewis said during the meeting.

Bassett’s tenure at the Kansas City school district includes 11 years as a school principal or vice/interim principal at the elementary, middle and high school levels and 10 years as a vocal music and reading teacher. She earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of Kansas and master’s degree at Avila University. She is currently working to complete her doctorate in education at the University of Missouri Kansas City.

The district selected Bassett for the position after three finalists for the position met with advisory committees made up of students, parents and teachers and staff.

“Jessica has a proven track record of leading change and supporting school communities in improving academics, attendance, culture and climate, and graduation rates,” Lewis said in a news release. “Her experiences and passion for coaching and mentoring teachers to accelerate student learning will help us further our goal to increase student achievement and success at LHS.”

Although Johnson, who is affectionately known as “Mama J,” will not continue in the position after the current school year, she said she enjoyed her time at the helm and would work with Bassett as the school transitioned to the new leader.

Lewis thanked her for her service.

“I sincerely appreciate Dr. Johnson’s contributions to Lawrence High,” Lewis said in the release. “We have seen continuous progress and positive changes in the school climate during her tenure. She loves the students, and I know they feel the same way about ‘Mama J.'”

Prior to his current position as a facility administrator, Englebrick taught at the high school level in the Shawnee Mission school district and served as the Kansas State Department of Education’s deputy commissioner of the division of school innovations. He also served as an assistant superintendent for business services, executive director of instructional support, high school principal and teacher for the Kansas City, Kan., school district.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry at William Jewell College in Liberty, Mo., and his master’s and doctorate in education from the University of Kansas.

“Dr. Englebrick’s background as a classroom teacher, school principal, and district administrator will lend itself well to ensuring that all facilities and operations functions of the district ultimately serve to support effective teaching and learning,” Lewis said in a separate news release. “Larry has a wealth of experience with staffing, professional development, budgeting, purchasing, and project management. He will be a great addition to our leadership team.”

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In other business, the board approved a change to the current school year calendar to make March 5 a professional development day for elementary school faculty rather than a standard instructional day, which means elementary students will have the day off.

In a memo to the board, administrative staff said it proposed the change to help faculty prepare for the district’s move back to fully in-person instruction later in March. The board also approved the 2021-22 school year calendar.

The board also heard a report on its capital improvement plan, which outlines the district’s plans for facility maintenance and upgrades.

Under the capital improvement plan, the district is slated to spend $11.1 million during the current school year and $11.4 million during the 2021-22 school year on capital projects. Much of that money will be going toward regular maintenance projects that the district undertakes every year, such as maintaining the high school athletic fields. The biggest item that’s not one of these annual maintenance projects is a $1.1 million roof improvement at Sunflower Elementary, and many of the others are building improvements across the district that are budgeted at less than $300,000 each.

Kathy Johnson, the district’s director of finance, said the board would consider approving the plan next month. However, she noted the plan was fluid and subject to change.

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