The Waco Independent School District Board of Trustees voted 5-1 Wednesday night to name current Belton ISD Superintendent Susan Kincannon as the lone finalist for superintendent in Waco ISD.
Board member Norman Manning cast the sole dissenting vote, and board member Stephanie Korteweg was absent from the meeting. Manning declined to comment on his decision to dissent.
Kincannon has served as the superintendent of Belton ISD since 2011, according to a Waco ISD press release. She has served as a public educator for 30 years, including as a teacher, principal, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, and deputy superintendent.
But it will be at least 21 days before Kincannon officially becomes superintendent in Waco. A state law shields the identities of superintendent applicants in public school districts, but requires school boards to name the “finalist or finalists” for the position at least 21 days before voting to hire the person.
The board plans to meet again Aug. 29 to consider Kincannon’s contract, according to the press release.
The Belton ISD Board of Trustees plans to meet Thursday night to discuss personnel in closed session. Its next regularly scheduled meeting is Aug. 19.
Waco ISD board President Angela Tekell said in the press release that families, employees and community members have spent the past four months sharing with the board their visions of who will lead the school district in the future.
“I am confident that we have found someone who has the same hopes and dreams for our students,” Tekell said. “Dr. Kincannon is passionate about the students that she serves. She believes that every student deserves an education that will set them on the path to realizing their full potential. More than that, her experience, her expertise in curriculum and instruction, her knowledge of our district, and her connections to resources in our region and across the state make Dr. Kincannon the right person to lead Waco ISD forward.”
Veteran educator Hazel Rowe has been serving as the district’s interim superintendent since A. Marcus Nelson resigned March 21, two weeks after his misdemeanor marijuana possession arrest in Robertson County.
The school board received 84 applications for superintendent, but trustees narrowed down the candidates over the past month through application reviews and interviews to Kincannon.
Tekell said the board interviewed four candidates and invited two back last week for a second interview. After the second interview, the board decided on Kincannon and to conduct a site visit at Belton ISD on Tuesday. Trustees Cary DuPuy, Jose Vidana and Allen Sykes attended the site visit.
Vidana said the site visit only reinforced his decision to name Kincannon the lone finalist. The trustees spoke with Belton ISD board members and staff, who told them Kincannon is supportive of staff, knowledgeable about curriculum and instruction, and does not stop striving for improvement.
“She never stops,” Vidana said. “She just keeps going and going.”
While Belton ISD grows by 300 to 400 students a year, Waco ISD’s student population has remained relatively static over the past few years, he said. Vidana hopes Kincannon can turn that trend around and start bringing families back to Waco ISD.
“We have lost a lot of kids and families to other surrounding districts,” he said. “She’ll make changes, not overnight, and they’ll start coming back.”
Vidana said many community members at neighborhood meetings he attended to garner feedback on who should be the next superintendent wanted to see a person of color assume the position, but he believes Kincannon is the right choice, regardless of her race. Kincannon is white.
“We just need anybody who’s going to do their best for the kids. It’s the kids first,” he said. “It’s not about race. It’s about educating and bringing these kids up.”
Belton ISD board President Sue Jordan assured Vidana that Kincannon embraces diversity and reaches out to the entire community, he said.
In the press release, Jordan said Kincannon made Belton ISD a “welcoming place for all of our families” and “has celebrated our diversity and helped to build a genuinely inclusive culture.”
Kincannon began her career as a fifth grade teacher at Scott Elementary in Temple ISD. From her first day in the classroom to today, Kincannon said in the press release that she has been inspired by the example of her fourth grade teacher.
“I know the difference that a teacher can make in a child’s life because Mrs. Kellingsworth, my fourth grade teacher, made that difference in my life,” Kincannon said. “She was a phenomenal teacher, but more than anything I remember how she made me feel. She saw my potential, and she made me feel special. That’s why what we do in our schools matters so much. As educators, every day, we have the opportunity to make that difference for our students — to truly see their potential and to help them know that they are special.”
Kincannon joined Belton ISD in July 2000 as a middle school principal, the press release states. In 2002, she became the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, leading the development of the district’s curriculum for all content areas and grade levels. In that role, she also secured millions of dollars in grant funding to provide high-quality professional development for teachers and to implement enhanced instructional programs.
In 2011, Kincannon was tapped to become the superintendent of the district, which is about 40 miles south of Waco. At the time, Belton ISD had just under 9,000 students. Today, its enrollment is more than 12,000 students.
As superintendent, Kincannon expanded the academic opportunities available for students, according to the press release. The career and technical education program added state-of-the-art facilities for auto technology and agricultural science, while the construction trades program won multiple national championships. The Superintendent Scholars Program has provided academically advanced students with unique experiences and additional support outside of the classroom.
Tekell said Kincannon’s experience and expertise in curriculum and instruction made her stand out as a candidate, considering Waco ISD’s need for improvement in literacy and academic performance at the elementary level.
“We anticipate having multiple schools receive failing grades from the state, and we were determined to find an instructional leader, someone who knows how to motivate and support staff, develop meaningful and appropriate instruction, someone who’s demonstrated leadership in bringing together communities,” she said. “She has all of that. In addition, she knows the region. She’s been a sitting superintendent in Region 12 for the last eight years. She’s well respected by her colleagues. She’s well respected by Region 12.”
Tekell added that Kincannon “has a sense of urgency about academic excellence” and is a “tireless worker.”
“Waco is a special place for my family,” Kincannon said in the press release. “My daughter attends Baylor University, and my husband’s company does business here. We own a home in Waco and plan to retire here. I’m excited to meet our educators, spend time on our campuses, and — most of all — to serve Waco’s families.”
Nelson was returning from meeting with the Houston ISD board about its vacant superintendent position, when a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper stopped Nelson for a traffic violation and found less than 2 ounces of marijuana in his vehicle.
Nelson entered a pretrial diversion program that would drop the charge if he avoided trouble for 90 days. He successfully completed the program last month, so his case has been dismissed.
EL PASO — Aiming to play the traditional role of healer during national tragedy, President Donald Trump paid visits Wednesday to cities reeling from mass shootings that left 31 dead and dozens more wounded. But his divisive words preceded him, large protests greeted him and biting political attacks soon followed.
The president and first lady Melania Trump flew to El Paso late in the day after visiting the Dayton, Ohio, hospital where many of the victims of Sunday’s attack in that city were treated. For most of the day, the president was kept out of view of the reporters traveling with him, but the White House said the couple met with hospital staff and first responders and spent time with wounded survivors and their families.
Trump told them he was “with them,” said press secretary Stephanie Grisham. “Everybody received him very warmly. Everybody was very, very excited to see him.” Trump said the same about his reception in the few moments he spoke with the media at a 911 call center in El Paso.
But outside Dayton’s Miami Valley Hospital, at least 200 protesters gathered, blaming Trump’s incendiary rhetoric for inflaming political and racial tensions in the country and demanding action on gun control. Some said Trump was not welcome in their city. There were Trump supporters, as well.
In El Paso, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke spoke to several hundred people at a separate gathering. O’Rourke, a potential Democratic 2020 presidential rival, has blistered Trump as a racist instigator, but he also told those in his audience the open way the people of his hometown treat each other could be “the example to the United States of America.”
Emotions are still raw in both cities in the aftermath of the weekend shootings. Critics contend Trump’s words have contributed to a combustible climate that has spawned death and other violence.
The vitriol continued Wednesday.
Trump’s motorcade passed El Paso protesters holding “Racist Go Home” signs. And Trump spent part of his flight between Ohio and Texas airing his grievances on Twitter, berating Democratic lawmakers, Beto O’Rourke and the press. It was a remarkable split-screen appearance for TV viewers, with White House images of handshakes and selfies juxtaposed with angry tweets.
Trump and the White House have forcefully disputed the idea that he bears some responsibility for the nation’s divisions. And he continued to do so Wednesday.
“My critics are political people,” Trump said as he left the White House, noting the apparent political leanings of the shooter in the Dayton killings. He also defended his rhetoric on issues including immigration, claiming instead that he “brings people together.”
Some 85% of U.S. adults believe the tone and nature of political debate has become more negative, with a majority saying Trump has changed things for the worse, according to recent Pew Research Center polling. And more than three quarters, 78%, say that elected officials who use heated or aggressive language to talk about certain people or groups make violence against those people more likely.
In Dayton, raw anger and pain were on display as protesters chanted “Ban those guns” and “Do something!” during Trump’s visit.
Holding a sign that said “Not Welcome Here,” Lynnell Graham said she thinks Trump’s response to the shootings has been insincere.
“To me he comes off as fake,” she said.
Dorothee Bouquet, stood in the bright sun with her 5-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son, tucked in a stroller. She told them they were going to a protest “to tell grownups to make better rules.”
But in El Paso, where more protests awaited, Raul Melendez, whose father-in-law, David Johnson, was killed in Saturday’s shooting, said the most appropriate thing Trump could do was to meet with relatives of the victims.
“It shows that he actually cares, if he talks to individual families,” said Melendez, who credits Johnson with helping his 9-year-old daughter survive the attack by pushing her under a counter. Melendez, an Army veteran and the son of Mexican immigrants, said he holds only the shooter responsible for the attack.
“That person had the intent to hurt people, he already had it,” he said. “No one’s words would have triggered that.”
Local Democratic lawmakers who’d expressed concern about the visit said Trump had nonetheless hit the right notes Wednesday.
“He was comforting. He did the right things and Melania did the right things. It’s his job to comfort people,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, who nonetheless said he was “very concerned about a president that divides in his rhetoric and plays to race in his rhetoric.”
“I think the victims and the first responders were grateful that the president of the United States came to Dayton,” added Mayor Nan Whaley, who said she was glad Trump had not stopped at the site of the shooting.
“A lot of the time his talk can be very divisive, and that’s the last thing we need in Dayton,” she said.
Grisham, responding on Twitter from aboard Air Force One, said it was “genuinely sad” to see the lawmakers “immediately hold such a dishonest press conference in the name of partisan politics.”
Despite protests in both cities, the White House insisted Trump had received positive receptions. One aide tweeted that Trump was a “rock star” at the Dayton hospital.
The White House did not allow reporters and photographers to watch as he talked with wounded victims, medical staff and law enforcement officers there, but then quickly published its own photos on social media and released a video of his visit.
There was discord in El Paso, too. Rep. Veronica Escobar, the Democratic congresswoman who represents the city, declined to meet with Trump. “I refuse to be a prop,” she said in an interview on CNN.
Visits to the sites of mass shootings have become a regular pilgrimage for recent presidents, but Trump, who has sometimes struggled to project empathy during moments of national tragedy, has stirred unusual backlash.
Though he has been able to summon soothing words and connect one-on-one with victims, he often quickly lapses into divisive tweets and statements — just recently painting immigrants as “invaders,” suggesting four Democratic congresswoman of color should ”go back” to their home countries even though they’re U.S. citizens and deriding majority-black Baltimore as a rat-infested hell-hole.
As the presidential motorcade rolled up to a 911 center in El Paso, it passed a sign aimed at Trump that said “Racist go home.”
Elsewhere in the city, O’Rourke told several hundred people that his hometown “bore the brunt” of hatred from the shooting but could also hold an answer to the strife.
On the eve of his trip, Trump lashed out at O’Rourke, saying he “should respect the victims & law enforcement — & be quiet!”
On his flight between one scene of tragedy and the second, Trump said he tuned in as another 2020 rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, excoriated him in a speech that slammed him as incapable of offering the moral leadership that has defined the presidency for generations and “fueling a literal carnage” in America.
Trump declared the speech “Sooo Boring!” and warned that “The LameStream Media will die in the ratings and clicks” if Biden wins.
Trump seemed focused on politics through the day. He mentioned the crowd at his earlier rally in El Paso. When a reporter asked what he saw during the day, he answered with claims about how he was received respectfully in both cities. Then on the flight home he unleashed another political tweet:
“The Dems new weapon is actually their old weapon, one which they never cease to use when they are down, or run out of facts, RACISM! They are truly disgusting!”
The powerful Texas House General Investigating Committee is set to launch an investigation into allegations that Speaker Dennis Bonnen offered a hardline conservative organization media credentials if it politically targeted certain Republican members in the lower chamber.
“Last night, I initiated internal discussion with General Investigating staff about procedure with the intention of launching an investigation. Our committee will be posting notice today of a public hearing which will take place on Monday, August 12,” state Rep. Morgan Meyer, a Dallas Republican who chairs the committee, said in a letter dated Wednesday.
He was writing to state Rep. Nicole Collier, a Fort Worth Democrat who serves as vice chair. Earlier Wednesday, Collier wrote to Meyer requesting he “launch an immediate full investigation” into “whether not there has been a violation of any policy or rules that the committee is charged with overseeing.”
Collier specifically asked for an investigation into “the allegations relating to media credentials, as well as the circumstances and events surrounding a June 12, 2019 meeting, including any and all correspondence, statements and/or recordings related thereto.”
For the past two weeks, the House has been embroiled over the meeting between Bonnen, an Angleton Republican, and Michael Quinn Sullivan, who serves as CEO of Empower Texans. Sullivan alleged that Bonnen and state Rep. Dustin Burrows, who chairs the House GOP Caucus, said Empower Texans would receive long-denied media credentials in the lower chamber if its well-funded political action committee targeted 10 Republicans in the 2020 primaries. Sullivan later revealed he had secretly recorded the meeting.
Bonnen, who was first elected speaker in January, has forcefully disputed Sullivan’s account of the meeting. And on Monday, he emailed members an apology for saying “terrible things that are embarrassing to the members, to the House, and to me personally” — but did not explicitly mention Sullivan’s alleged quid pro quo offered by the speaker.
The General Investigating Committee, composed of five House members, has sweeping jurisdiction and subpoena power. A person who disobeys a subpoena by the committee may be cited for contempt or prosecuted for contempt, according to House rules, which were adopted at the beginning of the 86th legislative session in January. The committee can also meet at any time or place and has the jurisdiction to enter into a closed-door meeting if deemed necessary.
Since Sullivan revealed he had recorded the meeting, Bonnen, along with a number of Republicans and Democrats, have called for the audio to be released. Sullivan hasn’t yet indicated when — or if — he will.
The door may have slammed for good on a nonprofit grocery store planned for Elm Avenue after a disagreement between the developer and city officials over a set of metal security doors.
Rapoport Academy founder Nancy Grayson withdrew her application for an amendment to her Tax Increment Financing grant contract with the city during a meeting Tuesday, lowering the total amount of the contract from $97,946 to $75,935. The additional $22,011, which would have been used for preservation of historical elements of the building at 704 Elm Ave., hinged on Grayson removing metal roll-down doors already installed on the building.
Grayson said the Elm Avenue Market project was intended to serve the neighborhood and questioned officials’ assessment that residents in the area are opposed to roll-down metal doors because they believe the doors make the area appear unsafe.
“This assessment from Councilwoman Andrea Barefield and Megan Henderson of Center City Waco, that many people in the area have expressed opposition to the roll down doors on the market building, seems an exaggeration,” Grayson said during the meeting.
Barefield responded after Grayson’s comments, reiterating that she has regularly heard opposition to the use of metal doors.
Grayson mentioned Barefield and Henderson by name more than once, stating that they, the city council and city staff were the “winners” of a conflict.
“I’m not losing,” Grayson said. “It is the neighborhood you have hurt.”
Grayson said she did not believe the council cared enough about the community’s needs. The area has lacked a grocery store for years, and is considered a food desert.
“After 21 years of voluntary work in East Waco, I realize I do not have credibility with the city staff, City Center or perhaps the neighborhood,” Grayson said. “I will not return for projects that require involvement or support with this city council. Your message has been received loud and clear. Nice job council and city staff.”
Grayson’s initial TIF contract would have allowed roll-down doors. The restriction would only come into play if she had pursued the additional $22,000, originally earmarked for street improvements associated with the project that were later completed by the city as part of another.
Assistant City Manager Bradley Ford said Grayson had two options to move forward.
“The result of this (first) option would be for the market to open under the same criteria as originally proposed, including the usage of the solid security doors that were originally contemplated and currently installed” Ford said.
Ford said Grayson’s second option would be to use a facade improvement grant offered by the city to replace the metal doors with a roll-down glass doors, similar to the ones on Coach’s Smoke BBQ and Milo All Day in downtown Waco.
The mood was tense during follow-up questions from the city council.
District 3 Councilman Dillon Meek said he respects Grayson’s work in East Waco, and said her withdrawal decision was “tragic” and that he was in favor of the glass door solution.
“I will say personally, I heard for many months now, if not for a couple of years now during my time on the board of City Center Waco, that the community did have concerns over the solid steel doors that were prevalent in different parts of the community,” Meek said.
“I think that this work is messy,” Meek said. “I think that downtown revitalization is hard, and I think that you are trying very hard to do what’s best for this community, and I will stand and defend that this council is trying to do the same.”
Barefield said she could speak to East Waco’s disdain for roll-down doors.
“We sat down with staff, ‘Find a solution where everybody wins,’ and you still say ‘no,’ ” Barefield said. “This, at this point, is not about us. This is about you.”
Mayor Kyle Deaver said he felt Grayson’s statements about a lack of support from the council were disingenuous. He said the city had offered significant support for the project and had offered a solution to its aesthetic issue with the doors.
“For you to just say I’m not going to take that fix, I don’t want to talk about it, I’m walking away — there’s something else going on here that I don’t quite understand,” Deaver said.
He said her claim that the council had not supported the project is “far from accurate,” to which she responded “I knew I would take hits tonight.”
“When you make disingenuous statements, you’re going to take hits,” Deaver said. “We have to call those things out and talk about them.”
During the meeting, Grayson said the downtown overlay district’s rules, including one prohibiting metal doors on facades, were being applied inconsistently. Barefield said during an interview after the meeting that she agrees, and said that will soon change.
She said facade improvement grants are part of the city’s plan to enforce the overlay district rules more consistently without putting existing businesses in a bind.
“I’m not going to put a burden on an established business like that without offering some sort of incentive, so everyone can change the face of the neighborhood completely,” Barefield said. “It’s not like a hammer is going to drop, but we’re going to offer the resource and encourage the resource.”
She said the city has been trying to bring businesses back to East Waco and change its image since the early 2000s, and enforcing the rules of the overlay is part of that effort.
“Who would want to go into an area that didn’t look safe? No one,” Barefield said. “When you have roll-down doors, when you have bars, it gives a perception the area is unsafe.”
The Marlin Independent School District Board of Managers unanimously voted on Wednesday night to place Superintendent Michael Seabolt on unpaid administrative leave and terminate his contract, two months after suspending him with pay.
Board member Sam Sinno said all board members were present at the meeting and spent almost two hours in closed session discussing Seabolt’s contract before voting.
Sinno said he could not comment on why the board decided to begin the process of terminating the superintendent’s contract. He said the board placed Seabolt on unpaid leave because the termination process can be quite lengthy and board members do not want to continue paying his salary during that process.
Seabolt’s annual salary is $140,000, according to his contract.
According to the Texas Education Code, a board may suspend a superintendent without pay for “good cause” pending termination, but the superintendent has a right to request a hearing with an independent examiner after receiving notice of suspension without pay. The same rules apply for proposed termination of a superintendent’s contract.
Seabolt said Wednesday night that the board chose not to speak with his attorney, who board members asked to be available by phone. He said he does not know why the board decided to terminate his contract.
“They don’t have anything on me,” he said. “It didn’t have to be this complicated. Take a look at Marcus Nelson. He actually committed a crime and got arrested, and it didn’t take this long.”
Nelson, Waco ISD’s former superintendent, resigned in March two weeks after a misdemeanor marijuana possession arrest. He has since completed a pretrial diversion program and had the charge dropped.
The Marlin board considered taking action on Seabolt’s contract July 17 but adjourned without taking any action after meeting in closed session for more than two hours.
The state-appointed board of managers voted 4-1 on June 5 to suspend Seabolt and launch an investigation into his performance and the district. Board member Danny Vickers cast the sole dissenting vote.
The vote to suspend Seabolt came a week after a similar motion made by board member Eddie Ellis failed. State-appointed conservator Jean Bahney then directed the board to suspend the superintendent, “pending further board action,” after the motion failed.
Assistant Superintendent Remy Godfrey is serving as the district’s acting superintendent.
Seabolt started as Marlin ISD superintendent in summer 2015, with a mandate to turn the district of 835 students around. He guided the district through its first abatement agreement with the Texas Education Agency to prevent closure of the district because of chronic failure of state accountability standards, which are largely based on state standardized test scores.
When Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath appointed the five-member board of managers in 2017, he also declared Seabolt would remain as superintendent. Since then, the board of managers has renewed Seabolt’s contract twice after positive evaluations from the board, Seabolt said.
His most recent contract renewal occurred in February of last year and extends through Feb. 19, 2023.
Meanwhile, Marlin ISD faces closure for the fourth consecutive school year, despite two years of state intervention in the form of a state-installed board of managers. The district has failed state academic accountability standards for seven consecutive years.
As a result, Morath revoked Marlin ISD’s accreditation status for the 2018-19 school year in February. He also appointed Bahney as conservator.
In January, Morath extended the appointment of the board of managers for another two years, citing a “lack of improvement” at the district.
The closure of the district depends on the results of an informal review of its accreditation status. Marlin ISD requested this review, a remedy available to school districts in this situation. The results of the review are pending, according to the TEA.
The district faced the possibility of closure the past three school years and has continued operating under abatement agreements with the TEA.