At her first school board meeting as the Waco Independent School District superintendent, Susan Kincannon outlined the work ahead for her and the district for the rest of the school year.
For the superintendent with just 16 days on the job as of Thursday night’s meeting, that work includes developing state- and federally mandated campus and district improvement plans, as well as looking at the district’s long-term physical needs, including facilities and furniture.
The Waco ISD school board voted 5-2 on Aug. 29 to hire Kincannon, who previously served as Belton ISD’s superintendent for about eight years.
Board members Stephanie Korteweg and Norman Manning cast the dissenting votes, citing concerns about Kincannon’s lack of experience working with a district as diverse and economically disadvantaged as Waco ISD.
Kincannon discussed some of those differences in the context of the district’s current enrollment Thursday night. She said about 86.5% of Waco ISD students are considered economically disadvantaged, which is up significantly from last year’s rate of 77%. Kincannon said that data was undercounted last year and resulted in “some negative impact” for some campus academic distinctions and overall ratings.
The district’s enrollment sits at 14,937 students, or about 100 more than last year, Kincannon said. Final enrollment numbers for the school year will be submitted to the state on the last Friday in October.
“We’re watching that data closely and will continue to refine it as we approach that deadline,” she said. “Our numbers are changing daily, and that’s normal. It will continue to happen through the end of October and then level out.”
The district has more elementary, middle and high school students than last year, with the largest increase in elementary school students, Kincannon said. The district has about 7,838 elementary school students.
Kincannon said she is excited to see a high number of prekindergarten students enrolled so far this year, now at 998 students, because it is important for instruction that pre-k enrollment is close to kindergarten enrollment. The district has 1,172 students in kindergarten.
An area Kincannon wants to “explore” in the future is the district’s relatively low rate of special education student enrollment. She said 8.8% of Waco ISD students are enrolled in a special education program, which is below the state average of 9.1% and the national average of 14%. She said she has asked the district’s demographer to create a full report to be presented to the board at its October workshop meeting.
Overall, Kincannon said the district’s student population is 60% Latino, 28.5% black and 8.8% white.
Also in October, the board will receive the required campus and district improvement plans Kincannon and other district leaders are working on. She said she normally would have those plans ready in August.
In her first 16 days, Kincannon visited 17 schools and the G.L. Wiley Opportunity Center, toured athletics facilities and attended educational and community meetings. She also has participated in racial equity training sponsored by the Cooper Foundation and the Waco ISD Foundation.
“I have enjoyed getting to know everyone,” she said. “I am quickly getting a feel for the culture of the school district and identifying the strengths and the opportunities for improvement.”
Throughout her tour, Kincannon noticed a few items that could be remedied right away, including replacing several worn rugs in elementary school classrooms where students spend a lot of time. Waco High School will receive some new classroom furniture, as well, she said.
Kincannon said the next step for improving the district’s facilities is to create a long-term planning process for future needs. She has already initiated that endeavor by meeting with architects.