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.

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Brooke Crum joined the Tribune-Herald as the education reporter in January 2019. She has worked for the Springfield News-Leader in Missouri, Abilene Reporter-News, Beaumont Enterprise and the Port Arthur News. Crum graduated from TCU in Fort Worth.

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