Thursday’s Waco Independent School District Board of Trustees 5-2 vote to hire a new superintendent comes after a surprising amount of tension and strife between board members, sometimes played out in the pages of the Waco Tribune-Herald, sometimes involving misunderstandings and, given claims and counterclaims, clear deceit. But the process is over. Five board members have expressed glowing confidence in Belton ISD Superintendent Susan Kincannon’s coming to Waco; two question not her obvious skills and accomplishments but her experience in a district as racially and economically diverse as Waco ISD.
Now comes the hard part. To expand on remarks offered by Stephanie Ybarra Korteweg, who opposed Kincannon’s hiring, all board members must now not only earnestly work to ensure Kincannon is a success but endeavor doubly so to impress this need on any conflicted constituents. At one point, Korteweg, expressing concerns about Kincannon’s managing a district of such diversity, added: “I want and hope you’ll prove me wrong, more than anything.” We express confidence Korteweg can and will defy any expectation she might work to undermine this new superintendent’s success to prove herself right.
It’s impossible to look at the intrigue of recent days without considering the toxic political dynamics that have made racial relations far more strained than we might have imagined 10 or 15 years ago. Blame who you will, but enough elected leaders — left and right, white, black or brown — have lit racial powder kegs across our nation, magnifying the challenges we now face in Waco ISD with its strong majority-minority enrollment, much of it struggling against the scourge of poverty despite the Trumpian economy.
Board President Angela Tekell stressed that trustees in this search went through the same exhaustive process that led to the district’s previous superintendent — an inspirational, bilingual, African American whose strong resonance with parents and teachers was unfortunately short-circuited by a March 6 arrest for misdemeanor marijuana possession (reportedly for pain relief). Of more than 80 applicants, Tekell said, Kincannon, who is white, was “unmatched by any other applicant.” She told of Kincannon’s beginnings as a foster-care recipient. And she flatly condemned the reservations of some Kincannon critics “based on how she looks and where she comes from.”
In countering a stinging charge by board member Norman Manning that she should have recused herself because of prior professional and financial relationships with Superintendent Kincannon, attorney Tekell reminded the board she offered to recuse herself from voting to make Kincannon the district’s lone finalist for superintendent — and that fellow trustees dismissed the idea: “It is for that reason I did not recuse myself.”
Let’s give this new superintendent a fighting chance. Let’s see what she has to offer, how well she can rouse educators and parents to the school board’s worthy mission and how she builds on the success of others in recent years. And remember: Academic success is determined by the commitment, discipline and hard work of parents and students, first and foremost.