A familiar maxim holds that the one thing a school board must get right is selecting a new superintendent. That would seem doubly so in replacing Marcus Nelson, a popular, inspirational, bilingual, African-American superintendent whose all-too-brief tenure at Waco Independent School District was undone when a state trooper arrested him for a small amount of marijuana. Before the board and superintendent parted ways, the question of whether Nelson should stay on despite the arrest deeply divided our community.
Given Nelson’s downfall and his identification with so much of Waco ISD — heavily minority — it was critical the school board exercise great scrutiny and unyielding propriety in landing a successor. Now two minority board members question whether the finalist, Belton ISD Superintendent Susan Kincannon, has sufficient experience to oversee a district with Waco ISD’s diversity. Questions also involve board president Angela Tekell’s 11-year working history with Kincannon, given Tekell’s experience as Belton ISD’s school board attorney and a private real-estate venture they share.
Does this lapse of judgment on Tekell’s part indict Kincannon as a superintendent prospect? Hardly, though it definitely muddies matters. Given her success in Belton ISD, Kincannon knows plenty about public education, even if Belton ISD doesn’t mirror Waco ISD in demographics. Is the fact Kincannon is white and nearly 90% of Waco ISD enrollment is Hispanic or black disqualifying? We sure hope not, though some educators and parents have in the past complained Waco ISD leadership fails to reflect this enrollment diversity.
A couple of points: Let’s remember Tekell is new as a board president and may at this early juncture lack the intuitive leadership that her seasoned predecessor, Pat Atkins, almost certainly would have shown in handling obvious conflicts of interest. Abstaining from any vote on Kincannon would have seemed a reasonably ethical and transparent solution. None of this should dismiss the legitimate reservations expressed to the Trib by board members Norman Manning and Stephanie Ybarra Korteweg. That said, both should have raised their concerns before the public on Aug. 7 when the board voted to make Kincannon sole finalist for the job. Neither did.
Should Susan Kincannon be tapped as the next Waco ISD superintendent this week? Fumbling by the entire school board aside, she appears a most promising prospect. Just the same, all board members — not just Korteweg and Manning — should prior to their final votes articulate to the public their positions so confused teachers, parents and staff can better understand why Kincannon should or should not be our superintendent. If they can’t do even this much, then Kincannon certainly doesn’t rate being Waco ISD superintendent, nor should she deserve anyone else’s vote of confidence. Mum board members don’t rate much confidence, either.