Winston Brooks, John Allison and Dr. Alicia Thompson
Winston Brooks, John Allison and Dr. Alicia Thompson all previously served as superintendent of USD 259. (Courtesy images/USD 259)

Dr. Alicia Thompson will officially retire at the end of the 2022-23 school year as superintendent of Wichita Public Schools. The search for her replacement is in its early stages and there is still time to provide input.

The WPS superintendent oversees an annual budget of nearly $1 billion, 5,000 employees and 47,500 students – a diverse student body that is 37% Hispanic and 19% Black, with students coming from homes that speak 112 different languages. Only three other employers in Wichita are larger: Spirit AeroSystems, Textron Aviation and McConnell Air Force Base.

Thompson, who announced her retirement on Nov. 3, leaves her position after five years marked by an increasing political divide on the school board and with parents. Mask mandates, critical race theory and other national topics came to Wichita Public Schools’ front door. Local nonpartisan elections for the school board became politicized

Her predecessor John Allison served as superintendent of USD 259 from 2009 to 2017, and his predecessor Winston Brooks served from 1998 to 2008.

Who is running the search for USD 259’s superintendent?

The superintendent search is being run by Ray and Associates, a hiring firm from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. They describe themselves as being “extremely successful in recruiting women, minorities and non-traditional candidates for school districts.” 

USD 259 will pay the company a base fee of $34,000 for this search with additional funding to be used for advertising, travel and equipment. At the end of this search, an estimated $41,000 will be paid to Ray and Associates in total. 

Ray and Associates has handled hiring processes for other local school districts close to Wichita and helped with searches in the Kansas City metro area, according to Sean Hudspeth, USD 259 chief human resources officer.

“They have done, in past years, two superintendent searches at suburban school districts in Wichita’s realm,” Hudspeth said in a school board meeting while proposing the use of the firm.

What is the timeline? 

First, Wichita Public Schools and Ray and Associates are gathering input from employees of the district, students, parents and residents of Wichita on what they most want to see in candidates. 

Next, the search team will develop a job description and post it internally. At the Nov. 7 school board meeting, school board members stressed that they wanted an internal search for candidates first. 

“I just want to make sure that our employees are offered to apply for this position before any external search is made,” said Kathy Bond, school board member. If no satisfactory superintendent candidate is found internally, the search will continue with external candidates. 

Interviews are scheduled to begin in February with a goal that a final candidate will be selected in March. Thompson will officially retire at the end of the 2022-23 school year. 

How to get involved with the search

USD 259 has released a public survey to help them develop an ideal candidate profile. The survey is available in English, Spanish and Vietnamese.

 A similar method was used during the superintendent search that appointed Thompson. During that search, the Kansas Association of School Boards helped determine that a local candidate was preferred over an external one.  Thompson had been a student, teacher, parent of students and an administrator in Wichita Public Schools before becoming the superintendent.  

The current survey asks what 10 qualifications out of 31 a respondent thinks are most important. Then it provides space for additional feedback. 

Along with the survey, community members are able to provide in-person feedback during the Showcase of Choices and Opportunities at Century II Expo Hall on Jan. 19. There will be two sessions, one from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. and another from 6:45 to 7:45 p.m.

The survey will be available until 5 p.m. Jan. 20.  

The 31 qualifications to choose from are: 

1. Is willing to listen to input, and is a decision maker.

2. Possesses the leadership skills, knowledge and sensitivity required to respond to the opportunities and challenges presented by a diverse student body and community.

3. Is able to work with legislators on key topics and can lead an organization throughout the legislative process.

4. Possesses an earned Ed.D. or Ph.D. degree.

5. Has a strong moral compass that is rooted in justice and equality.

6. Is a strong communicator in speaking, listening and writing.

7. Demonstrates commitment to community visibility and is actively engaged in a broad range of community groups and organizations.

8. Has experience recruiting and maintaining exceptional staff for the district and schools.

9. Is able to build consensus and commitment among individuals and groups.

10. Has experience working with employee representative groups/unions.

11. Is able to delegate and oversee the work of staff (i.e. leading by example) and appropriately maintain accountability.

12. Has experience with effective management and planning practices that will benefit the long-term financial health of the district.

13. Possesses excellent interpersonal skills and can present a positive image of the district.

14. Is a nontraditional or “hybrid candidate” with business/private sector background in addition to an educational career.

15. Is strongly committed to a “student-centered” philosophy in all decisions.

16. Is capable of developing both short- and long-range district goals.

17. Can develop and communicate a vision of quality education for the future to the board, staff and community.

18. Has experience in the selection and implementation of educational priorities consistent with the interests and needs of students, staff, board and community.

19. Is committed to the importance of both the academic and extracurricular programs.

20. Promotes positive and inclusive student behavior conducive to a healthy and safe learning environment.

21. Provides leadership in the planning, implementation and assessment of relevant professional development for all staff members.

22. Is comfortable leading innovation and reform efforts.

23. Is able to lead district diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

24. Has the ability to develop and maintain a reciprocal relationship between the business community and the school district.

25. Possesses the ability to enhance student performance, especially in identifying and closing or narrowing the gaps in student achievement and opportunity.

26. Makes recommendations and data-driven decisions.

27. Has knowledge of emerging research and best practice in the area of curriculum/instructional design and practice.

28. Promotes a positive and professional environment that includes mutual trust and respect among faculty, staff, administrators and board.

29. Commitment to and experience working with all genders, races and socio-economic groups.

30. Demonstrates a deep understanding of special education that meets the individualized needs of each student.

31. Has classroom experience in a K-12 setting.

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Trace Salzbrenner is a community journalist for The Wichita Beacon. Follow him on Twitter @RealTraceAlan.