John Allison, superintendent of Wichita public schools (Feb. 11, 2016) Wichita Eagle File photo
John Allison, superintendent of Wichita public schools (Feb. 11, 2016) Wichita Eagle File photo

Education

Wichita’s John Allison to become schools superintendent in Olathe

By Dion Lefler and Suzanne Perez Tobias

The Wichita Eagle

December 19, 2016 05:34 PM

UPDATED December 19, 2016 07:32 PM

Wichita schools superintendent John Allison is leaving the district to become superintendent of Olathe schools.

The Olathe district announced Monday that its school board voted to hire Allison and that he has accepted the job. Allison, 52, was the sole finalist for the Olathe post.

His first day as Olathe superintendent will be July 1, according to a statement released by the district. He will complete the current school year in Wichita.

A suburb of Kansas City, Olathe has the second-largest school district in Kansas, with about 30,000 students. Wichita, with about 50,000, is the largest.

Never miss a local story.

Sign up today for a free 30 day free trial of unlimited digital access.

“It is my honor and privilege to be appointed Superintendent of the Olathe Public Schools,” Allison said in a statement. “Olathe is a community that takes great pride in their schools and strives to offer a world-class education for each student.

“I look forward to working with the Board of Education, staff, students, parents and community to make sure our students are prepared for their future.”

The Wichita school board will hold a special closed meeting on Jan. 5 to discuss steps to replace Allison, district officials said in a statement.

“John has served our community faithfully since 2009, and our school community is better because of his leadership,” board president Sheril Logan said in the statement. “He will be difficult to replace. That task will be our most significant upcoming obligation as stewards of Wichita’s public education enterprise.”

One of the key roles Allison played in the Wichita district was battling the state government over school funding. The state Supreme Court is expected to hand down a decision soon in a lawsuit by Wichita and three other districts alleging the state has failed to meet its constitutional obligation to provide suitable funding for public education.

School board member Lynn Rogers, who was elected last month to the state Senate and who intends to keep both jobs, said he doesn’t think the Wichita district’s effort will lose momentum while breaking in a new superintendent.

Allison staying through June means he still will be working for Wichita during the legislative session, where lawmakers will have to decide how to react to whatever the court might order on school funding, Rogers said.

He said Allison might also be helpful in informing Johnson County officials of the problems that “underwhelming” school funding is causing in poorer parts of the state.

Wichita school board member Betty Arnold said it was unfortunate that Allison arrived in Wichita during a time of cutbacks and court fights.

“He never had a real opportunity to just focus on improvements the community would like to see,” Arnold said. “It was an unfortunate situation for him to step into and have to deal with day after day and year after year.

“I’m hoping things like this don’t mar Wichita to the point where we’ll have difficulty replacing John, but you never know,” she said, adding that she’s choosing to remain optimistic that the search for a replacement will go well.

But amid the difficulties and distractions, Allison “met the challenge and made some impressive changes,” Arnold said.

She said part of that is implementation of the “CHAMPS” program, designed to ensure that students know and follow behavior rules and learn to be prepared to learn. That, Arnold said, cut the number of in- and out-of-school suspensions.

“You can’t learn if you’re not in the classroom,” she said.

She also credited Allison with emphasizing third-grade reading, based on research showing that students who can’t read by then are at an elevated risk of dropping out later.

Allison also made strides in matching student support to individualized needs and improving performance among minority subgroups that had lagged behind, Arnold said.

A Kansas City native, Allison told Wichita board members and employees last week that he sought the Olathe job in part to be closer to his aging mother, who lives in the Kansas City area. Allison’s father died in August after an extended illness.

Allison will replace Marlin Berry, who left the district in June to become superintendent in Rogers, Ark.

The Wichita school board voted unanimously last month to extend Allison’s contract for an additional year, through June 2019. Board members also approved a $3,441 lump-sum bonus – 1.5 percent of his base salary – which was slated to be paid to Allison before Jan. 1.

When former superintendent Winston Brooks left Wichita in 2008 to take a job as superintendent of Albuquerque schools, the board voted to release Brooks from the remainder of his contract.

School board president discusses superintendent situation

Wichita school board president Sheril Logan talks about the news that superintendent John Allison is a finalist for the same job in Olathe. (Dec. 14, 2016)

theying@wichitaeagle.com

Suzanne Perez Tobias: 316-268-6567, @suzannetobias, stobias@wichitaeagle.com

Dion Lefler: 316-268-6527, @DionKansas, dlefler@wichitaeagle.com