Alicia Thompson has been appointed superintendent by the Wichita school board at a special meeting Tuesday. (Feb. 21, 2017) Suzanne Perez Tobias The Wichita Eagle
Alicia Thompson has been appointed superintendent by the Wichita school board at a special meeting Tuesday. (Feb. 21, 2017) Suzanne Perez Tobias The Wichita Eagle

Education

Wichita school board appoints Alicia Thompson as next superintendent

By Suzanne Perez Tobias

stobias@wichitaeagle.com

February 21, 2017 12:40 PM

Alicia Thompson, who started in Wichita public schools as a kindergartner, will be the next superintendent of the state’s largest school district, board members decided Tuesday.

In a special meeting, the Wichita school board voted 6-0 to appoint Thompson as superintendent, pending the approval of a contract Monday. She will replace John Allison, who is leaving in June to become superintendent of Olathe schools.

“I am delighted to accept the opportunity to be the next superintendent of the greatest school district in the country,” Thompson said.

Thompson, 47, is assistant superintendent for elementary schools in Wichita. She will start her new post on July 1, board members said.

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Board members selected Thompson without hiring a search firm or conducting a regional or nationwide search. They interviewed her during an undisclosed meeting that took place during a weeklong closed-door session that began Feb. 13.

The Eagle has asked the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office to investigate whether the board violated the Kansas Open Meetings Act when it met in secret to interview candidates.

The process took just over a month – significantly less time than the previous search for a new schools chief. Former superintendent Winston Brooks left Wichita for Albuquerque in June 2008. After an extensive nationwide search, which included holding community question-and-answer sessions with finalists, board members hired Allison in March 2009.

“We could have done a nationwide search. We could have hired a firm,” board member Jeff Davis said Tuesday. “But I really believe that it would have come back to Alicia.

“She is highly qualified. She’s going to lead this district, and she’s going to lead this district well.”

Thompson’s background

If her contract is approved, Thompson would be the first woman and the first African-American to serve as superintendent of Wichita schools.

Thompson began her career in 1992 as a third-grade teacher at Ingalls Elementary. Thompson was assistant principal at Cloud Elementary, principal at Little Early Childhood Center, Cessna Elementary and Spaght Elementary before becoming the district’s executive director of staff development.

She was named assistant superintendent of elementary schools in 2005.

Thompson received her education in Wichita public schools as well. She attended Carter Elementary, Chisholm Trail Elementary and Brooks Middle School and graduated in 1986 from Heights High School.

She received her bachelor of science degree from Langston University in Langston, Okla., and a master’s degree in curriculum instruction and assessment from Newman University. She received a doctorate of educational leadership from Wichita State University in 2015.

Thompson said she and her husband, Reggie, have had several opportunities to leave Wichita.

“But every time we thought about it, we thought, ‘You know, we could never find another community that is so giving and so caring,’ ” she said.

“We wanted our children, our two daughters, to experience that, so that is what kept us here in the Wichita community.”

Board members pleased

The six board members who attended Tuesday’s meeting praised Thompson as someone with experience who could lead the district forward.

Lynn Rogers, who is serving in the Kansas Legislature, listened to the meeting by phone but was prohibited by board policy from casting a vote.

“Her reputation in the district is stellar, and I’m confident that she and the board will guide our district exactly where we need to go,” Rogers said. “If I was there, I would be voting yes.”

Board president Sheril Logan said the board had “absolutely excellent candidates for this position … so this was not an easy decision.”

She would not say how many candidates board members interviewed or name them, citing a desire to protect the candidates’ privacy.

Board member Betty Arnold said employees and community members told the board during meetings and through an online survey that it should consider internal candidates for superintendent before looking elsewhere.

“We really are fortunate to have had wonderful internal candidates that met the qualifications that we needed, which eliminated the step of going to a search firm,” Arnold said. “So I’m very pleased with our selection process.”

Board member Joy Eakins said Thompson set a goal of becoming a superintendent and sought “positions where she could learn about that job ahead of time” – areas such as operations and teacher contract negotiations.

Conversations with teachers, principals, parents and others over the past several weeks often ended with them saying, “You know, you ought to consider Alicia Thompson. … She’s the best boss I ever worked for,” Eakins said.

Colleagues react

Details of Thompson’s proposed contract were not released Tuesday.

Allison, who was hired in 2009, has an annual salary of $229,408. In addition to his base salary, Allison receives a $750-a-month car and mileage allowance and $500 a month for “professional, civic and incidental expenses.”

Some educators who have worked with Thompson said Tuesday that she is a wise choice to lead the district.

“She’s always focused on what will help the students – what will help them grow and learn,” said Kathy Busch, a member of the Kansas Board of Education and a former Wichita district administrator.

“She’ll have a learning curve in the job – everybody does,” Busch said. “But she won’t have to learn the district. She won’t have to learn the people. She’ll know that, and it will allow her to hit the ground running.”

Steve Wentz, president of the Wichita teachers union, said the group looked forward to working with Thompson as superintendent.

“We believe as a graduate of (USD) 259, she brings the unique combination and commitment of a Wichitan coupled with a desire to work with teachers to confront challenges and build on successes,” Wentz said.

Suzanne Perez Tobias: 316-268-6567, @suzannetobias

Alicia Thompson

Current position

▪ Assistant superintendent for elementary schools in Wichita

Previous experience

▪ Executive director of staff development

▪ Principal at Spaght Elementary, Cessna Elementary, Little Early Childhood Center

▪ Assistant principal at Cloud Elementary

▪ Third-grade teacher at Ingalls Elementary

Education

▪ Bachelor’s degree, Langston University, Langston, Okla.

▪ Master’s degree, Newman University

▪ Doctorate, Wichita State University