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After vowing to fight racism in Park Hill schools, superintendent is stepping down

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Park Hill school district Superintendent Jeanette Cowherd will step down after this school year, officials announced Tuesday.

Cowherd, who was selected to lead the district in 2015, asked the school board not to extend her contract, according to a news release. She will leave her position when her contract expires on June 30.

“I absolutely love this school district — the students, staff, families and community — and I want nothing but the best for Park Hill, now and in the future,” Cowherd said in a statement.

She will leave her position after a tumultuous school year, as a recent disturbing act of racism put mounting pressure on district officials to improve diversity and inclusion in schools.

Park Hill South students circulated a racist petition supporting the return of slavery. Families have urged the district to protect their children, saying the petition was only the tip of the iceberg. They hope it will force administrators to act.

Cowherd has said that after years of working to improve “culturally relevant education, access and inclusion,” the incident has “made it clear that we must speed up our efforts.” District officials previously said they plan to hire an expert consultant to help with the work.

She and other officials have met with students, families, the NAACP and other groups to hear community concerns. And they say work is ongoing, and will result in a plan to “address access and inclusion with measurable outcomes.”

Park Hill spokeswoman Nicole Kirby said it is “completely false” that Cowherd’s resignation is related to the recent incident. And she said the district will continue its diversity and inclusion work beyond her tenure.

She declined to comment on the specific reasons for Cowherd’s decision to step down.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas tweeted that, “Jeanette Cowherd has been an outstanding and transformative leader for the Park Hill School District. I am very sorry to see my friend step down.”

Cowherd also will leave the district after a challenging couple of years, as school leaders navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, including virtual learning, mitigation protocols and staff and food shortages.

In her resignation announcement, Cowherd said, “I am proud of the work that we have accomplished together.

“Updating and building new facilities for our students and staff, redistricting, school start times, believing in our vision that high school could look different without sacrificing high expectations and academic integrity, working toward our goal that every student in the district has access and opportunities and feels safe and welcome in our schools, providing recognition to our staff for their amazing work, and always putting the needs of our students first.”

Cowherd had been with the district for 11 years before taking the helm as superintendent. She previously served as assistant superintendent for school improvement and in other administrative roles. Prior to becoming involved in school administration, Cowherd was an instrumental music teacher in southwest Missouri and the Shawnee Mission school district.

She has more than 30 years of experience in education, in both rural and suburban schools.

Under Cowherd’s leadership, Park Hill passed a $110 million bond to construct an elementary school, middle school, support services center, transportation center and more. She also has worked to better measure college and career readiness, improve culturally responsive teaching practices, conduct equity audits, plus offer internship experiences for high school students.

Cowherd “does not know what her next steps will be, but she is looking forward to new opportunities with the flexibility to spend more time with her family and friends,” district officials said.

“We appreciate Dr. Cowherd’s leadership and her commitment to our Park Hill community,” school board president Janice Bolin said. “She will be dearly missed, and she will be a hard act to follow.”

The school board, she said, plans to conduct a national search for Park Hill’s next superintendent.

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