‘There’s been challenges’: Assistant superintendent discusses Wichita Public Schools


Evan Pflugradt

Alicia Thompson, Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Schools at Wichita Public Schools, spoke to a group of students interested in a career in education at the Exec Connect luncheon Wednesday. The event was sponsored by the Career Development Center and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

Alicia Thompson, Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Schools at Wichita Public Schools, spoke to students about the accomplishments, challenges, and available opportunities within Wichita Public Schools as part of Exec Connect speaker series hosted by the WSU Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

The first class to graduate from the Wichita Public School system received their diplomas in 1879. There were only 4 students. Since then, more than 200,000 students have graduated.

“We are the third largest employer in Wichita,” Thompson said. “It doesn’t matter what your major is. We probably have a place for you.”

Thompson cited accounting, law, engineering, human resources, marketing and communication and culinary arts as some fields that people might not immediately consider public schools to hire in.

“What do we look for in potential employees?” Thompson said. “We want people with interpersonal skills, people who are coachable, professional, and motivated. We want problem solvers, people with time management and technical skills.”

Thompson expects there to be growth in the availability of positions for teaching staff and translation. The diverse backgrounds of the students is opening up more opportunities for bilingual staff members and faculty with ESL experience.

Some soon-to-be graduates might be hesitant about pursuing a career in Wichita Public Schools. $20 million has been cut from the budget in the past year, leading to a 5-10 percent reduction to each individual area of the budget. Thompson assures that a career in the schools is still viable.
“We have not reduced our force and laid people off in many, many years,” Thompson said. “The district protects our people the best we can.”
Wichita Public Schools are still adjusting to some of these changes. In particular, the increased school day brought “lots of unexpected challenges.”

“I guess I’ll just be honest—there’s been challenges. We’ve seen an increase in classroom discipline and struggles with transportation. We get out closer to the 5 p.m. traffic now and that has really made an impact,” Thompson said. “We did this because we thought it would save money, but it costs money to address these issues. We’re not sure if it will be worth what we’re saving.”

The spike in classroom discipline has mostly been seen at the elementary level where younger children have had difficulty remaining focused for the duration of a longer day.

Jeff Freund, principal at Coleman Middle School, acknowledges how these challenges have strained the morale of faculty and staff.

“It makes them feel like they’re not valued,” Freund said. “It’s hard to be a teacher when everyone loves you, and it’s even harder when you feel that the message is that you’re not.”

Right now, the best way for students and the community to support Wichita Public Schools is to get people in government positions who will act in the best interest of education.

“Go vote,” Thompson said. “Educate yourself on who you are voting for and that they support education. Then vote.”