Sen. Wagle names East High principal to education commission


By Bryan Lowry

By Bryan Lowry

The Wichita Eagle

(MCT) — Senate President Susan Wagle stayed close to home in making her selections for a special commission on education, choosing the principal of Wichita's East High School and a Wichita business leader.

The K-12 Student Performance and Efficiency Commission will study ways to use to state dollars to maximize student outcomes and make recommendations to the Legislature.

Wagle, R-Wichita, said she consulted with the Wichita school district before making her two picks for the nine-person commission. She chose Ken Thiessen, East principal, and Sam Williams, former chair of the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce, drawing upon the district's established partnership with the chamber, the Business Education Innovation Partnership.

"I felt it was important for the K-12 commission to include an urban perspective of excellence. It is also my hope that the commission will be able to build recommendations on a partnership that is already functioning between business leaders and the education establishment in Wichita," Wagle said in a statement.

"I spent a great deal of time soliciting input from local schools and from business leaders. I'm confident both appointments will represent us quite effectively," Wagle said.

Thiessen has worked for the Wichita school district since 1981. He became principal at East in 2003. The school, one of the most diverse in the state, was named best public high school in Kansas by U.S. News & World Report this year.

The rankings are based both overall student performance on assessment tests and how well economically disadvantaged students keep pace with their more affluent peers.

Thiessen credited this success to the support of the school board and the hard work of the school's faculty.

"We're very, very fortunate to have a phenomenal staff. And a lot of that just comes down to working together and working toward what makes sense for our unique challenges," he said.

"The first step is keeping the end in mind. And that is keeping what do we believe is best for students, keeping that in mind first," he said.

Williams, who has a background in accounting, served as chairman of the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce in 2010 and is a managing partner at the Wichita-based advertising firm Sullivan, Higdon & Sink.

Williams said his background in business gives him knowledge about how to use resources effectively, and he said the goal of the commission is to ensure that every student has a fair opportunity to achieve.

"We've got to have people to hire, and they're coming out of public ed. So public ed, we've got to make sure it's producing," Williams said in a phone call.

He said he was honored by the appointment and was happy that Wagle focused on Wichita in making her picks.

"We're the largest city in Kansas. We drive the Kansas economy in so many ways. We need to have an educated work force in Wichita. It's critical to our state," Williams said.

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