Retired Brigadier General & long-time Lee's Summit R-7 Superintendent had lasting impact on the community
If one needs an example of how revered Dr. Tony Stansberry was, just look back at a comment from a former Commander-in-chief.
When former President George W. Bush visited Lee’s Summit High School in 2004 during a campaign rally, the first person he thanked in his speech was Stanberry, the superintendent of the Lee’s Summit School District at the time. The event was held at Lee’s Summit High School — at the time one of two high schools in the district.
The district grew exponentially under Stansberry’s leadership. The Army veteran and veteran administrator in a handful of other school districts died on Saturday, Feb. 27.
Private graveside services will be held Friday at Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery. A celebration of life service is planned at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 20, at Grandview High School.
Stansberry, who lived in Leavenworth at the time of his death, served as the superintendent in Lee’s Summit from 1996 to 2006. His life could be categorized to his service in the military and school districts. He served in the Army for 32 years and reached the rank of brigadier general before retiring.
He then served as superintendent at Grandview, Basehor-Linwood in Kansas and Colorado Springs, Colorado, before coming to Lee’s Summit. He closed out his education career by working for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education as the area supervisor in Kansas City.
“He was a great administrator,” said local attorney and former school board member Michael Dodig, who served on the R-7 board from 2003-2009. “He was well-organized and well-informed on what was going on. He was open and friendly with everyone and he was always even-keeled. Because of his community involvement, he made an impact in the entire community, not just the school district. He was outgoing; he wasn’t a politician who loves to go shake hands — that wasn’t his style, but he was always open to people and very engaging. He created the citizen advisory board to bring community members in and keep a pulse on the community that might not have a voice outside of the usual school-related people. He brought in community leaders and parents. Everybody felt like they had a personal relationship with Tony and with that, they had a relationship with the school even if they didn’t have kids.”
Stansberry was involved in many civic-minded organizations, like the Rotary Club, Chamber of Commerce and the Lee’s Summit Economic Development Council.
His impact included seeing growth in the district facilities, fighting state budget cuts and navigating district boundary changes when new schools opened.
During Stansberry’s tenure, the district went to the voters and had five different bond issues pass, as well as two levy increases to help battle cuts at the state level. In fact, the Lee’s Summit School District was one of a dozen schools to sue then Gov. Bob Holden for withholding nearly $200 million in state funding in 2003, though the Missouri Supreme Court sided with the governor’s decision.
“We had an incredible period of growth and combined with restricted state funding, balancing that was difficult but I think the district came out extremely well in large part due to his leadership,” said Dodig.
During his tenure there was growth throughout the district in terms of facilities. Of the 18 current elementary schools, Cedar Creek, Hawthorn Hill, Highland Park, Longview Farm and Woodland were all constructed. All told, 13 of the 18 elementary schools were either new constructions or renovated during Stansberry’s time at the helm.
The Longview Farm Elementary School, which opened in 2005, was formerly the Longview Show Horse Arena that was renovated through a partnership with local developers, the city and the school district. More than 25 percent of the cost of the project was covered by David Gale from Gales Communities, Inc.
“He had a knack for connecting with people, business people, families, kids, parents, elected officials,” said Janice Phelan, the retired communication director for the district at the time. “He was a great listener and he was a superintendent who brought in a lot of leadership skills. I remember collaboration was his thing. He was wonderful about getting people involved, bringing people from all over the district … parents, staff, business leaders. He was very skillful at finding common ground and came to decisions with the questions ‘is this good for students?’ ‘How will this impact students?’
“He worked with legislatures, civic leaders, city council. He helped build bridges there. He was just a good all-around superintendent.”
The district also constructed Summit Lakes Middle School, Lee’s Summit West High School, Summit Ridge Academy, Summit Technology Academy and Great Beginnings Early Education Center. The latter three, and the R-7 Transportation Center, all were constructed with help from charitable donations.
“If a school district gets a new building it is a big deal and the build-up is two or three years,” Dodig said. “We were building a new one a year for about 10 years straight. Some of those were school buildings and some were administration buildings. It was an incredible pace.”
The Tony L. Stansberry Leadership Center was built and opened in 2007 and named after the former superintendent – constructed from the passage of a school bond in 2006.
His legacy in the district will survive for years and his impact still remains with those he worked with and along.
Ben Martin retired from the district in 2010 after spending the final seven of his 34 years in education working at Lee’s Summit West High School.
“He was hands on and very approachable,” Martin said of Stansberry. “I was a theatre teacher in one of the high schools and I never got the sense … he had so many other things going on ... that he couldn’t talk to me. I always appreciated that about him. He tried to get to everything, which means he was a really busy guy as far as his schedule goes. You would see him in the building and activities quite a bit. He was one of the best cheerleaders we had.
“You got a real sense that what you did mattered. With a busy administrator you don’t always get that same personal support or incentive to continue to do your best and get better. Tony was always there to make sure that it was clear he wanted you to be the best you could be and he would try his best to get the resources for you to make it possible to excel.”
The district sent the following message to its faculty and staff on Sunday:
"We are deeply saddened to share that former Superintendent Dr. Tony L. Stansberry passed away early Saturday morning.
Dr. Stansberry left an indelible mark on the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District.
During his years as Superintendent (1996 to 2006), Dr. Stansberry led the district through significant growth, overseeing multiple successful bond issues and two levy increases during times of decreased state funding and exponential student growth.
Over the years, he served as a mentor to countless leaders in the district and earned respect for a leadership philosophy he described as “tough on issues, soft on people.” A retired U.S. Army brigadier general who served 32 years in the military, he was also admired for his unrelenting commitment to student achievement and a collaborative approach to district decisions, including his ability to involve the community in decision-making.
In 2007, the district recognized his lasting impact on the school district by naming the Tony L. Stansberry Leadership Center in his honor.
We offer our deepest sympathies to his wife, Christine, family and friends during this difficult time."