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From At-Risk Teen to High School Principal

David Sharp honored with UMKC School of Education Alumni Achievement Award

Throughout his high school career, David Sharp (M.A. ’99, Ed.S ’03), was labeled an at-risk student. Coming from a low-income household, suffering from the effects of a challenging home life and associating with the wrong crowd, Sharp says he didn’t fit the pedigree of a college-bound student. At least that’s what his high school guidance counselor led him to believe.

But then something happened that changed his trajectory.

“My mom suffered a serious heart attack during my junior year in high school and nearly died,” says Sharp. “The thought of her being gone and potentially living with people I didn’t really know was overwhelming.”

Looking for a better path, he got more involved in school and began taking more rigorous classes. Today, Sharp is principal of Lee’s Summit West High School. His successful journey from at-risk student to educational leader led his selection as the 2017 recipient of the Alumni Achievement Award from the UMKC School of Education.

Sharp grew up in both Kansas City and south Chicago where his father was a police officer. After his parents divorced, he moved to Kansas City and attended William Chrisman High School. School didn’t come easy for Sharp, but he found support from teachers to help him through. He credits his former coach, Coach Bill Summa for making him a man.

“Coach Summa held me accountable and made me feel special. He cared, coached and was always teaching,” said Sharp, adding that Summa was the most influential person in his life. Playing sports, Sharp said, made him feel a part of something. He also ran for, and then served on, the student council executive board his senior year, and produced a Shakespearean play: A Midsummers Night’s Dream.

After graduating high school, Sharp initially decided to join the military. After two-and-a-half years of service, the Army paid for him to attend college.

Sharp graduated with a bachelor of science in education from the University of Central Missouri in 1994 and went on to teach at Truman High School where he also coached varsity sports. In addition, he continued his educational journey at UMKC’s School of Education.

Sharp’s favorite memory of UMKC was “actually feeling a part of something special as I walked the campus being a student in the School of Education.” Since he attended a smaller university during his undergraduate studies, he says he thought UMKC “was the big time.” He graduated with his master’s in Educational Administration in 1999, maintaining a 4.0 GPA throughout the course of the program, and an Educational Specialist degree in 2003.

In July 1999, Sharp’s journey came full circle, accepting an assistant principal position at his alma mater, William Chrisman High School. During his three years at William Chrisman, Sharp established a “Students against Destructive Decisions” group and an anonymous aid program for students in serious need of clothing, food or financial assistance.

“I felt like returning to WCHS was my duty to give back to a lot of kids who struggled like I did, and some who struggled a lot more,” said Sharp. “It meant the world to me to work with those kids, as I was from the neighborhood, and could walk the talk. I wanted to show them that you can make it if you really want to work hard and surround yourself with great people.”

Today, as principal of Lee’s Summit West High School, Sharp isn’t just an administrator. He is a mentor, friend and advocate for every student. One student in particular, Lee’s Summit West alumnus Melvin White, told the student newspaper LS West that Sharp “talked to me when no one else would. I’ve never counted on someone as much as I do him. He changed my life.”

Paul Rutherford (a 2010 UMKC Alumni Achievement Award recipient), whom Sharp credits for mentoring him throughout his graduate studies at UMKC, says Sharp’s “sense of loyalty and commitment to his school, its faculty, staff, parents and students is at the highest level I have witnessed in a public school administrator in my 33 years as an educator both at the public and collegiate level.”

Since Sharp began his tenure at Lee’s Summit West in 2011, the school has earned numerous accolades such as: Three-time US News and World Report Silver Medalist for America’s Best High Schools, Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) Missouri Gold Star High School and, in 2013, was named a U.S. Department of Education National Blue Ribbon School. Sharp also received the Greater Kansas City, and State of Missouri, Principal of the Year awards for 2015-16.

“I have a genuine desire to see students succeed. I am living my goals by working hard to develop a positive influence from anywhere in our school, and community,” said Sharp. “I live by the mantra: every student, every classroom, every day.”

Sharp was recently named Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Instruction at Lee’s Summit R-7 School District. He will begin his position on July 1.

Sharp will be honored during UMKC’s annual Alumni Awards Luncheon on April 20. The event takes place in Swinney Recreation Center on the UMKC campus. Click here for tickets or sponsorship information for the Alumni Awards Luncheon. Click here for more information on the 2017 Alumni Award recipients.


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