D. Kent King, Missouri education commissioner, dies

Wednesday, January 7, 2009 | 5:09 p.m. CST; updated 5:24 p.m. CST, Wednesday, January 7, 2009

JEFFERSON CITY — D. Kent King, a longtime school superintendent who was Missouri's education commissioner for the past eight years, died Wednesday. He was 65.

King died at his home in Rolla after deciding to forgo further treatment for a cancerous brain tumor diagnosed in October 2006, said Jim Morris, a spokesman for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

King became Missouri's education commissioner in September 2000 and was just the fourth person to hold that position since its creation in 1945. The commissioner is the state's top education official and leads the state agency that oversees Missouri's 524 public school districts.

King presided over education meetings until December. Morris said the State Board of Education is to meet next week and that deputy Bert Schulte is serving as acting commissioner.

The announcement of King's death, which came as lawmakers convened for the start of the 2009 legislative session, prompted a moment of silence in the House. Gov. Matt Blunt, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, and incoming Gov. Jay Nixon each praised King's commitment to public education.

King spent 44 years in education. He was an English teacher and a junior high principal before serving as superintendent of Licking schools from 1971-77. He served from 1977-96 as superintendent of Rolla schools, where his board members included future Gov. Mel Carnahan.

Rep. Joe Aull, a former school superintendent who has known King for more than a decade, said the commissioner steered through several difficult decisions and helped to bring more accountability to education. Aull said King had excellent people skills, offered reasoned advice and gave people confidence by "getting into the trenches" to help solve problems.

"Our schools are much stronger because of his leadership," said Aull, D-Marshall.

Aull said King was a key member to a 2008 committee tasked with studying Missouri early childhood education system.

"He kept coming to work and worked hard," Aull said. "You never heard him complain or talk about himself."

King was born Sept. 19, 1943, in Preston. He received a bachelor's degree in English from Central Missouri State University in 1964. He earned his master's degree from Drury College in 1967 and a doctorate from Oklahoma State University in 1972.

King is survived by his wife, Sandy; three children, Tracy James of Rolla, Derik King of Ladue and Kevin King of St. Louis; five grandchildren; and a brother, Jim King of Columbia.

Funeral services are scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday at First United Methodist Church in Rolla. Visitation is to be held from 3 to 7 p.m. Saturday at the church.


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