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Independence looks inside for next school superintendent, hiring Dale Herl

Updated: 2013-04-10T22:52:49Z

By JOE ROBERTSON

The Kansas City Star

The Independence School District, as it has in the past, is promoting its home-groomed deputy to be its next superintendent.

Dale Herl, who came to Independence four years ago after three years as the superintendent in Burrton, Kan., will assume top duties July 1. He will succeed Jim Hinson, who is departing to lead the Shawnee Mission School District.

When Hinson approached Herl in 2009 about an open deputy superintendent post, Herl said, there was no promise that he’d be in line to be the next Independence superintendent.

But that has been Independence’s history. Herl follows Hinson, who followed David Rock, who followed Bob Watkins — all internal hires.

Herl said he left Burrton with his wife and four children four years ago simply eager to work in a district “with a reputation for innovation — an opportunity in a progressive school district.”

The 40-year-old former high school math and physics teacher has had to manage a steep learning curve.

The total enrollment in Burrton was around 270 students, split between one elementary school and one high school, about 90 percent white with about half of the students economically disadvantaged.

He is taking over an Independence School District with an enrollment of 13,938 — and growing — in which more than 30 percent of the students are non-white and two-thirds are economically disadvantaged.

The district has been meeting 14 out of 14 standards on the state’s annual performance reports for districts, but it faces a harder task as the state transitions this year to a higher standards system.

“There are a lot of challenges,” Herl said. The threat of eroding state funding hangs over the district, coupled with declines in assessed property valuations. And the rising state standards “are changing the ballgame for everybody,” he said.

Also as it has in the past, the Independence school board moved quickly in filling a superintendent vacancy. Hinson, who had been superintendent since 2002, was introduced March 11 as the next superintendent in the Shawnee Mission district. The Independence board made its choice for Herl in less than a month.

A statement from the district said Herl was chosen from a pool of applicants from around the region, using an application and selection process the district has used “for decades.”

“We feel very fortunate that we had an extraordinarily strong candidate who has already shown great leadership ability here in the Independence School District,” board President Ann Franklin said in a statement.

Herl came to Independence believing that Hinson had the district moving “in a great direction,” he said, so he has no plans for “sweeping change.”

“My intent is to go out and listen to our teachers and staff and members of the community,” he said “We need a collective vision.”

He said he fully supported one of the more controversial of Hinson’s recommendations to the board — requiring that all district administrators reside within the district’s boundaries. The board earlier this year approved the new policy, which gives administrators currently living outside the district two years to move in.

“I 100 percent support that,” he said. “We hire good administrators. They are a strength in the community.”

Hinson also had begun exploring the possibility of creating a year-round school calendar. There are no plans to make that change, but Herl anticipates he will continue the conversation.

The idea of going to a year-round calendar is something that would require a lot more community discussion, he said. “We’ll have to go back and look at what patrons say.”

He hopes to carry on Hinson’s reputation for driving major changes. The district is still adjusting to one of Hinson’s moves — helping lead the boundary change in 2007-2008 that moved western Independence schools from the Kansas City School District to Independence.

The boundary move brought dramatic changes to the community and has resulted in a significant increase in the number of families in the area enrolling children in public school, Herl said.

The impact of the annexation was the subject of Herl’s dissertation when he completed his doctorate degree at Wichita State University, he said.

To reach Joe Robertson, call 816-234-4789 or send email to jrobertson@kcstar.com.

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