In just three months on the job, superintendent Jim Hinson is bringing change to the Shawnee Mission School District.
By BETH LIPOFF
Special to The Star
Speaking to a crowd of more than 1,100 people at the annual Shawnee Mission Education Foundation breakfast last week, Hinson announced a long-term strategic planning process, a rebranding for the district and the establishment of the Shawnee Mission Cares Fund.
The fund will pay for special projects, such as providing extra food for students who don’t have enough to eat home, Hinson said. Teachers and administrators from all over the district can apply to the fund to pay for needs they see at their schools.
“We have kids that we deal with every single day that don’t know where their next meal comes from,” Hinson said. “A young man … was found in the school kitchen on a Friday. He was stuffing all kinds of food in his pockets. (The teachers) said, ‘Why are you doing this?’ … He said, ‘If I don’t do this, my brother and sister won’t have anything to eat this weekend.’”
To encourage donations, Hinson announced his own personal donation of $1,000 and asked attendees of the breakfast to pledge money via text. High school choir students then took the stage to perform for less than 10 minutes. By the time they finished singing, a large display screen announced a text pledge total of $12,310.
By the day’s end, the fund had grown to $20,000 and is now at $22,000 and pledges continue, said Leigh Anne Neal, district spokeswoman.
“We are overwhelmed by the initial outpouring of generosity from our Shawnee Mission community,” Hinson said Monday. “The fund, which will help Shawnee Mission students in need, is intended to ensure that no need, barrier, or obstacle will stand in the way of a child achieving his/her dreams.”
During his presentation at the breakfast last week, Hinson asked the assembled group to give the district feedback on what it should emphasize in the strategic planning process.
Drawing on the popularity of text voting, Hinson posed several questions throughout his speech, asking people to text whichever given option they thought was most important. The questions included topics such as how to prepare students for post-graduation success and what would make the district great.
About 30 percent of the crowd obliged, with the majority voting for a focus on critical thinking skills and reduced class sizes for those questions.
He cited the district’s challenges as financial constraints, changing student needs, keeping up with technology and maintaining academic strengths and facilities.
Hinson also pushed a district rebranding effort, comparing the boiling point of water to success. Hinson told the group that he didn’t want lukewarm efforts to improve or maintain the district’s reputation.
“Water is hot at 211 degrees, but it will not power a locomotive… You have said to me the last 87 days, ‘We don’t want a school district at 211 degrees. We want a school district at 212 degrees,’” Hinson said.
The Shawnee Mission district is known as Unified School District 512 in Kansas, though the rebranded logo on display at the breakfast referred to it as 212 to fit Hinson’s speech. Students performing music and dance numbers from various schools wore T-shirts with 512 on the front and 212 on the back to emphasize the message.
To focus on the district’s high points, Hinson had teacher and student representatives talk about what he called “signature programs.”
These include a partnership with the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and a program to use iPads to teach musical skills at Ray Marsh Elementary School.
Another highlighted program came from Shawnee Mission West, where a teacher is experimenting with providing lectures via online videos for students to watch at home and using classroom time for assignments previously considered to be homework.