Shawnee Mission School District Superintendent Jim Hinson on Wednesday announced his plan to retire in June, after working to modernize curriculums and district facilities during his sometimes controversial four-year tenure.
Hinson, who has served 34 years in public education, took the helm of the school district in 2013. He had spent 11 years prior to that as superintendent of the Independence School District.
His retirement is effective June 30, pending school board approval at its meeting Monday.
In a statement, Hinson, 54, cited a desire to spend more time with his family and “pursue other lifelong goals” as motivation for retiring. The district said it would create a leadership transition plan that would include naming an interim superintendent.
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“The board, administrators and employees of this fine district have provided me with terrific support over my tenure,” Hinson said. “I am extremely thankful for the opportunity to have worked with each member of the team. I am proud of the district and what it is today, and feel confident that the dedicated board members and talented leadership team will continue to ensure that Shawnee Mission remains one of the very best school districts.”
While some may have been surprised Wednesday that Hinson, who just renewed his $254,280 contract through 2020 in December, would consider a departure after four years in the district, Hinson had quietly informed some board members and school officials within the past few weeks that he was considering retirement, several people told The Star.
Teachers union president Linda Sieck said Hinson had mentioned to her that he was considering leaving the district and that he had expressed that he would be interested in pursuing projects outside of public education.
She said Hinson would be remembered in part for infusing technology into the district, as well as finding ways to update aging infrastructure.
Under Hinson, laptops were given to every student through a $20 million one-to-one program paid for with capital outlay funds in 2014.
During his tenure, district patrons in 2015 approved a $223 million bond proposal to build five new elementary schools, modernize cafeterias, improve gymnasiums, expand early childhood facilities, improve security and build a new, consolidated administration center. Much of the building has been completed or started.
“He was able to develop a plan to rebuild aging elementary schools,” Sieck said. “I think that will make a difference long-term.”
Sara Goodburn, president of the board of education, released a statement Wednesday.
“On behalf of the board, we thank Dr. Hinson for introducing our district to relevant, innovative, state-of-the-art methods to deliver high quality education to all our students. He was instrumental in developing the district’s 10-year strategic plan which enhanced academics, technology, safety and security, and communications.” Goodburn said. “The district benefited greatly from his impressive leadership and expertise in developing the 2015 no-mill-increase bond issue, allowing us to build new facilities. We wish him well as he begins this new chapter of his life.”
But for some in Shawnee Mission on Wednesday, the mood was celebratory.
Under Hinson, management became top-down, several teachers told The Star, and educators worried about losing their jobs for questioning decisions. Teachers and parents struggled to get explanations for the reasoning behind curriculum and personnel changes. And as the school district weathered its most trying financial times and key administrators received raises, teachers at times felt undervalued.
“The culture was oppressive and fearful,” said one teacher who did not wish to be identified because she feared speaking out would affect her employment.
Hinson’s role in legislative debates over school funding in recent years further disillusioned some members of the school community.
He was one of the only superintendents in the state to back Gov. Sam Brownback’s push to repeal the state’s school funding formula in 2015 and replace it with block grants, a policy that sparked criticism from education advocates and was ruled unconstitutional by the Kansas Supreme Court in March.
Earlier this year, Hinson met with lawmakers about a proposal to enact a new funding system that would rely more heavily on property tax revenues. Attorneys representing the Kansas City, Kan., district and three other districts suing the state for more money say Hinson’s proposed changes would benefit wealthy school districts but short-change poorer ones.
His decisions caught the attention of a group of parents already concerned about education issues. Education First Shawnee Mission formed this year with the goal of helping elect “pro-school” candidates to the school board.
“We are watching this closely to see what actions the current board takes to ensure supportive, appropriate leadership for the district in the future,” said Megan Peters, a Shawnee Mission Schools parent and Education First board member. “This obviously highlights how important the upcoming school board election in November will be for our community.”
Sieck said that as union president, she was able to speak to both administrators and teachers about the climate at Shawnee Mission schools. She said she expressed the need for better communication from school leaders about decisions impacting the classroom to administrators.
“I think sometimes what happens with upper administration is that they sometimes have a vision and a plan, but the messaging doesn’t always get articulated down to the people in the trenches,” Sieck said. “Hopefully going forward, the board and the future superintendent will see how important it is for people closest to the students to have a good understanding of what the vision is for the district.”
Under Hinson, the district also:
▪ Overhauled security in all its schools and hired former Overland Park Police Chief John Douglass as head of security.
▪ Began the process of building a state-of-the-art aquatic center in Lenexa City Center.
▪ Ended the district’s fee for all-day kindergarten and reduced class sizes.
▪ Added sports to middle schools, which had done away with organized school sports in the 1980s.
▪ Is in the process of expanding early childhood education programs throughout the district.
▪ Proposed moving sixth-graders to middle school, but after parent opposition, the district has not finalized a decision on the move.
The many changes Hinson brought to the district and his leadership style left some happy to see him go.
“Teachers giving high-fives, screaming out with joy, clapping, & more!” one person Tweeted after the announcement.