The fast-evolving Shawnee Mission School District has chosen a new leader who has experienced dramatic change on the Missouri side of the state line.
The Shawnee Mission school board unanimously chose Independence Superintendent Jim Hinson on Monday night. He will take control July 1, pending a successful contract negotiation.
“We liked his vision,” board President Patty Mach said. “We liked his leadership and he knows how to deal with changing demographics.”
Hinson has been superintendent in Independence for 11 years, leading a district that has had a reputation for innovation in education — and also one that went through a major shift in 2007 when it absorbed more than 2,000 students after voters changed the boundaries between the Kansas City and Independence districts.
Hinson said he is eager to take on the new challenges in a Shawnee Mission district that has been shrinking in recent years after a long history of spurring the late-20th-century growth of Johnson County as families came flocking to its schools.
“They have such a great tradition here,” Hinson said. “This (Shawnee Mission) is an excellent school district.”
In his new post, if a contract is secured, Hinson will be taking on a district that is coping with financial strains — as are most Kansas school districts while legislators and the courts wrangle over funding.
Shawnee Mission, which peaked at some 46,000 enrollment in the early 1970s, began to shrink as the district’s land became mostly developed and its population began to age. The decline has mostly stabilized, but has slipped from 29,359 to 27,444 over the past two years.
Much of Johnson County has seen an influx of minority families in the past 10 years, particularly in Shawnee Mission where the percentage of students who are black, Hispanic or multiracial has risen from 13.5 percent to 30.6 percent.
The board liked that the Independence School District was able to maintain high performance on state tests while taking on the western part of the city, which had been part of Kansas City Public Schools.
Western Independence neighborhoods had wanted for many years to make the boundary change, and Hinson played a key role in preparing the district to make the change and build support with the board and the community.
“That took leadership,” said current Shawnee Mission Superintendent Gene Johnson, who announced last fall that he would retire at the end of the school year. “I know he’s tackled a lot of issues I think he’s an excellent choice.”
Hinson has stepped into controversy at times in Independence, most recently calling for a policy, approved by the Independence board, to require that all administrators live within the Independence district boundaries.
As communities in and surrounding the Kansas City Public Schools have fretted over the impact of Kansas City’s loss of accreditation and persistent performance concerns, Hinson has been at the forefront in discussing potential dramatic changes such as allowing neighboring districts to operate Kansas City schools under contracts, or carving portions or all of the district into neighboring districts.
What patrons wanted, Shawnee Mission school board member Cindy Neighbor said, was someone who had worked his way up from the teaching ranks, who was well-rounded, worked with diversity and could be a leader in the community.
“He has all those qualities,” she said.
Hinson, who came originally from southwest Missouri, began as a sixth-grade teacher and coach. He was a superintendent at Granby and Greenfield in Missouri before going to Independence.
The Shawnee Mission school board used Ray & Associates as its search firm. Gary Ray said more than 200 people inquired about the job and some 50 applied. The board ultimately interviewed seven candidates from six different states before choosing one from across the state line.
The entire search was conducted in private, with all the names of the finalists remaining confidential.