Despite being in his first year at the helm of Olathe Public Schools, superintendent John Allison was honored earlier this month as the 2018 Kansas Superintendent of the Year by the Kansas School Superintendent’s Association.
Allison formally received the highest accolade among Kansas educators Dec. 4 during a reception that not only recognized his current contributions to Olathe’s schools, which he took over July 1, but also recognized his longtime leadership for Wichita Public Schools.
During a reception at Emporia State University’s Overland Park campus, Allison’s achievements were celebrated by peers and colleagues from the university.
An alumnus of ESU’s master’s program in Educational Administration, Allison is the second consecutive former Hornet to receive the award and the fourth ESU alum bestowed the honor since 2011.
“Allison is one who deserves to be put in the spotlight,” said Dr. Ken Weaver, dean of the ESU Teachers College. “He is deeply engaged in the community. It’s not about managing but uplifting and improving education for children, the work life of teachers, and elevating the quality of the community.”
Weaver lauded Allison’s ability connect with people and build bridges among different groups, but it’s not his communication and consensus-building aptitude that sets him apart.
“John has that love for children and this love gives him the zest to persevere and see the challenges through to make it better for them and their futures,” Weaver said. “John is an inspirational leader. He inspires others and he inspires me.”
Olathe, which is the biggest school district in Kansas City and one of the largest in Kansas, has the ingredients and track record to attract a superintendent of Allison’s caliber.
Weaver also believes Allison’s presence in Kansas City will have a ripple effect through the local education community, adding a strong and respected voice into the mix.
“It’s important to understand how we can align all of the pieces from instructional to business,” Allison said. “We have to be able to understand the big picture and we all have to work together, if we are going to be successful.”
Some of the current and upcoming challenges Allison believes he and the Olathe schools will face include the ongoing uncertainty of district stability and finances. These have been and are challenges for every school district, he added.
An additional difficulty is, and will continue to be, finding teachers to fill the multitude of vacancies.
“Students electing to be teachers is down as much as 30 to 40 percent,” Allison said. “There is a negativity that surrounds public education and the cost of school doesn’t justify choosing to be teacher. We will have to be creative to address this issue or it will become a national crisis.”
Along with its many challenges, the role of superintendent is pressure-packed with hundreds of decisions that need to be made every day. Interactions with the community, teachers, and students also can demand a great deal of time and attention, but Allison is well-suited for the many hats the job requires.
“John seems to do this job with such poise,” said Dr. Daniel Stiffler, department chair of ESU’s School Leadership/Middle and Secondary Teacher Education program. “He’s genuinely nice, a good listener, and encourages and builds up the people around him. Each superintendent has their own strengths but the demands and pressures can take a toll. I simply don’t see that with John.”
In other words, Olathe’s in good hands.
“He’s true to himself and he’s comfortable in his own skin, and the people around him appreciate that,” Stiffler said. “The people of Olathe know they are getting the genuine John Allison when they interact with him.”
It’s an appreciation that’s mutual and reciprocal.
“Olathe is the epitome of what you want a district to be,” Allison said. “They are focused on the right things for students by providing a well-rounded education and tremendous community involvement. Olathe is a community that takes great pride in their schools and strives to offer a world-class education for each student. I can’t imagine any place better.”