After only 17 months on the job, Shawnee Mission Superintendent Jim Hinson was introduced by an elder statesman at a small gathering of civic leaders as “one of the best superintendents Shawnee Mission has ever had.”
Amen to that.
Hinson came to Shawnee Mission and hit the ground running, in what one might call a turnaround effort.
Shawnee Mission patrons have been traumatized over recent years. The district has shrunk in student population, schools have been closed left and right, new demographics have increased academic challenges and the district has faced continuous budget cuts, because of less state aid.
Hinson has said, “No more school closings” are being planned. And, in fact, due to several new residential developments within the district, Shawnee Mission stands to gain several thousand additional students.
In the meantime, he has already begun to overhaul existing schools.
He has reduced class sizes in lower grades by shifting administrative operations around and eliminating transfer students in certain schools. This was a direct response to disgruntled parents and teachers who had been unhappily watching their class sizes increasing.
Under Hinson’s leadership, all 28,000 students in the district have or will have either an iPad or a Mac laptop, depending on the grade level. This is a first in Johnson County.
Hinson brought back competitive sports in the middle schools, which has been wildly popular.
In January, the district will put before voters a $223 million bond issue, without raising taxes. The funds will be used to upgrade security, provide new and remodeled schools, and build a state-of-the-art aquatic center.
The aquatic center would not only provide competitive swimming programs, but Hinson’s goal is to have every student in Shawnee Mission learn to swim.
This is all part of a 10-year strategic plan, developed by Hinson and the Shawnee Mission School Board.
“The message from the community was that we should move forward in a rapid fashion,” said Hinson. “There was a high sense of urgency in the district.”
But all that has been accomplished is just the tip of the iceberg.
Hinson, who has been in education 32 years, including 20 years as a superintendent, sees his No. 1 priority as improving the academics in the district, where scores are already comfortably above national averages.
“Are students performing because of us or in spite of us?” Hinson mused.
“We need to look at what we are teaching, how we are teaching and when we are teaching,” Hinson said.
“I will not be satisfied until we are knocking the top out of the charts across the district, in every school,” Hinson said.
He recognizes that there are schools within the district with high achievement and some with lower achievement. Hinson said his goal is to bring every school up to the same high standards. And that goes for schools where much of the student population comes from homes where English is their second language.
“Early intervention is the key,” said Hinson. He says he cannot stress that enough.
To stay in close touch, every Tuesday Hinson visits different schools throughout the district, so he can take the pulse of the teachers and to get feedback. He also spends a lot of time in the community, speaking with local clubs and meeting with groups of parents, as well as major employers to find out the skills they need from graduating students.
Hinson is an excellent listener, a very bright intellect, an aggressive mover and shaker, and with his enthusiasm to go along with his training as an educator, he is going to have a very major, positive impact on all Shawnee Mission students.
| Special to The Star
| Special to The Star