Parents and staff in the Shawnee Mission School District are seeking calm after a storm.
Following a tumultuous stretch, engagement is on the upswing and increased involvement among parents could help ensure that the district moves forward with steady leadership at the helm.
The hundreds of yard signs touting candidates for the board of education election this fall are evidence of renewed interest and energy in the district. That’s a positive sign as three school board seats are up and a slate of candidates are in contention.
An August primary will narrow the field. November will yield the final choices. The new board members will help choose the next superintendent and will keep watch as a new school finance formula is implemented. They’re also looking to rebuild trust in how the district’s business is conducted.
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Parents are justified in feeling dismayed by a series of jarring events and uneasy about a lack of transparency from the board and the district’s administration.
Former Superintendent Jim Hinson unexpectedly announced his retirement in April. His role is now being filled by Deputy Superintendent Kenny Southwick.
Hinson had angered some parents when he prohibited district staff from wearing safety pins to show support for marginalized groups. The controversy fueled parents’ perceptions that they had been disrespected and had not been heard.
The grumbling intensified after the school board imposed a gag order of sorts decreeing that public comments at meetings couldn’t include mention of any particular employee or student.
The emergence of Education First Shawnee Mission, a new political action committee formed by parents, is one outgrowth of mounting frustration with district leadership. The new group already has endorsed candidates for the school board.
The organization’s involvement might unsettle some school officials who have grown complacent and comfortable with a more passive public. But education works best for students when parents strike a balance. Respect for trained teachers and elected officials is essential, yet parents should be engaged in their child’s education.
This election is an important opportunity. With pivotal decisions on the horizon, including the realignment of some school boundaries in a district that is made up of both growing and aging suburbs, these school board races matter.
Get involved. Get to know the candidates.
Shawnee Mission parents deserve a school board they trust and an administration that is responsive.