Departing Shawnee Mission School District Superintendent Jim Hinson performed brilliantly during his four-year term. But as a leader in the community, he was not what I would call a fit with Johnson County.
Hinson’s style, as well as his controversial positions on some key issues, alienated significant segments of the community. Johnson County leaders are usually partners and work together closely.
Some say Hinson, who recently announced his resignation, blew all that up. Hinson was at odds with important city officials, many in the business community, civic leaders, local Chambers of Commerce, many state legislators and, from what I understand, a number of principals and teachers. There are many reasons cited, but suffice it to say when there are that many negative comments, something is amiss.
It’s a shame that Hinson didn’t get along with so many people, because what he accomplished in four years was nothing short of spectacular. Members of the Shawnee Mission School Board adore Hinson and focus on his many pluses. To these longtime veterans, Johnson County is losing a great superintendent.
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Hinson led the way for a significant bond issue to build and renovate schools throughout the district, as well as build a new aquatic center and a new administrative headquarters. Before Hinson, Shawnee Mission schools were generally in poor physical shape and languishing. He stoked new enthusiasm in a district that badly needed revitalization.
Hinson created a $20 million innovative technology program that also provided students with MacBooks or iPads. He initiated free all-day kindergarten, which parents have been seeking for years. Hinson consolidated the many locations sprawled across the county that housed administrators into a single new administrative building, allowing for a reduction in staffing and improved efficiency.
The list goes on. Hinson hired the former Overland Park chief of police and upgraded school security substantially. Hinson worked on diversity and poverty like no previous superintendent had ever done. To the delight of taxpayers, Hinson saved money in numerous areas, bringing down expenses to allow for a modest increase in teacher salaries, although teachers wanted more.
It is unclear why the 54-year-old educator decided to quit so soon. Although it is not unusual for a superintendent to leave after four years, at Hinson’s age, his plan to retire in June seems odd.
Some complaints about Hinson are unfair. He successfully negotiated a hefty 10 percent salary increase. Blame the board, not Hinson, if that seems too high. And his position of endorsing block grant funding for two years was very controversial, but Shawnee Mission schools received more than they would have otherwise. Some legislators are still angry about his stance on that issue.
Hinson’s retirement announcement could not have come at a worse time for Shawnee Mission schools. The Kansas Legislature has been tussling over a new school finance formula, mandated by the Kansas Supreme Court and attached to a June deadline. The old formula from 1992 was particularly punishing to Shawnee Mission schools, and Hinson’s voice is desperately needed to fend off attempts to revert back to that previous formula. I hope Hinson stays active in the debate and is vocal about the need for more local authority and a formula that does not treat his district unfairly.
When the history of the Shawnee Mission School District is written, will Hinson’s off-putting style merit even a mention? Maybe a sentence. Rather, Jim Hinson will likely go down as one of the most productive Shawnee Mission superintendents ever.