Government & Politics

Public meets Shawnee Mission superintendent finalists; board to make a decision tonight

Shawnee Mission West student Holly Jackson (from left) her mother, Anisha Jackson of Lenexa and Bernie Winston of Leawood listened as Michael Muñoz, superintendent of Rochester, Minn. Public Schools, spoke during a “meet and greet” with the public Saturday at the Center for Academic Achievement, 8200 W. 71st St., in Overland Park. Muñoz was one of three candidates for Superintendent of the Shawnee Mission Schood District introduced at the event.
Shawnee Mission West student Holly Jackson (from left) her mother, Anisha Jackson of Lenexa and Bernie Winston of Leawood listened as Michael Muñoz, superintendent of Rochester, Minn. Public Schools, spoke during a “meet and greet” with the public Saturday at the Center for Academic Achievement, 8200 W. 71st St., in Overland Park. Muñoz was one of three candidates for Superintendent of the Shawnee Mission Schood District introduced at the event. tljungblad@kcstar.com

Dozens of parents, teachers and education advocates turned out Saturday to meet the three finalists up the Shawnee Mission School District’s superintendent job.

Michael Fulton, Blane McCann and Michael Muñoz each spent 30 minutes answering questions from the crowd before meeting with the school board behind closed doors.

The Shawnee Mission Board of Education called a special meeting for 7 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 12, “to appoint and approve the contract for the new Shawnee Mission School District superintendent” at the Center for Academic Achievement, 8200 W. 71st St. The meeting, which is open to the public, will be streamed live at www.smsd.org.

Audience questions at Saturday’s meet-and-greet included how the candidates would deal with students’ mental-health needs as well as how they’d handle technology in the classroom, boost diversity in the workforce, communicate with parents and encourage transparency in district policies.

With the phrase “all means all,” both McCann and Muñoz stressed that they want to include every student when promoting academic achievement. McCann said his district in Omaha reduced its achievement gap by 50 percent.

Bernie Winston, founder of the diversity and inclusion committee on Shawnee Mission East’s PTSA, said she was concerned that Fulton was coming from a district that’s only about  1/5 the size of Shawnee Mission.

All three candidates are currently superintendents for other Midwestern school districts, though all of those districts are smaller than Shawnee Mission. Muñoz’s district in Rochester, Minn., is the closest in size to Shawnee Mission, but it’s still smaller by about 10,000 students.

Although Fulton mentioned encouraging more minority students to study education in an effort to create homegrown multicultural workplace, Winston also wanted to know more about how he handled diversity in his current district.

“You can have a diverse district, but are you doing diversity planning?” Winston asked. “... You can have a district that’s diverse, but the marginalized subgroups are not performing well.”

McCann emphasized his belief in hearing the views of the community.

“I believe in two-way communication, which means we’ve got to create feedback loops and hear from your constituents as much as you can,” McCann said.

He also said he wouldn’t come in with a fixed plan for how to do everything.

“A person has to become part of the culture,” McCann said. “You can’t come in with all your ideas. I have to make sure ... that we all fit together.”

Amie Schick, a math teacher at Shawnee Mission North and parent of a kindergartener, said McCann echoed the sentiments she’s been learning in a leadership class.

“A good leader needs to give us hope, stability, compassion and trust,” she said. “... I feel like teachers haven’t been heard for a few years.”

Johnny Winston, a teacher at Shawnee Mission Northwest, said he’d seen positive reviews about the workplace environment in Fulton’s district in Pattonville, Mo. He also liked that McCann had focused his doctorate on school culture.

Another audience member asked the candidates about resuming a forum with teachers, which had been a regular part of the schedule before previous superintendent Jim Hinson stopped having them. All three indicated they would be interested in having some sort of regular discussion with teachers and parents.

Muñoz said he’s conducted monthly and quarterly listening sessions with parents in his district. He also emphasized the need to have professional development opportunities for teachers and said high schools in Rochester have a late start once a week to allow time for this.

“It’s an opportunity for teachers to learn from each other,” Muñoz said.

As much as the Saturday’s forum was appreciated, it was also hard to go more than surface deep in a half-hour conversation with the candidates prompting Susan Knight, a retired former principal of Westwood View Elementary School, to note that there wasn’t really enough time to fully assess any candidate.

“It’s hard in that 30 minutes to pay attention to all of the facets in a pretty large and involved school district,” she said.

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