Jim Hinson came to the Shawnee Mission School District as its new superintendent just six months ago, and in those first six months, he listened, evaluated and started making some changes. And Hinson says there are more changes to come.
Technology ranks at the top of Hinson’s list of pressing issues for the district. “Will every student at the secondary level have an iPad or MacBook Air? Probably, yes,” Hinson says. Sweeping changes in the district’s use of technology are probably not far into the future, both hardware and software. It’s an area where Hinson believes the district is behind its peers. He ventures that Shawnee Mission ranks well into the bottom 50 percent of comparable suburban districts.
The district is working with Apple on a technology plan, with officials already making trips to California to visit with the company’s education services. The technology overhaul can change the teaching and learning paradigm, Hinson believes. Students will have new ways to learn and do homework from anywhere, while teachers will have richer teaching options at their fingertips than what is in the old-style textbook.
“Kids are starting out at such an early age with the touch screen,” he says. “Then they get to school it’s not there.” Providing the hardware to students also levels economic disadvantages among students. The district has the room to issue bonds for capital projects and could start the process yet this month.
Safety and security is another priority agenda item that is already in motion. The district has contracted with several architecture firms to draw up plans for making a number of schools more secure. “Violence can happen anywhere,” Hinson says. “We are looking at all safety and security processes.” It may take a couple of years to work through all the changes that need to be made. “The concern from parents (about security) has been appropriate,” he says.
Dr. Hinson, who had been superintendent in Independence, made a point of starting his tenure on July 1 with an 87-day listening tour that ended with his address to the annual Shawnee Mission Education Breakfast.
Among the surprises from that experience was the level of support for the schools. “I knew community support was strong,” he says, “but it’s a phenomenal level of support. It’s not the norm.”
The community understands the importance of education to economic growth, he says. “People are moving here because they want a a better quality of life.”
That attraction creates diversity. “People have really welcomed diversity,” Hinson says. SM East is the least diverse of the district’s high schools, but any bad rap the school has gotten because of that “is not warranted,” he says. “Just because people don’t have it, doesn’t mean they don’t welcome it.”
Tomorrow: part two of the PVPost.com interview with Shawnee Mission Superintendent Dr. Jim Hinson on his first six months on the job.