New Horizons principal drawn to opportunity to ‘know every kid personally’

New Horizons High School Principal Paul Colwell comes to Shawnee Mission from Turner High School, where he was principal.
New Horizons High School Principal Paul Colwell comes to Shawnee Mission from Turner High School, where he was principal.

When classes get underway at Horizons High School in Mission next week, students will see a new face in the halls, the office — and just about everywhere they go.

New principal Paul Colwell said the opportunity to get to know each and every one of the students at the district’s alternative high school was one of the key attractions that brought him to the job. Having served as the principal of the 1,100-student Turner High School for the past seven years, Colwell said he was drawn to the idea of the more intimate setting.

“I’m going to know every kid personally, which I’m super excited about,” he said.

Colwell served as a science teacher at SM South before moving to Turner, where he was an assistant principal for five years before moving into the top job at the school. As a district patron – his kids attend Rose Hill Elementary and Indian Woods Middle School — he said he’d admired Shawnee Mission for a number of years and was always interested in a return. The Horizons opportunity struck him as a unique challenge and a good fit for his temperament and skill set.

“Kids come to alternative setting for different reasons. Some are behind in credits, some simply don’t feel like the comprehensive high schools are a good fit. Sometimes kids feel a little lost or want a smaller setting,” he said. “One of the things I’ve loved hearing since getting here is this message that Dr. [Kenny] Southwick stresses, which is ‘All means all.’ We’re going to try to get kids career and college ready — everybody.”

Colwell hasn’t had experience working in an alternative setting before, but says one of his top goals is to create a true sense of community at the school. With a staff of 16 and approximately 130 students who come to the school from throughout the district’s high school feeder areas, Horizons provides a close-knit, but not geographically connected, experience.

“I hope we can figure out a way to engage the community, especially with the kids at Horizons, because it’s a partnership,” he said. “We also need somebody at home to say, ‘Hey, how’s your day going?’ And the businesses, too. We want to see them saying, ‘We support Horizons.'”