At first Super Chat, Hinson says district working hard to improve special education; significant boundary changes likely

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Shawnee Mission Superintendent Jim Hinson participated in the first Super Chat Tuesday at Hocker Grove Middle School.

Hitting on topics from classroom size and behavior disorders to school boundaries and tax increment finance, Shawnee Mission Superintendent Jim Hinson on Tuesday painted a picture of a district that is in flux as it reaches for its goal to be “the best” during the first Super Chat town hall meeting organized by the Shawnee Mission Area Council PTA.

Before a crowd of approximately 50 parents, educators and elected officials at Hocker Grove, Hinson fielded questions about both district-wide and school-level issues. Among the most prominent topics was the district’s efforts to revamp its special education program, the reputation of which had been in decline for several years. One mother at the event told Hinson that her pediatrician had recommended the family move into the Blue Valley School District so her son with special needs could benefit from the well-regarded programming there. Though she said she had been very satisfied with the treatment her son had received at SM North, she was concerned about the district’s poor reputation in the area.

“I just want to know what we’re doing so we can say we’ve got this under control,” the woman told Hinson.

“I don’t know if we have it under control, but there’s a major overhaul that’s going on with SPED asking if we’re addressing all the needs of our students,” Hinson replied. “We haven’t arrived at where we want to be. But there is a major overhaul that’s going on.”

The district earlier this year hired former Turner School District Superintendent Dr. Michelle Hubbard to become its Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Leadership. Hubbard, who officially started with Shawnee Mission this summer, has supervision of the special education programs among her assigned duties.

Hinson also told the group of parents that the district is exploring a number of options to recalibrate attendance to better utilize existing classroom space. Some buildings in the district are currently fuller than would be ideal while others have unused classrooms. Hinson said boundary changes will likely be needed throughout the district to optimize class sizes and use of facilities.

“The goal is not to change within high school attendance areas,” he said of the district’s plans for redrawing attendance boundaries.

Among the other topics covered during the hour-long conversation were:

  • Whether the all of the honors and advanced learning opportunities available to students were beneficial. Hinson said he had heard from a group of recent graduates that many found the large variety of advanced education options available to them to be confusing. With International Baccalaureate, Advanced Placement, College Now and honors classes available, many students don’t know which path is best for them.
  • The effectiveness of specialized math and reading instruction. Hinson said a review of outcomes for pulling elementary students who are behind out of their normal classes to work directly with math and reading specialists showed that the outcomes didn’t always support use of the practice.
  • The idea of creating “centers of excellence” out of the existing high schools. Hinson said the district had started very early investigation into the concept of creating “centers of excellence” for  high schools, where each high school would focus on a particular subject area — engineering or medical research, for example. He stressed that there were no formal plans to move forward with the idea, but that it was a concept that the district was aware of and investigating.

Elected officials in attendance included state Reps. Melissa Rooker and Jarrod Ousley; and Board of Education members Deb Zila, Sara Goodburn, Brad Stratton and Donna Bysfield.

Future Super Chat town halls are scheduled for Oct. 21 – 9 a.m. at Trailridge Middle School library; Nov. 12 – noon at Westridge Middle School library; Jan. 20 – 7 p.m. at Indian Woods Middle School library; March 31 – 10 a.m. at Indian Hills Middle School library.

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