SMAC PTA legislative co-chair Mary Sinclair files to run for Shawnee Mission board, setting up first contested election for SM East seat in decades

Three seats on the Shawnee Mission Board of Education are up for election this November.
Three seats on the Shawnee Mission Board of Education are up for election this November.

Mary Sinclair, the Fairway resident who has served as legislative co-chair for the Shawnee Mission Area Council PTA for more than two years, on Friday filed as a candidate for the Shawnee Mission East seat on the board of education.

Sinclair will face six-term incumbent Donna Bysfield, who was first elected in 1993, and has not faced a challenger in her reelection bids since.

Sinclair said she had been pondering the possibility of entering the school board race for quite some time, but was moved by the announcement of Superintendent Jim Hinson’s retirement last month to make it official.

“I had been thinking about this for a while, and have been in the business of advocating for public education for most of my adult life, but it really was the resignation that made me decide to get in,” she said. “I want to help pick the next superintendent.”

Sinclair spent much of her childhood in northeast Johnson County, attending Trailwood Elementary and Meadowbrook Junior High before graduating from Shawnee Mission East. She earned a PhD in special education from the University of Minnesota, and spent 15 years following the completion of that program at the school’s Institute on Community Integration, which works to ensure persons with developmental disabilities have opportunities to be active members of their communities.

Through her work with SMAC PTA and with advocacy organizations the MainStream Coalition and GameOn for Kansas Schools, Sinclair said she’s gained a keen interest in fostering an environment where teachers and students can succeed in Shawnee Mission and across the state. She said she believes Shawnee Mission teachers and building principals have been asked to take on the challenge of implementing a number of new initiatives in recent years — from the one-to-one technology program that makes Apple devices primary teaching tools in the classroom, to the professional learning communities – with few additional support resources.

“I think we need somebody who understand that teachers and building principals have been responsible for a number of initiatives over the past few years,” she said. “A lot of teachers feel like they’ve been under the gun, and there has been so much pressure to perform and execute.”

She said she believes the district needs to take a hard look at what is working from the new initiatives and what isn’t, and ensure outcomes data justifies the investment of time and energy.

Sinclair was opposed to the passage of the block grant bill that was favored by Hinson, and believes a return to a formula that includes some form of base aid per pupil with special weighting or categorial aid is the best approach to meet the state Supreme Court’s mandates.

“It’s important to remember that that old formula was never deemed unconstitutional,” she said. “Just the level at which it was funded.”

Sinclair and her husband Doug Huffman, who trains future elementary school teachers in science practice at the University of Kansas’s School of Education, had two children go through Shawnee Mission Schools, a son who graduated in 2015 and a daughter who currently attends Shawnee Mission East.