By Natasha Vyhovsky
The Shawnee Mission Board of Education has rehired the search firm it tapped four years ago to find a replacement for the retiring Gene Johnson, a process that resulted in the hiring of Jim Hinson, who stepped down unexpectedly this spring.
The board voted 5-0 to award a search contract to Ray and Associates, one of three firms it interviewed in public at a special meeting Saturday morning, which will be charged with finding quality candidates to become the district’s next superintendent. The three firms, Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates (HYA), Ray and Associates, and School Exec Connect, brought representatives before the board to present their contract proposals and answer questions. The district has past experience with both HYA and Ray and Associates.
Hinson’s time with the district saw rapid changes and modernization, but brought with it community-wide controversy, with parents, teachers and administrators growing concerned about the Shawnee Mission’s direction and employee morale. With the hiring of Hinson seen by many as a poor fit for Shawnee Mission, much of Saturday’s discussion centered on why Ray and Associations — the largest and most polished of the presenters — should be given another contract.
Board president Craig Denny followed the public interviews by asking for comments from the audience, which was largely made up of candidates in the upcoming board of education elections. Wariness about rehiring Ray and Associates was addressed by nearly every audience member, but with a lack of what they felt was a truly better option in terms of experience in the industry and understanding the needs of a district like Shawnee Mission, nearly each one echoed the last in supporting the rehire — with caution.
“The question was asked, ‘Who hired Dr. Hinson?’” Denny said to the attendees, “and clearly it was the Board of Education. We interviewed many people, and we made our decision on what we [knew] at the time. I think we probably learned over the last few years, and we think Ray and Associates is teachable.”
Each firm was asked how its team could ensure a diverse candidate pool to match the widespread diversity of the school district, a diversity which is mainly socioeconomic. Responses from the firms varied widely, with HYA claiming that if Shawnee Mission desired to search for a minority candidate, it would need to proactively request it, in addition to ensuring it would not be “just for show.”
Ray and Associates commended the diversity of the district and cited that an average of 42 percent of their placements to date have come from minority backgrounds, which includes women.
“I’m excited about the diversity of your district,” Ray and Associates Vice President Ryan Ray said. “First of all, you’re a high-performing district nationally. And then your diversity is a tremendous asset to you.”
Their search process will seemingly remain the same as in the past, which will feature an online survey, open public forums and stakeholder meetings to identify the key traits to search for in candidates. The team will also sit down with each board member individually to get their input prior to building a candidate profile. Ray and Associates has a database that serves as a “candidate pool” from which they will actively recruit to bring the district 8 to 12 candidates and their materials.
Ray and Associates referenced their recent search done in Olathe, boasting that stakeholder meetings consisted of talking to faith-based community members, parents, teachers, central office staff, leadership staff, chamber members, student advisory councils, and elementary, middle and high school students.
“We’ll talk to anybody and everybody asking them the same questions getting us input,” Ray and Associates’ Brenda Dietrich said. “It took us two and a half days and we met with over 500 people by the time we were finished.”
The board plans to fund the search process, which will carry a base fee of $25,000 with Ray and Associates, by utilizing funds left by having a vacant superintendent position for the 2017-18 school year. They also guarantee that the hired superintendent will stay at least two years, or they will re-do their search at no additional cost, save expenses.
The search timeline, as proposed by the firm, would begin building a profile in September and would be able to bring the Board selected candidates by winter break, with a decision deadline suggested for February. The level of confidentiality of the search is up in the air, although the firm suggests it remain closed until the last 2 or 3 candidates, which would then be made final.