School board candidates on the issues: Should the next superintendent be required to have a PhD?

Former Shawnee Mission Superintendent Jim Hinson in 2014.
Former Shawnee Mission Superintendent Jim Hinson in 2014.

Today we continue with the Shawnee Mission Board of Education candidates’ responses to our general election questionnaire. Here’s question number two:

Do you think the next superintendent in Shawnee Mission should be required to have a doctorate? Or should the board be willing to consider candidates who have not attained the degree?

At-large race

Heather OusleyOusley_300

While the completion of a doctorate is a sign of commitment and evidence of a candidate’s familiarity with a knowledge base that would be beneficial to our District’s leader, I do think it is important to consider people who are on an upward trajectory in their career, and who may not have yet completed the doctorate degree process. As was referenced during a meeting with Ray and Associates, at least one local school district decided to hire a superintendent who had not yet finished their doctorate degree, and is considered a very well regarded district head. In light of the fact that many of our educators have doctorates, I do think it is important that the highest position is filled by someone who is working towards a doctorate and planning on completing it. I would not, however, refuse to consider an excellent candidate simply because they had not completed the degree yet.

Mandi Hunter

Mandi_300When this question came up for discussion at one of the recent meetings between Ray and Associates and members of our district’s Board of Education, my initial reaction was that a doctorate should be required for any superintendent candidate. Since that meeting, I have discussed this inquiry with individuals, groups and watched social media comments concerning the same.

My focus is to find the highest quality candidate with the closest ties to the teaching profession as the next superintendent of our district. Someone who began their career with the intent of being in administration may have obtained very limited classroom experience before moving on to attain an advanced degree. A candidate’s experience and the voices of their current coworkers and parents in their district should speak louder than their resume.

Educational attainment is a critical component of leading a district of this size and reputation. And based on conversations with constituents, it seems that this community expects their superintendent to have an advanced degree. If we determine that a doctorate is a requirement, we cannot lose sight that the candidate must also have a reputation as an excellent teacher who has the respect of his or her peers as a good manager. The day-to-day administration of a 5,000-employee organization and ensuring the academic success of more than 27,000 students requires the understanding as well as the practical application of a broad skill set and is not limited to a degree.

I will be looking closely at a candidate’s academic prowess, but just as closely at their comfort level in the classroom.

SM West area race

Laura Guy

Laura_GuyWe need to find someone who has proven that he or she has the experience necessary to successfully lead a school district of our size. A good candidate will have been either a superintendent or a vice superintendent in a similar-sized district that has some of the same challenges and opportunities that we have. She or he must know how to create an appropriate budget and stick to it. A doctorate is preferred but I don’t think it’s necessary. I’d like to keep the pool of candidates as big as possible so that we can look for the more important qualities of attitude, aptitude and adaptability. If someone has started course work towards a doctorate but not completed it yet, then that person should not be disqualified from the candidate pool for lack of a doctorate degree.


Craig Denny (incumbent)Denny3002

In my opinion, a Doctorate (Ph.D. or Ed.D.) is not mandatory. However, I believe our community has come to expect that our school superintendent should have the knowledge and skills necessary to effectively lead our district.



SM East area race

Mary Sinclair

Mary_300Our new superintendent should be an inspirational instructional leader, who empowers our principals and teachers to realize the district’s clearly defined vision, established by the school board. A collaborative leadership style would help to build trust and to move forward in a way that engages all stakeholders. Among a number of qualifications, I prefer that the next superintendent in Shawnee Mission have a doctorate or be a doctoral candidate in education.

I hold a Ph.D. in Special Education from the University of Minnesota. Through the doctoral degree program, I gained an appreciation for the development of deep knowledge into one of many vital areas of the educational process. My focus is on student engagement and dropout prevention among youth with learning and behavioral disabilities. I value familiarity with a field of research that other educators with doctorates have acquired in areas like school finance, teaching and learning, educational technology and so much more. Public education is a complex, dynamic system, committed to the practice of continuous improvement. Expertise and familiarity with credible research from across a range of issues is needed to effectively inform this improvement process. The skills acquired in scientific inquiry and research methodologies also provides invaluable insights required for effective decision-making. We need a superintendent who understands the business of education from a practical and scholarly perspective, to make informed recommendations based on a critical analysis of the information available.

In addition, our community values post-secondary education and most would expect the superintendent to have achieved this level of expertise as well. Shawnee Mission personnel are among most qualified in districts across the state. About 20 percent of district and building administrators hold a doctorate degree. Many more administrators and teachers have a master’s degree in education. The persistence and tenacity required to complete the doctoral program in education demonstrates a valued commitment to the profession.

Lockard_300James Lockard

Required, no. Some of the best administrators I worked with did not have or were working on their doctorate. In my experience, an advanced degree is no indication of quality. If a candidate is a great communicator, a bridge-builder, someone dedicated to empowering teachers to do their very best, someone who is going to always put the kids first, then he would have my vote, whether they have a degree or not.

Tomorrow we’ll publish the candidates’ responses to item three: Over the past two years, the district has chosen Apache and Rising Star — schools with relatively high concentrations of free-and-reduced lunch students — as the pilot locations for a new “innovative school” model that stresses project-based learning and includes activities designed to prepare students for the modern workforce. What’s your assessment of the innovative schools model the district is using? Would you like to see it spread to other elementary schools?