Above all, Shawnee Mission stakeholders want superintendent who promotes professional environment, models high standards

Brenda Dietrich of Ray and Associates addressed the Shawnee Mission Board of Education Monday evening.

After four years of Jim Hinson’s leadership, Shawnee Mission stakeholders from a variety of groups say that the most important qualities for a new superintendent will be the ability to promote a “positive and professional environment for district employees and [the] Board,” and “inspiring trust, self-confidence and modeling high standards.”

That was among the takeaway messages from the presentation Brenda Dietrich of Ray and Associates made to the board of education Monday on the feedback it had received through survey results and stakeholder interviews over the past several weeks in an effort to develop a profile for the ideal candidate for the next superintendent.

A total of 1,831 stakeholder — including 1,109 current district parents — took the online survey that asked participants to rank by importance a set of 30 qualities for the next superintendent. Behind creating a “positive and professional environment” and “inspiring trust, self-confidence and models high standards” were:

  • Has leadership skills to respond to challenges of ethnic and cultural diversity
  • Has experience recruiting and maintaining exceptional staff for the district and schools
  • Strongly committed to “student first” philosophy in all decisions
  • Strong communicator; speaking, listening, writing
  • Possesses excellent people skills and presents positive district image
  • Willing to listen to input, but is a decision maker
  • Experience in selection and implementation of educational priorities
  • Promotes positive student behavior

Six of the eight stakeholder groups — teachers, support staff, parents, non-parent community members, board candidates, and members of the board of education — ranked the “positive and professional environment” trait as their top priority for a new superintendent. Administrators ranked that trait second, behind “inspires trust, self-confidence and models high standards.” The 11 students who took the survey ranked it seventh. They chose “commitment to both academic and activity programs” as their most desired trait.

While the “positive and professional environment” trait topped the survey in 2013 when Ray and Associates fielded the same research tool as part of the search for Dr. Gene Johnson’s replacement, many of the other characteristics stakeholders want to see today were different from four years ago. “Possesses excellence people skills” and “inspires trust, self-confidence and models high standards” were absent from stakeholders’ priority list in 2013.

Dietrich told the board that patrons and staff wanted someone who was less “autocratic” and who was committed to seeking input, genuinely listening to it, and then being willing to explain the thinking behind a decision after it had been made.

“The word collaboration came up quite a bit,” Dietrich told the board. “And also the importance of explaining the rationale. Why are we coming to that conclusion? That kind of led a little bit to the transparency piece, getting a clear understanding of why we’re doing what we’re doing.”

Also absent from the 2013 list but factoring high among patrons’ priorities four years later was addressing diversity. Dietrich said stakeholders had indicated that they wanted a leader who could navigate the districts’ changing demographics and establish policy that created equity across the district.

“[Diversity is] something that the district needs to acknowledge, address and embrace,” Dietrich said. “There was a little perception of the haves versus the have nots that they would like to see addressed maybe through resource deployment.”

The board and Ray and Associates are using the results of the interviews and survey to craft a job description for the superintendent opening which will be posted today. Here’s the summary sheet Dietrich provided the board with the characteristics they recommended including in the candidate profile section of the job description:


Full video from Monday’s meeting is embedded below: