SMSD will announce its new superintendent tonight. Here’s what we learned about the finalists this weekend

Jay Senter - February 12, 2018 2:22 pm
Several dozen district parents and employees attended the meet-and-greet sessions with the three superintendent finalists Saturday.

The Shawnee Mission Board of Education has called a special meeting for tonight at 7 p.m. to announce the hiring of its next superintendent.

The move comes after all three candidates named as finalists for the job came to town Saturday and participated in public question and answer sessions.

We live-tweeted those meet-and-greet sessions for finalists Michael Fulton, Blane McCann and Michael Muñoz over the weekend. You can check out each thread (linked in the previous sentence) for their responses to questions about specifics like 1:1 technology, libraries, and faculty advisory boards, but below are some high-level takeaways from each session:

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Michael Muñoz, superintendent of Rochester Public Schools in Rochester, Minn.

Michael Muñoz
  • Muñoz gave a few introductory remarks highlighting his biography and experience. A first-generation college graduate, he started his career as a language arts teacher and coach. He moved on to become a school counselor and then middle school principal before being recruited to a central administration job with Des Moines Public Schools, a district that had 32,000 students at the time, and large concentrations of both students living in poverty and racial minorities. After six years in Des Moines, he became superintendent in Rochester, which also has a socioeconomically and racial diverse population. Of the three finalists, Muñoz appears to have the most experience with districts of a size and student population most similar to Shawnee Mission. He is the only of the three finalists not to have a doctorate, but does hold a superintendent’s credential and Certificate of Advanced Studies from Iowa State University.
  • Muñoz noted the his administration had been working to address discipline disparities between students of color and white students that had been identified prior to his arrival as superintendent. Those efforts have included reviews of policies and procedures and well as curriculum. “Kids find it difficult to be engaged if they don’t see themselves in what they’re learning,” he said. “We’re not done — we have a lot of work left to do — but we have changed the mindset of our system.”
  • He had the most direct demeanor of the three finalists, and seemed confident and comfortable in front of a crowd of strangers.

Blane McCann, PhD, superintendent of Westside Community Schools in Omaha, Neb.

Blane McCann
  • McCann described himself as a collaborative leader, and said he was committed to the idea of “two-way communication” between the administration and employees, parents and other groups. “Doesn’t mean everyone always gets what they want, but I think people need to be heard and voices brought to the table,” he said. He said his personal mission is building systems that allow teachers and staff to find meaning in their work. “I want our employees to be excited about coming to work on a daily basis,” he said.
  • Westside has a 1:1 technology program that appears to be fairly similar to Shawnee Mission’s, with use of Apple products. McCann said he believed Apple products provided considerably more creative opportunities to students than less-expensive platforms like Chromebook. He was very familiar with some of the 1:1 technology issues that Shawnee Mission parents have been concerned about, included screen time and access to non-school sanctioned apps.
  • Throughout his session, McCann cited research on student outcomes, school systems and other education issues. He appeared to be especially committed to data-driven decision making.

Michael Fulton, Ed.D, superintendent of Pattonville School District outside St. Louis, Mo.

Michael Fulton.
  • A thread that stuck out from Fulton’s session was his belief that the central office needs to be willing to work with individual schools on plans for continuous improvement, as opposed to relying entirely on hard-and-fast district-wide policies. He said that philosophy would be particularly important in a large district like Shawnee Mission, which has about five times more students than Pattonville. “The bigger your are, the harder it is to get consensus across all people,” Fulton said, indicating that he believed in building “from the learners up” and working to customize solutions for individual schools’ circumstances.
  • An attendee noted that Pattonville had seen sharply shifting demographics over the past two decades, very similar to what Shawnee Mission is experiencing, and asked how Pattonville had kept outcomes high. Fulton, who has been with Pattonville for two decades, said the district had started worked on the issue early in the demographic shift. Fulton was responsible for building the district’s strategic plan at the time, and helped establish three big goals for the district in 1998: every child a proficient learner, every child a responsible citizen, and every child college or career ready. “Those are the same three targets we have today,” he said. The district’s ability to keep those goals at the heart of everything it does and not chase “shiny objects” helped it outperform other districts, he said.
  • He had perhaps the most approachable demeanor of the three finalists.

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