Building strong relationship with teachers, embracing student diversity will be top priorities, says new Shawnee Mission superintendent

Incoming Shawnee Mission Superintendent Mike Fulton, seen at his meet-and-greet Saturday, spoke with Steve Kraske on Up To Date Tuesday.

Collaborating with teachers and developing strategies to ensure students are successful regardless of socioeconomic status or ethnicity are among the top priorities for the Shawnee Mission School District in the coming months, said the district’s incoming superintendent and the president of the board of education Tuesday.

In their first interview since the board announced its hiring decision Monday, new Superintendent Michael Fulton and board of education President Brad Stratton told Up To Date’s Steve Kraske on KCUR that they both believed Shawnee Mission’s growing diversity would be a source of strength in the coming years, but that it would require changes in the way the district conducts its business.

Noting that Shawnee Mission was experiencing a wave of increased poverty as well as growing ethnic diversity similar to what’s being seen in first-ring suburbs across the country, Stratton said the board understood it would have to consider a different set of student needs than it had even a couple decades ago.

“Some of our schools are dealing with as many social and emotional social service issues as education issues,” Stratton said. “That’s where Shawnee Mission has needed to adapt.”

But both Stratton and Fulton stressed that they believed the growing diversity would help better prepare students for the world they’ll enter after high school. Fulton noted that if current demographic trends continue, more than half of U.S. residents aged 18 and under will be ethnic minorities by 2020.

“That’s a wonderful tapestry of diversity to have,” Fulton said. “But it’s important we make sure that we design our schools so every single child is going to be successful in their learning.”

Stratton and Fulton also hinted that they understand the importance of having a collaborative relationship between the administration and classroom staff, and that there needed to be a balanced relationship between the board and the administration.

Kraske asked Stratton whether the board had looked to hire someone whose temperament was significantly different than the “top-down” demeanor of Jim Hinson. Stratton said the board had focused primarily on the input they’d received from district patrons during the search process, which emphasized openness and collaboration.

“The public told us at the beginning of this process they wanted someone who could build consensus, inspire trust, and lead,” Stratton said. “And the words that kept coming up over and over again [about Fulton] were, he’s a collaborative leader. He’s someone that can empower others, build a team, delegate…and lead.”

Fulton said he felt the opportunity in Shawnee Mission to work with teachers at the building level to build strategies for student success was a good fit for his experience.

“The only way you get to improvement is you have to be able to work together as a team, to look at what children’s needs are and design solutions at the school level,” he said. “That’s a collaborative process by design. That’s the way I’ve worked with folks, because that’s what works.”

You can listen to the full interview on KCUR here.