Shawnee Mission officials say timing, strength of internal candidates led to decision not to post principal openings

Shawnee Mission School District officials say that the timing of the vacancies and the past performance of internal candidates led to the decision to name new principals at SM North, SM East and Indian Hills Middle School without posting the jobs and formally seeking applicants.

The announcement that three internal candidates were being assigned to those leadership positions caught some teachers and administrators off guard last month, with some at the buildings surprised that the current administrators were departing and wondering why other assistant principals weren’t permitted to apply for the jobs.

Shawnee Mission’s Director of Communications Shawna Samuel said the district’s learning and leadership team will generally use one of three approaches to identifying candidates to fill an administrative opening. Samuel’s descriptions of those approaches are as follows:

  • Post position for internal and external candidates to apply. This approach is most commonly used when the vacancy is identified early in the recruitment season and/or there is no preferred internal candidates
  • Post position for internal candidates only. This approach is most commonly applied when multiple, similarly assessed, internal candidates are available (with no particular candidate within the group having distinguished themselves as the “best fit” for the vacant position).
  • Initiate an administrative transfer without posting the position. This approach is used when a specific internal candidate has distinguished themselves, by performance, as the best fit for the available role.

Samuel noted that with the SM North, SM East and Indian Hills openings, the learning and leadership team had opted to use the administrative transfer process.

“This is not to say there were no other interested or good candidates, but rather that the assessment of a particular candidate was determined to be significantly stronger for this role and at this time,” she said. “In this case, it would not be accurate to conclude that other candidates were not considered. Far from it. It should be understood that internal candidates are ‘interviewing’ for new opportunities every day through their daily performance.”

But the lack of a more open hiring process had a number of Shawnee Mission staffers frustrated last week. Some pointed out that all three of the administrators appointed to the new positions were men. Despite the fact the majority of teachers in the district are female, just one of the 11 principals at the district’s secondary schools — Lisa Gruman at SM Northwest — is a women. (Women are, however, well represented among the ranks of associate principals at the secondary level, as well as principals at the elementary level).

Some parents pointed out that all teaching positions in the district are subject to open application processes, and that the process to fill coaching vacancies often involves parent groups. They wondered why a similar approach isn’t used for administrative openings.

In her summary of the district’s hiring practices for administrators, Samuel said that the district’s top priority when filling was meeting the specific circumstances of the building to a leader’s experiences and skill set.

“In every instance, regardless of the approach taken, the priority objective is to select a candidate who best fits the needs and circumstances of the position,” she said of the process for hiring administrators. “While we often rely on well-designed interview instruments to assist in this selection process, no interview tool can tell us more about ‘fit’ than can the opportunity to watch an individual perform (in-house) over time.”