In Up to Date interview, new Shawnee Mission superintendent stresses personalized learning for all students

Superintendent Mike Fulton spoke with KCUR’s Michelle Tyrene Johnson on Wednesday’s Up to Date. Photo credit Shawnee Mission School District.

New Shawnee Mission Superintendent Mike Fulton was a guest on KCUR’s Up to Date Wednesday, and spoke with host Michelle Tyrene Johnson about his approach to public education, the state of school funding in Kansas, and addressing recent challenges and controversies in the district.

You can listen to the full interview here, but a few of the highlights are summarized below:

K-12 funding

Asked for his position on the state of K-12 funding in Kansas, Fulton said he was well aware of the battles over the funding formula when he took the job, and indicated he believed a truly adequate and equitable funding formula is one that allows Kansas districts to get every student “college and career ready.”

As for Shawnee Mission specifically, he said he expected the district to continue facing pressures on its operational budget in the near term.

“The biggest challenge we have going forward is in the operating fund. That’s the fund that we use to pay staff salaries,” he said. “It’s important that we have enough teachers and other staff working with our children in ways that help them to learn.”

Teacher contract negotiations

Asked about the teachers who addressed Fulton and the board of education on Monday about the current contract negotiations, Fulton said he couldn’t comment on the specifics of the negotiating process, but said he understood the need for teachers to feel valued.

“We care about our teachers,” he said. “We certainly respect and value the great work they do every day. And in Shawnee Mission and schools across the country, we need to do the very best we can to make sure teachers are well compensated and have the tools they need to be successful as they help our kids become college and career ready.”

Increasing student diversity and personalize learning

Johnson asked about Fulton’s experience working in Pattonville, a diverse suburban school district outside St. Louis, prior to taking the Shawnee Mission job, and what diversity means to him.

Fulton said diversity goes beyond just race, and includes language, religion and socioeconomics. He said schools need to embrace their diversity because the America that graduates are entering is becoming more diverse.

“I believe that diversity is absolutely a source of strength in any school district,” Fulton said. “And with that comes the expectation that all children are capable of high performance. Our job is to design learning systems that get them there…As America grows more diverse, we simply cannot afford to leave any child behind in terms of our ability to educate all children effectively.”

To that end, Fulton stressed the importance of creating personalized learning opportunities from all students — regardless of background. He said that was part of the impetus to reorganize the district’s upper-level administration and change Christy Ziegler’s title to assistant superintendent of personalized learning.

“We need to create personalized learning,” Fulton said. “That’s where the future is.”