New SMSD leader says district has ‘moral obligation’ to meet students’ needs regardless of background

Dr. Michael Fulton.

Over the course of the past two months, new Shawnee Mission School District Superintendent Mike Fulton has spent hours visiting schools and meeting with local elected officials and business leaders to get their impressions of the current state of the district and where the community wants to see it head in the coming years.

And, he says, a few consistent themes have clearly emerged: Shawnee Mission patrons love their schools. And they want to see a clear path established to keeping those schools excellent as demographics continue to shift.

In a report to the board of education last week, Fulton presented five key early takeaways from his talks with community leaders and district patrons:

  • Johnson County residents and district patrons have great pride in their schools
  • The community sees schools as key to Johnson County’s economic development
  • Community leaders think long range strategic planning is foundational to Johnson County’s success
  • Community members are committed to the area’s children and their success
  • Shawnee Mission is a warm, welcoming community.

Fulton noted that the district’s five traditional high schools are already recognized nationally for their outcomes.

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Community meet and greets with Superintendent Mike Fulton

Superintendent Mike Fulton will be holding a series of meet-and-greet events at the district’s high schools over the next week. All events will be from 5 to 7 p.m.:

• Wednesday, September 5, SM South
• Thursday, September 6, SM East
• Tuesday, September 11, SM West
• Monday, September 17, SM Northwest
• Tuesday, September 25, SM North[/pullquote]”Shawnee Mission has absolutely some of the finest high schools in the country,” Fulton told the board. “And that only happens when you have great teaching and learning going on pre-K through 12.”

But, he noted, to continue the district’s reputation for excellence, the district will need to work to address shifting demographics. America will likely become a “majority minority” country in the coming decades. As soon as 2020, more than 50 percent of the U.S. population under the age of 18 will be minorities, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Those changing demographics combined with growing poverty in Johnson County mean that Shawnee Mission schools will need to establish strategies for allowing all students to achieve regardless of background.

“[We] know that historically, and there’s lots of reasons for this, that children of color and children of poverty don’t perform as a group at the same level as Caucasian and Asian peers and also kids who are fortunate enough to grow up in middle class and beyond households,” Fulton said. “We have a moral obligation to make sure that we meet the needs of every child that we serve.”

The development of those strategies will begin in earnest this fall, when Fulton’s administration begins a new strategic planning process. He said he expects for community outreach on the effort to begin this fall, with a goal of identifying “key academic outcomes that ensure every student is ready for success after graduation.”