In foundation breakfast debut, new Shawnee Mission superintendent makes case for embracing demographic changes as a strength

A group of Brookwood Elementary students greeted Superintendent Mike Fulton as he walked onto the Shawnee Mission Education Foundation fall breakfast stage for the first time.

New Shawnee Mission Superintendent Mike Fulton used his debut address at the annual Shawnee Mission Education Foundation breakfast Thursday to make a clear case for embracing the community’s shifting demographics and to adapt its approach to instruction to ensure that every child, regardless of background, has an opportunity to build on their personal strengths.

Before a crowd of more than 1,000 at the Overland Park Convention Center, Fulton laid out his vision for the mission of public schools, and said the community’s long tradition of strong support for education as well as its tradition of excellence put it in a strong position to adapt.

“As we go forward, we have an opportunity to carry out the mission of public schools,” Fulton said. “To make sure that every child that walks through our doors, without bias, has the the loving and nurturing and carrying environment they need to be ready for their future. Gone are the days when race, disability or other human attributes prevented students from being educated.”

Fulton said he was personally grateful for such changes in society, because he had watched his brother, who has a developmental disability, grow up in “a day and age when providing an education for students with disabilities was not required.”

Fulton noted that current demographic projections suggest that by around the year 2045, the majority of Americans will be people of color. He said Shawnee Mission’s growing racial diversity would prepare students for the America of tomorrow.

“Our children in Shawnee Mission have a great advantage,” he said. “They are living in a diverse school world. They are living in a diverse community. They are going to be uniquely prepared for their future.”

But he explicitly acknowledged the academic achievement gap that “disproportionately impacts children of color and those who live in poverty.”

Fulton made the case that the district had an imperative to devise strategies to close that gap, and suggested an approach to instruction that identified students’ individual strengths and gave them tailored opportunities to explore them.

“What if schools switched from being all about seat time and moving through the system as one group, and instead we began to envision a world where learning was the constant, and things like use of time, the way we organize ourselves around school learning, and the instructional strategies we use are variables in that process?” he asked

Fulton said his administration planned to bring a measure before the board of education no later than January with its proposal for engaging the Shawnee Mission community in a strategic planning process for updating the district’s approach to instruction.

“We can no longer afford to continue that narrative in our nation,” Fulton said of the achievement gap. “Instead we need to create a new narrative, one of learning for every child.”