Shawnee Mission, USD 232 supers highlight common goals of personalized, real-world learning for students

Shawnee Mission Superintendent Mike Fulton (left) and USD 232 Superintendent Frank Harwood discussed the collaborative work between the two school districts at a luncheon with the Shawnee Chamber of Commerce on Thursday.

Post-graduate preparedness for high school seniors and the collaborative work between the two school districts serving the city of Shawnee dominated discussions at a luncheon Thursday featuring Superintendents Michael Fulton and Frank Harwood.

The dividing line between the Shawnee Mission School District and Unified School District No. 232 runs roughly along I-435, a boundary that splits Shawnee in half — students on the west side go to USD 232, while students on the east side go to Shawnee Mission schools. The two districts serve a combined 34,400 students.

In a joint presentation at a luncheon hosted by the Shawnee Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, Harwood, superintendent of USD 232, and Fulton, Shawnee Mission superintendent, said their districts continue to strive for each senior to find success after graduation.

Yet despite that commonality in goals — with the perception that seniors are competing for the same jobs, internships and higher ed enrollment — both superintendents said they see opportunities to collaborate so all students at every school in either district can find success in their own way.

“It’s not about competing for students; it’s about collaborating to give the best education that we can,” Harwood said.

One recent example of this is the six Johnson County public school districts’ collaboration on a joint legislative platform last year. Another example is the districts’ participation in #ZeroReasonsWhy, a campaign to address mental health issues among students and prevent suicide.

USD 232 Superintendent Frank Harwood talked about personalized learning opportunities within the school district.

And for both districts, it’s about measuring student success in similar ways. The measure of student learning and success is moving away from standardized test scores and moving toward more personalized learning modules — ones that don’t limit measurement a student’s success solely to their skills in reading or mathematics.

Both school districts have initiated their own strategic visioning processes. One idea out of USD 232 is a six-year individual plan of study for each student. And in Shawnee Mission, it’s the creation of personalized learning plans, inclusivity for all students, and engagement within the community.

Fulton said the school districts must also recognize the history of disparate outcomes among students of different races. Educators must find a way to help all students be college- or career-ready, he said.

“We need to make sure, in America, that we are setting up education systems that ensure that every child is in rigorous curriculum and we are designing our schools to get them there,” Fulton said.

The luncheon took place at Johnson County Community College, which itself became a point of discussion, as both educators noted that many of their high school seniors continue their higher education at the college. And for seniors at both districts, higher education can start before graduation with the opportunity to earn dual credits at JCCC and high school before they graduate through programs like College Now.

The work to help each student find post-secondary success starts early for both districts, years before a graduating senior walks across the stage. Starting earlier, typically around eighth grade, allows students to find out who they are and what their interests and skills are in order to tailor their high school studies toward the type of post-graduate options that best seem to fit their individual goals.

Besides their partnerships with JCCC, the two school districts are also getting students career ready by partnering with businesses to provide students with real-world work experiences before they graduate.

“There’s one community college; we’re all feeding into it,” Fulton said. “We’re all part of the same team. So it’s going to be imperative that all of the six districts work together to help Johnson County grow economically and provide these opportunities for all of our students.”