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New Shawnee Mission Superintendent: We Have To Keep Meeting Parents Where They Are

Michelle Hubbard will take over as the Shawnee Mission School District's superintendent on July 1.
Michelle Hubbard will take over as the Shawnee Mission School District's superintendent on July 1.

Michelle Hubbard says working parents need the flexibility of virtual meetings with their kids' teachers.

Michelle Hubbard is currently Shawnee Mission's Deputy Superintendent. She previously served as superintendent in the Turner School District in Kansas City, Kansas. She'll take over the top job from Michael Fulton, who is retiring.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

ELLE MOXLEY, REPORTER: Obviously this has been a really weird year. It's been a really tough year for educators in particular and for students and their families, and it's been a time of big changes. I don't think there've been any easy decisions for administrators to make. What makes you want the top job given all of that?

MICHELLE HUBBARD: Well, I am very passionate about kids. I personally have five kids of my own, so I'm a mom of five. I've always loved kids. And I was a teacher. I was also a coach. I always think about it from a parent perspective. I try to remember what it's like to be in the classroom. And I try to remember what it's like to be a building principal. And that's something I really pride myself on.

I've worked really hard to make sure I can remember what it feels like to sit in all of those seats so that when I do make a decision that impacts classroom teachers directly, I can say, ‘Well, I thought about it from this perspective.’ And even when I get it wrong, which sometimes we're all going to get it wrong sometimes, right? Especially, it's not like we can phone a friend during the pandemic or call our neighbors and say, how did you handle this? Because none of us had done it.

EM: This year has been deeply divisive, and I know that there are people who haven't agreed with every decision that's been made in Shawnee Mission. How do you go into next school year trying to unite the community?

MH: I wish I had an amazing answer for you on this, right? But I think the most important thing that we can do is remember why we're here. And at the end of the day, we are here for kids and their learning. And with that, I'm going to add we're here for people. I mean, for me, we are about learning and people, whether that be a kid, whether that be a teacher, whether that be parents, community members, bus drivers, all those people matter.

So as we come back together, I think we have to continue to focus on why we are here, and we are here to educate your kids. And I think that challenge is bigger than it's ever been because many kids will not have been in school for almost 18 months. I mean, if you think about the number of kids that have done remote that this entire year plus last spring, you're talking about a long time since kids will have set in a seat in a school building

EM: In terms of kind of what next year is going to look like, I don't think it's going to be a return to school the way it was. I think that a lot of these safety precautions are still going to be with us. What is one thing that you really want to keep doing that maybe wasn't something that you guys did pre-pandemic?

MH: I’ll be pretty 10,000 feet on this, but as a working mom, I think we've done a better job at meeting parents where they are. No longer have I had to come in for an IEP (special education) meeting. I can join via Zoom or WebEx and participate with the IEP team meeting. I don't lose 30 minutes of drive time there and 30 minutes drive time back. And you know, that's a full hour away from my work. And I think that's really powerful for parents to be able to still be able to connect and be in the room without being in the room

EM: This year was coming off what I think was already a really hard year in Shawnee Mission, All districts are dealing with groups that pop up on social media, maybe to impact change or to criticize the district. Sometimes the comments can get really negative, and I know that that's a difficult thing to lead through. How do you kind of go about gauging how the community's feeling and really do the right thing?

MH: To say this is not a challenge for me would be not being truthful. It really is a challenge for me. And it's because I love working with people. We have to focus on the great things that are happening. ... I hold on to those great emails that I get. I hold on to walking into a building where teachers are like, ‘Oh my gosh, we're so happy to see you. Thank you so much for coming to my classroom.’ Or those teachers that reach out to me and say, ‘Hey, Michelle, we're doing this great project. Come watch. We want you to come in.’

At the same time, I think it's important to know what people are saying. And so I do watch, I do read, I do listen. I think it's important for us as a district to do culture surveys and thought exchanges and continue for teachers to have a voice and really hear those things because we need to hear the good, the bad and the ugly, I think, to really know what's happening out there.

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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