Interim superintendent Dr. Ron Wimmer made a presentation to the Board of Education on Monday, Nov. 2, that included two proposals for the district: implementing advanced academic and technical education programs for high school students and rebranding the district to reflect unity.
The first portion of Wimmer’s presentation explained a proposed program called Special Programs And Contemporary Education. Wimmer proposed SPACE as a program modeled after other districts’, like the 21st Century Programs in the Olathe school district he helped implement as Olathe school district superintendent. In SPACE, high school students would apply for academic or technical programs — potentially offered at only one school in the district — with the chance of going to school outside of their boundaries to partake in certain programs.
“What I will be suggesting … is to take a look at utilizing programs to address some issues about boundaries and enrollments at our high school level by developing some programs that will incentivize parents and students to go outside of their home attendance area to attend high school,” Wimmer said to the Board.
Wimmer said SPACE would allow high school students to study and gain experience in areas related to their eventual careers.
“We are no longer at a state where kids enroll in traditional subjects,” Wimmer said to the Board. These high school kids are ready to make decisions about their career for life and what we have to do is give them the opportunity to have some of those experiences while they’re in high school.”
Costs to implement SPACE have the potential to be low, Wimmer said, if the district works with its current resources.
“If we can integrate it into our current staffing and we just develop the programming and [develop] the curriculum utilizing our existing staffing, there would be minimal additional cost involved in it,” Wimmer said. “What I’m trying to do is develop a new program utilizing existing staff and to minimize the impact on the budget for new programs.”
After discussing SPACE, Wimmer talked to the Board about rebranding the district — changing its name, logo and vision — to reflect unity. He said calling it the De Soto school district does not accurately reflect its members, with 80 percent of district students attending school in Shawnee and 1 percent in Lenexa.
“The rebranding is sort of an outsider’s perspective coming in,” Wimmer said. “What I noticed coming in here, again this time, was the fact that we need to unify the district.”
There may be some backlash to rebranding, Wimmer said, but residents have been receptive of the idea so far.
“I’ve already collected input from people throughout the community … and I’ve had a very positive response,” Wimmer said. “There will be others that maybe are more traditional in their thinking and that just are generally opposed to change.”
Wimmer said the two proposals will likely move through the input and implementation processes together, “for efficiency purposes.”
Board member Kevin Makalous said he supports both proposals.
“My general thoughts on both ideas [were] incredibly positive,” Makalous said. “They’re both vision focused, and I’m highly in support of us having vision for the future.”
However, Makalous also said the district should not leave other technology programs behind that focus on all students.
“I know that the Board moved forward with the technology initiative in the spring … and that was fully admitted at the time to be the starting point,” Makalous said. “Let’s not forget about the fact that we may have not fully finished some of the dreams and visions and plans we have already established, which was to implement a comprehensive technology platform for our students in this district.”
According to Wimmer, it will take multiple years to implement these proposals. Now that they have been proposed, the district will begin to gather input on SPACE and rebranding from students, staff and residents. Wimmer invited everyone at Monday’s Board meeting to be a part of the process.
Although he introduced the plan, Wimmer, who will leave the district this year when the Board hires a new superintendent, said he thinks it can be seen through without his leadership.
“I’m hoping that things will be set in such a way that they are lasting because of the district and not because of me,” Wimmer said. “I’m doing this [to try] to provide leadership for the district to do this into the future. It isn’t for me.”
When speaking to the Board, Wimmer emphasized how much SPACE and rebranding would improve the district.
“I think [the proposals] will put us on the map as a school district and make us competitive with other school districts in Johnson County,” Wimmer said to the Board. “We have an excellent school district. But, we’re not the best, and we can be the best.”