Jim Hinson has faced plenty of audiences since July 1, his first day on the job as the Shawnee Mission School District's superintendent.
Many days, his meetings have looked like this one, an August 28 gathering of about 30 local elected officials and bureaucrats at the school district's administrative headquarters in Merriam.
At one point, he poses a question to the group: Had any of them seen a television news segment about how William Jewell College in Liberty opened a new library that has no books on its shelves, but instead a bunch of iPads that store literature electronically?
He gets no response.
Hinson begins to explain why the approach that William Jewell is taking with its new library is emblematic of how educators must consider their work differently from the traditional model. Technology plays a role, he points out.
"I'm not saying we're eliminating the library," Hinson says.
"Thank you!" says Nancy Hupp, a Merriam City Council member and vice chairwoman of the Johnson County Library Board.
This is how Hinson, former superintendent of the Independence School District, has spent his summer.
During what the Shawnee Mission Board of Education is calling a "listening tour," administrators, teachers, parents, businesspeople and politicians have been testing Hinson's firm handshake, and he in turn has been gauging what his constituents think about the school district. The 87-day period is ticking down to September 25, when he's due to give what amounts to a state-of-the-district address at the Shawnee Mission Education Foundation's annual meeting, at the Overland Park Convention Center.
Hinson likes a challenge. That, he says, is why he left his last job. After 12 years as superintendent of the Independence School District, he had run out of obstacles.
"It was like there wasn't anything new," Hinson says. "I don't mean that in a derogatory sense ... I'm not good at treading water or stagnation."
"In his mind, I don't know if he had another big challenge in Independence that he could step up and find," says Dale Herl, Hinson's successor as Independence superintendent.
Hinson started as a sixth-grade teacher in Carthage, Missouri. Six years later, he became an elementary school principal in that district, a job he held for six years. From there, he was a superintendent for the school district in Greenfield, Missouri, and then superintendent in Newton County, Missouri, before arriving in Independence in 2001.
He was working a three-year contract with Independence when a Shawnee Mission School District recruiter earmarked him as a good fit to replace Gene Johnson, who was due to retire at the end of the 2012–13 school year. Shawnee Mission's Board of Education had begun a national search, but its new top administrator turned out to be in the same metro.
Shawnee Mission agreed to pay him a base salary of $217,950, about the same as what he made in Independence. There, his salary for 2013–14 was supposed to be between $215,000 and $225,000, according to that contract.
"Dr. Hinson is very charismatic and dynamic," Shawnee Mission board president Deb Zila tells The Pitch.
Hinson, 51, had also maxed out his Missouri retirement benefits — but not his marketability.
"Honestly, he could retire from Missouri with full retirement and go to Kansas and have a full salary," Herl says. "Financially, it was very beneficial for him. To a greater extent, he's a man who loves challenges."
He has come to the right district.
Over the past three years, Shawnee Mission — besieged by a lousy economy that has led to state funding cuts and decreasing property valuations — has eliminated more than 400 staff positions.