All Means All

The Shawnee Mission School District is set to tighten up its policies next school year.

Sylvia Bryan and Sami Jansen

The SMSD is many things, but static is not one of them.

Next year, there will be no more labbies, no senior final exam exemptions, two new signature programs, an updated transfer policy and a new graduation requirement.

“The district has really pushed for all means all, meaning all learners, all stakeholders, all community members have a say and have opportunities to help Shawnee Mission grow,” principal Steve Loe said. “I think specifically for us as educators, though, all means all means every learner has the opportunity to get where they need to be.”

Most Shawnee Mission graduates will matriculate to a two or four year school immediately after high school, and the district’s curriculum is designed to help students transition into a college environment. However, the new public service signature program will provide another path for students who may not pursue higher education.

“Historically, SMSD has been college prep, and that’s good, we want to continue that. But we also have to think of not just college readiness, but career readiness and that’s one of the things you’ll see in the Program of Studies. They’re going to have a law and public safety career route,” Loe said.

Another signature program, global food systems, will also debut next year. For now, each program only offers two introductory or “pathway” courses.

“What we’re trying to do with the signature programs is the first two pathway courses will be in each individual building. We’ll have the introductory course and maybe a second course at each high school to gather enough interest. You might have 50 kids interested in the program and like 20 in the second [course], but maybe only 15 are really passionate and want to move on,” Loe said.

I think specifically for us as educators, though, all means all means every learner has the opportunity to get where they need to be.”

— Principal Steve Loe

Most existing signature programs, like biotechnology, will still only be offered at their host school. So far, Project Lead the Way is the only exception. Higher level engineering courses will only be available at SM South, but a few introductory classes will be offered at all five high schools starting next year.

Besides the new signature programs, the 2016-17 school year will come with two more controversial changes. Seniors will no longer be allowed to opt out of final exams and K credits will be eliminated.

“If you’re taking AP, you’re still exempt but there will no longer be a senior exemption,” Loe said.

This is part of a larger effort by the district to make final exams more impactful. This can also be seen in the initiative to standardize finals across the five high schools.

“We all know we can play that game. ‘Hey I’ve got a 95 in this class, all I need is a 36 on the final and I get my A.’ And that’s good time management, because if you need to spend more time on another class you can. But we want to move towards making them more meaningful,” Loe said.

As for the elimination of lab assistants, some students may be negatively affected.

“Now think about this, it’s the beginning of December. There might be someone who has like a 15 percent, because they’ve been absent a long time. There’s no chance of recovery from that. That person might be sitting in that class for two weeks, knowing there’s no chance. It’s something to think about,” Loe said.

Another change that could negatively impact current SM West students is the transfer policy update.

“You absolutely cannot have an F. That’s the big change,” Loe said.

The district will also cease to accept new out of district transfers starting in March. In district transfers now have to maintain at least a “C-” in every class on all quarterly grade reports, have no suspensions or expulsions on their record, no office referrals in the past two years and must demonstrate regular attendance.

Two more significant changes could be introduced in later years. First, there has been discussion about moving sixth graders from elementary school to middle school.

“What I’ve heard is if they’re going to do that, they’re going to have to build two new middle schools. But that’s all hearsay at this point, there’s nothing official from the district. There’s stuff floating around, nothing official,” Loe said.

According to Public School Review, whether sixth graders should be in elementary or middle school is a common debate in the education community.

“Socially 6th graders model 7th and 8th grade,” associate principal Connie Springfield said.

Shawnee Mission is currently the only district in the county with the K-6 elementary school format. Blue Valley and Olathe both have a K-5 system, with sixth graders attending middle school. According to the Prairie Village Post, superintendent Dr. Jim Hinson has created a task force to evaluate the middle school configuration. The district will hold five community forums, one at each middle school. The first forum was Feb. 23 and the last is scheduled for March 10. There is also a survey on the district website, which will be open to responses until March 31.

The other possible change has to do with the district’s International Baccalaureate (IB) program. The IB program is available at SM East, SM North and SM Northwest, but the district is considering the reduction or elimination of the program. In recent years, IB enrollment has decreased while Advanced Placement enrollment increased. With the district’s variety of signature programs as well as a litany of AP and CollegeNow courses, accelerated students have lots of options. But the idea of eliminating the IB program has caused some community backlash, and the district has not made a final decision.  

A comparatively minor but noticeable change was implemented at the beginning of second semester. Every seminar now starts with a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

“It’s a Kansas state statute; it needs to be recited on a regular basis, so we’re doing it every week,” Loe said.

The administration was notified of the statute during late first semester.

“It was brought to our attention late last semester, and then it took us four or five weeks to get it set up. We had to order flags and get them in each classroom,” Loe said.

While the state statute does not have a provision for students who refuse to say the Pledge, a 1943 Supreme Court case declared that public school students cannot be compelled to personally recite it.

Finally, graduation requirements are slightly different starting next year. The computer competency requirement has been abolished for the class of 2017 and beyond. Starting with the class of 2020, financial literacy will be mandatory, but current high school students are not bound by this requirement. Students will also be allowed to test out of the course if they choose. The course will follow Dave Ramsey’s financial planning philosophy.

While day to day life will not be significantly impacted, students can expect some major changes over the next few years.