What do closed swimming pools and “market value assets” have to do with post-high school success at the Shawnee Mission School District near Kansas City, Kansas?
No, it’s not some scheme to turn a big profit by buying up abandoned real estate. Rather, it has everything to do with putting students on track for successful futures in college and the workforce, says Superintendent Michelle Hubbard, whose district covers 14 suburban cities.
The market value assets—also known as “MVAs”—that Hubbard wants students to leave high school with include nine hours of college credit, a professional certification, a 120-hour internship or completion of a client-based project. It’s that last asset that was earned by about 300 sophomores from Shawnee Mission South High School when they helped the city of Overland Park open its swimming pools last summer for the first time since COVID.
The problem was a lack of lifeguards. The students, as part of their English classes, investigated the labor shortage, which required them to get feedback from the Overland Park city council on the way to reopening the pools. “It was a project where kids learned, they did the research and were able to solve the problem,” says Hubbard, who was recently named Kansas Superintendent of the Year.
And here’s the achievement of which she says she’s proudest. In 2022-23, more than double the number of African American students, English learners, special education students, and students on free and reduced lunch not only graduated but also earned a market value asset. By 2030, the district expects to have every student graduate with a diploma and an MVA.
Also on the career front are its hospital-style emergency room, biotech, engineering and aerospace labs, and an urban farm, which sits right outside Hubbard’s office and provides food for its “first-class” bistro. “Our community is so supportive of education and supportive of bond issues to have state-of-the-art facilities for our students,” she explains.
During her time in Shawnee Mission, the district has opened 11 new elementary schools. “They’re not new because of enrollment but because we need better facilities,” she adds. “We’re landlocked so our enrollment is pretty flat … we will tear down a facility and rebuild it so our students have great collaboration spaces.”
She spends as much time as possible in those elementaries and her other schools getting to know students and staff. Every Thursday she visits a different school with members of her leadership team. “My goal, every time I’m in a building, is to meet someone new,” she points out. “It’s really important to be able to call them by name, and know something about them and know about the work they’re doing.”
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When she’s not visiting a school, she tries to maintain steady communication with her community. That includes a new podcast (she’s recorded seven episodes so far) and being transparent with all of her operations. “When I became superintendent, we were struggling with culture … people were burnt out, we had a large amount of turnover, especially in our teaching staff and support staff,” she notes. “It was really important to turn that culture around and I think we’ve done a great job.”
At the same time, the role of the superintendent has changed significantly since the pandemic and political turmoil of recent years. She worries that parents no longer trust educators or the education system as much as they once did. “It’s made it really hard to be a teacher, which makes it hard to be a superintendent,” she concludes. “I cannot be successful at this level unless teachers are happy and teaching kids.”