After five years of leading the Shawnee Mission Public School District through major budget cuts that closed schools, increased class sizes and cut hundreds of jobs, Superintendent Gene Johnson is stepping down to retire.
He's not leaving the job without hope for the district's future.
It's Johnson's last week on the job. He's 65 and says it's time. But, as he looked back on his years as an educator, he also shares his concerns for the future of education.
When you ask Johnson to look back at his 44 years as an educator, his response is simple.
"The best part of the job is that I've liked it, no matter what I did," he said.
He's spent 26 years in the Shawnee Mission School District, the last five as superintendent. His retirement comes as the district writes up a new five-year strategic plan.
"It just made sense that we needed a new superintendent to put his autograph on the plan," Johnson said.
Under his leadership Johnson got heat from parents for closing schools, which increased class sizes and cost 400 jobs.
"If we hadn't done that, this district would be in shambles," he said of his decision.
He's been dealing with major state funding cutbacks sparked by the economic crisis. Other issues he's had to address are teachers in the district not receiving raises in four years and student enrollment, which determines how much money a school is given, shrinking.
"We can't add programs because we don't have the money to do it," Johnson said.
Dr. Jim Hinson, the current leader of the Independence School District, is taking over.
He'll inherit these same challenges because the Legislature didn't grant the district any additional funding this year. As Johnson looks forward, he's confident Hinson and the district will see success.
"He's going to do a great job here," Johnson said.
The Johnson Fund is also being set up in his honor. It'll provide all-day kindergarten scholarships in the Shawnee Mission School District.
Johnson said the scholarship is important to early childhood development. The state of Kansas only budgets for children to attend a half day of kindergarten. If parents choose to send their children to a full day of class, they have to pay for it and Johnson said that costs a family about $250 per month.
"There are some people who are working really really hard and it's a day-by-day operation and anything we can do to help them, it also gets them connected to the school and we want those kids to stay here," he said.
Johnson said in his retirement people won't catch him on the golf course. He will stay involved with board positions he holds with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the United Way.
Tuesday, September 2 2014 11:12 PM EDT2014-09-03 03:12:05 GMT
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