FSHS, FSMS principals chosen at USD 234

Friday, May 30, 2014

The USD 234 Board of Education approved hiring two principals during a special meeting held Wednesday afternoon.

During the approximately three-minute meeting, board members voted unanimously to hire Shawn Thomas of Burlington as the new Fort Scott High School principal, and Jim Howard of Scott City as the new Fort Scott Middle School principal.

Thomas will replace Bob Beckham, who was recently hired as the district's superintendent. Beckham replaces current Superintendent Diane Gross, effective July 1. Howard will replace FSMS principal Danny Brown. Brown will move into the role of FSMS activities director and social studies teacher for the upcoming school year.

Beckham headed a search committee which sought to fill the vacant FSHS principal position.

"We met with three people for the job, and it was a really tough decision to be honest with you," Beckham told The Tribune Wednesday afternoon. "We had some good candidates, but we're excited to have Shawn lead Fort Scott High School. The other candidates were strong, but the things about Mr. Thomas that stood out, I think he's going to lead a people-driven building, understanding that the needs of the people that he works with are of paramount importance. And ultimately, I think he sees how the relationships that he's going to build with his staff will impact kids in a positive way. So that's probably the most outstanding thing. Having some experience helps as well. He understands the role of the principal in terms of state regulations and requirements. Being people-centered and having some experience made him a real appealing candidate."

Beckham said he has already discussed transitioning into the new position with Thomas.

"We've been on the phone some already, and he's got a lot yet to do in Burlington. And to be honest, I have a lot yet to finish at the high school," Beckham said. "So we're going to partner up right around the Fourth of July, he and I, to begin the transition. He's eager to do that, and I'm eager to partner with him."

Bourbon County roots

Thomas, 43, who grew up in Mapleton and attended Jayhawk-Linn High School in Mound City, said he is excited to be able to return to his roots.

"What brought me back to Fort Scott was the fact that it's a great school system," Thomas said. "I know a lot of the people there and I'm excited to get to work with them and for them. That's something that I've always wanted to do. And so when the opportunity came open, I sure jumped at it. I was anxious to get back to Fort Scott."

Thomas graduated from Emporia State in 1993 with a Bachelor of Science in history, in addition to earning his teaching licensure. In 2010, Thomas earned his building leadership license from ESU. Thomas was an educator at Jayhawk-Linn High School from 1996-2011, spending his final three years at the school as assistant principal. He also coached track, cross-country and basketball. In 2011, Thomas took the position of assistant principal and activities director at Burlington High School. From 2012-14, Thomas has been the building principal at BHS.

"As an administrator, my first and foremost goal is to serve the teachers and students in Fort Scott," Thomas said. "I don't think that I'm going to step in and make broad sweeping changes on anything. Instead, my goal would be to work with the staff to find out where we want to go. Obviously, our ultimate goal is to prepare kids for college and careers. We want to make them 21st century earners -- somebody that can be in society that is going to be productive. And we've got to find out what our kids need, to be successful at that. And the staff is going to be the ones that are in the trenches. The teachers are going to be able to know what that need is. So, I'm going to serve them as best I can.

"I'm really excited to get back to that area, to work for a great school system. I'm excited to work for Bob Beckham. But I'm most excited to be able to find out what I can do to serve our teachers so that they can get kids where they need to be -- prepped for the next level."

Gross said she was part of the search committee that tapped Howard as the next FSMS principal.

"For the middle school principal position, there was a committee of people that interviewed five individuals," Gross said. "And all of them offered something to bring to the district. We, as a committee, came to a consensus about who we felt like was going to be the best person to come in and continue some of the practices that have been started here, and to be able to bring some new and innovative ideas as well, and be able to work with the group of teachers that are already on staff here. He has family on the east side of the state, and I think it was a good move for him to get back closer to his family. And he's heard nothing but good things about the Fort Scott school district. I think he will be a great addition to the administrative team here."

From Scott City to Fort Scott

The 33-year old Howard has a combined six-years of building-level and district- level experience. Howard earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Elementary Education from Bethany College in 2004. Additionally, Howard has two Master's degrees, a Master of Science in educational administration and a Master of Science in curriculum and instruction, both earned from ESU in 2008. Howard said he is currently working on an educational doctoral degree from Southwestern College.

Howard has spent time in educational and administrative capacities at Copeland (South Gray Junior High School, USD 476), Doniphan West (Highland, USD 111), and most recently as building principal at Scott City Middle School, where he has served in that role for the past two years.

"Fort Scott is considerably closer to home," Howard said. "My brother lives in Topeka, and my sister lives in St. Joe (Joseph), Missouri."

Although not the primary reason he left, Howard said financial issues within the Scott City school district factored into his departure.

"I did have an extension on my contract," Howard said. "There was no ill-will. I had every opportunity to stay, and they completely understand why I'm seeking a better opportunity."

Howard said he is excited about the position and eager to get started.

"My vision for the middle school is for us to be more intentional about how we offer specific things for each student," Howard said. "And really focus on the career aspect as well as college readiness. For students to understand that everyone is going to have their own path. And also, our focus is going to be on data and curriculum to kind of guide our instructors -- what are kids learning and what can we do to be more efficient as a staff and as a building?

"It's a great building, awesome facilities, good staff -- it's just a matter of being more intentional. Making sure we make sense of, when we look at what we're doing and why, to meet the needs of our kids. I'm big on focusing on making sure we can individualize instruction as much as possible. I've had a lot of experience doing that here. And I feel I can bring a lot to Fort Scott."