Kiblinger settling into top spot in Hutchinson school district




HUTCHINSON — It was a sunny, breezy early Friday afternoon and Shelly Kiblinger was spending it mentoring a future administrator from Tonganoxie Middle School.

She also was making plans to attend the Garden City-Hutchinson high school football game that same evening at nearby Gowans Stadium.

It wasn't just any game for Kiblinger, who has been the superintendent for Hutchinson USD 308 since July 2011.

For 12 years, Kiblinger had been part of the administrative team for Garden City USD 457, with her final duties from 2008 to 2011 being as assistant superintendent for personnel.

Now, Kiblinger sits in the top position for a school district in central Kansas that is about two-thirds the size of Garden City, and has both similarities and dissimilarities. It's a job she has met head-on and is enjoying.

"It's definitely been a good experience," Kiblinger said Oct. 19 in an interview with The Telegram. "It certainly is different being in the head chair. Just knowing that whether or not things get done, it really is entirely up to the person who is in that head role. It's a lot of responsibility, but it's certainly one I'm enjoying. I'm incredibly thankful for all the wonderful experiences I had in Garden City that prepared me to take this step."

Kiblinger, a graduate of Neodesha High School in southeast Kansas, said it was only through what she called a "moment of fate" that she found her way to western Kansas in 1999 when an opening was advertised for an associate principal's position within USD 457.

"They (USD 457) sent the application material in the mail, and I opened it up, and I looked at it," Kiblinger said. "I looked at how wonderful their salary schedule was and all the benefits that they had. I looked at the diversity of the community, and I thought 'There is no way that I'm qualified for this job,' and I threw the application in the trash."

That certainly wasn't the end of this bit of irony in her journey to Garden City that eventually now has her in Hutchinson.

"The next morning, I was sweeping the floor and I put the dirt in the trash can, and I saw the application there," Kiblinger said. "There was like this little voice in my head that said, 'You know what, you need to go for it. You need to apply. Get it out and apply.' I literally took the application out of the trash can, dusted it off, and filled it out and applied. Honest to God, the application that's in the personnel file in Garden City today was pulled out of the trash can because I didn't think I was in any way qualified to have a job there. For whatever bizarre reason, they hired me. It completely changed my career path."

Once she arrived in Garden City for the start of the 1999-00 school year, she discovered from then superintendent Milt Pippinger that he encouraged his administrators to secure their Ph.D. And thus another part of her educational journey began.

"He (Pippinger) told me to go talk to Steve Karlin (now deputy superintendent of USD 457)," Kiblinger said. "Steve was working on his doctorate at Kansas State. The school district allowed me to flex my time. I worked weekends to make up my time when I had to travel to K-State for classes. I worked in July, too. Jim Lentz was the HR guy then. I love both of them for what they did for me. Getting that job was — I was just blessed to get that job. I would not be here today if not for them."

Kiblinger said there really is no such thing as a typical day. But she does make sure to meet with her administrative team on a regular basis and places a high priority on visits, both scheduled and unannounced, to every school in USD 308 once every two weeks.

She is the host to a once-a-month radio show on local station KWBW in which she can tackle a wide range of topics related to education in general and to the district in particular. The one-hour show airs on Tuesday morning and also includes call-in questions from the public. Her educational background in public relations, drama and speech serves her well for the show.

"It's just something I enjoy, and I think it goes a long way to help inform and educate the public on what we are doing," Kiblinger said of the talk show.

Just more than a year into her new job and Kiblinger says she hopes she has helped move forward in building a rapport with staff, teachers and the community.

"I would hope that I laid the groundwork for the instructional vision for the district," Kiblinger said. "It's the idea that we're going to be in some things for the long haul. When I picked this district out, I really liked what they were doing with their instructional framework. We're going to do this until we perfect it."

On the future of educational funding from the state of Kansas, Kiblinger was frank in her assessment of where she sees the current state budget taking school districts.

"Definitely, I have huge concerns," Kiblinger said of potential state cuts across the board, many of which experts say will adversely affect education. "I'm really afraid if there aren't some changes made to the tax codes to undue some of the tax breaks that were given in the last legislative session, I think we're headed for a huge shortfall in the general fund of the state."

And she doesn't see it getting any better anytime in the near future.

"What I'm afraid of is that it's going to have to get that bad that people feel the pain before they realize, 'Wait a minute, this isn't the education we wanted for our children in Kansas,'" Kiblinger said. "We've cut really everything that I can think of to cut that's not in the classroom for as long as we could, but it was starting to take its toll. Eventually, it's going to hit the classroom and it's going to hit hard, and it's going to be ugly."

Away from the pressures of her professional career, Kiblinger says being in Hutchinson has allowed her and her husband, Bob, to be several hours closer to family in southeast Kansas. He nows teaches math at Pretty Prairie High School, but being closer to Neodesha has allowed them to travel back home and for their families to make more frequent trips to Hutchinson for visits.

"What used to be a six-hour drive, now we have about two and a half," Kiblinger said. "There's a lot of quality of life issues that we enjoy. We loved Garden City, but this really feels like a great place to be, and I'm so happy for the opportunity. As I said, I wouldn't be here today if it weren't for the opportunities that I had in Garden City. I will always have cherished memories of my time there."

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