Elementary school consolidation tested retiring superintendent

Updated: Aug 24, 2021

Jayhawk USD 346 Superintendent Royce Powelson retired as an administrator in Kansas at the end of June. Debbie Rhynerson, long time school board clerk, also retired after 27 years of service to the district. "Debbie has been one of the most dedicated and hard working people in our district," Powelson said. (Submitted photo)

MOUND CITY – On Tuesday, June 29, the man who has helped guide the Jayhawk USD 346 through some tough times and good times walked out of the door of his office for the final time. After 15 years as superintendent at Jayhawk, Royce Powelson retired from his post.

Shawn Thomas, principal at Jayhawk Linn High School and Middle School was hired to be Powelson’s replacement and began his new post in early July.

Powelson came to Jayhawk after jobs that included teaching at Central Heights High School, assistant principal at Ottawa High School, and principal at West Franklin High School in Pomona.

“I was blessed with several great boards of education and good administrative teams,” he said.

While some smaller districts struggle to retain staff, Powelson said he was grateful that he was able to keep much of his staff.

He said that the toughest part of his tenure at Jayhawk was closing the elementary schools at Prescott and Blue Mound and merging those students into the newly named Jayhawk Elementary School in Mound City. Families were understandably angry at that decision, and the process was stressful for patrons and staff alike.

However, ultimately the transition went very well. “I don’t think it could have gone more smoothly.”

Better yet, the closures meant a savings of as much as $800,000 a year for the district. As a result, most of the staff was able to be retained.

The other low point for Powelson was the death of middle school math teacher Doug Hazelbaker in 2017. He said that despite one of them being a teacher and the other a superintendent, they had a strong bond and he would often stop by Hazelbaker’s classroom to talk.

“That was the lowest time by far,” he said. “He was a very good friend.”

So what has changed in education since he was first hired by Jayhawk? Powelson said that it seems like families are much more polarized on how they look at education.

Some families are strongly supportive of their schools while other families are extremely critical of what happens inside the schools, Powelson said.

He said he was fortunate because most of the families in the Jayhawk district have been supportive. “The families here are really good.”

Powelson isn’t done with education just yet. While he is retiring from being an administrator in Kansas, he has taken a job as the assistant superintendent of operations and finance with the Grandview, Mo., school district.

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