By CRISTINA JANNEY
The Hays West Central Kansas Special Education Cooperative has hired Chris Hipp as its new special education director.
Hipp will start the new position as of July 1. He replaces Raj Sharma whose contract for the upcoming school year was not renewed on the recommendation of the four superintendents in the co-op. This includes Hays, Ellis, Victoria and La Crosse.
Hipp, 44, lives in Hays and has been working as a corporate trainer for Aflac, but he has an extensive background in special education and school administration.
“I decided it was time to get back into school administration,” he said. “That is where my heart is.”
He is the former director of the North Central Kansas Special Education Co-op, which is based out of Phillipsburg. That co-op covered 13 school districts. Some of those districts included Norton, Plainville, Natoma and Smith Center. He worked as director for five years and assistant director for three years.
Hipp is a native of Claflin and received both his bachelor’s degree in psychology and master’s degrees in EDS in school psychology at Fort Hays State University. He also has endorsements for building level administration and district leadership in special education.
Hipp’s first job out of college was working as a school psychologist for the Hays special education co-op. He spent a year in Winfield and worked in Smith Center for 14 years. There, he was a school psychologist and then worked as an assistant principal and athletics/activities director for the junior/senior high school.
The Hipps moved back to Hays from the Smith Center to be closer to family, but Hipp said he always wanted to get back into education.
Hipp said the co-op has an outstanding staff.
“My ultimate goal is to first, come in and get to know the system and get reacquainted with the Hays system. … get in and figure out all the things that are going really well and find out what the staff needs to do an even better job with kids with disabilities and to help them and their families,” he said.
The Hays school board, with the support of the co-op districts, voted to increase pay $2 per hour for all paras starting the next school year in an attempt to decrease turnover. Paras in the co-op work part-time and do not receive benefits. The co-op has discussed increasing hours and reinstating benefits, but the cost, which would be $600,000, is too high at this time, school officials said.
See related story: Hays school board votes to increase paraprofessional pay
“One of the pain points from what I can gather is definitely turnover at the paraeducator spot,” he said. “That is such a vital piece in education and special education specifically. Anything we can do to help provide those folks what they deserve to try to create as much tenure as possible — I think that raise is a great start.”
He said as the co-op moves forward, he would look at benefits and the compensation package as a whole as well as training and development for paras.
“Finances are always a challenge — trying to find the right mix and being able to meet students’ needs as efficiently as possible with the resources that are provided,” he said. “That challenge will never change. Beyond that it is keeping the great teachers and paras we have and continuing to find new as people retire and move on. That is always the No.1 key. If you can get and keep great teachers and paras, you are going to have a lot of success. Kids are going to do well and families are going to be successful and happy.”
Hays Superintendent John Thissen said, “I feel fortunate to have someone with experience. He worked for the co-op north of us. I am very pleased he has that experience and is able to come help us out at this point.”
Chris and his wife, Jody, have two daughters — a third grader and sixth grader who attend Holy Family Elementary School.