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Finding Miss America

Every superintendent knows that balance is important. It would be pretty darned easy to let being a superintendent consume every part of your life and personality. As a result, most of us look toward other interests to provide that balance. Some choose sports, hobbies or travel. I choose pageants. That's right. Pageants. Like Miss America. But specifically, the Miss Kansas Pageant, the official state preliminary to the Miss America Pageant.

For over 25 years, I’ve been a volunteer with the Miss Kansas Pageant, with most of that time spent as producer of the state pageant. It keeps me connected to my love of music and performance. I get to create and direct the production, and it just happens to end the same every year – we crown a new Miss Kansas and send her to the Miss America Pageant. There’s also a nice connection to my “day job” as a superintendent, in that the Miss America Pageant continues to be the leading provider of scholarships to young women in the nation.

When Friday's general session speaker talked about “the end of average,” my mind immediately went to the selection process for Miss Kansas and ultimately, Miss America. It has all the principles of the Science of Individuality.

Jaggedness explains how one year Miss America is 5’ 9” and the next she is 5’ 2.” The pageant has come a long way on this. Originally, contestants were required to submit their measurements (including the circumference of their heads)! Thankfully, this is no longer a requirement because even one of the oldest institutions in America understands that characteristics are multiple and complex.

The selection of Miss America also takes context into account. Every contestant participates in an interview with judges. The judging panel changes for the final competition, not because celebrity judges aren’t available all week, but because it’s important to see the contestant from a variety of perspectives and in different settings. This also explains the additional aspects of competition – swimsuit, eveningwear, and talent. Different contexts.

The one principle that seems most remote from pageantry is pathways. But for those of us who’ve worked in the system for many years, it’s probably the easiest. You see, our contestants can compete at the state level from the time they are eligible, at 17, until they “age out” at 25. You have eight years to try to become Miss Kansas. Pace and sequence are different for every contestant, with some becoming Miss Kansas in their first year of competition and others not ever becoming Miss Kansas, but becoming better at each of the qualities we look for in our titleholders.

I jokingly refer to the pageant as “4-H with swimsuits,” but I’m not really joking. Just like education, it’s about self-development and growth. It’s about time we remembered that the measurement of personal growth can’t be averaged. No one is average. Not even Miss America.

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