School board candidates on the issues: What will be your top priorities as a board member?

Jay Senter - July 14, 2017 10:15 am


We continue this morning with item five from our questionnaire for the Shawnee Mission Board of Education candidates:

5.) If you are elected to the school board, what will your top priorities be?

Note: We have asked the two candidates in the race for the SM East area seat, Mary Sinclair and James Lockard, to participate in the questionnaire ahead of the August 1 vote even though there isn’t a primary in that race so that they have the chance to share their views on these topics as well. We’ll be developing a new questionnaire on different issues ahead of the general election.

We did not receive responses from at-large incumbent Cindy Neighbor to any of our questionnaire items

At-large race

Fabian Shepard

Fabian_ShepMy first priority upon election to the SMSD Board of Education is to communicate the value of every district employee, by letting them know they have a board member who is receptive to their thoughts and concerns. I will begin with visits to classrooms at every school and meetings with faculty and staff as often as I am capable. I will also demonstrate my desire to meet their needs by not simply voting as part of the pack on every action item the board reviews.

The biggest challenge facing our district is the crisis of morale among employees. For that reason, I will seek to recruit a superintendent who is able to quickly identify the root causes of this lack of optimism and design a strategy for positive change. The confidence of staff and teachers is at an all-time low, so I do not believe our children enjoy the best learning environment that they should have at this time.

I believe the district will have tremendous success recruiting highly skilled teachers when current teachers feel empowered and secure in their workplace the tempestuous nature of the current climate precludes consistent quality recruiting, so I intend to change that when I am elected to the board.

Another top priority for me will be to place as many parental and teacher controls as possible on student electronic devices. This is something that should have been done before the program was instituted.

I look forward to serving as the new at-large board member.

Robert Roberge

Roberge_300My number one priority, is in the belief that our focus should be not on the students, or teachers, or administrators, or the board; or the legislature, or the courts, or the state constitution; it should be on families! By pulling the families of general, special, title, and English learners into the learning cocoon, we can accelerate a cohesive expectation of social equity, exceptional student outcomes, peering, and cohesive team effort. This leads to the next dimension where virtual education is a weighted priority. In the current budget, the board allocated $0 (zero dollars) for virtual education. The state board of education has all the resources to accelerate virtual learning, but they are nothing more than a burdensome bureaucracy if the district doesn’t take their prescriptions for virtual learning. Virtual learning abridges educators scope of influence, while leveraging classroom instruction with the tools we need to encourage collaboration, cooperation, and innovation.

The lack of clear vision with concise goals and concrete objectives is not unique to the school board. It is rooted in the vague directive in the state constitution that obligates the legislature to reasonably fund education where a lot of time and our tax dollars are spent on legal matters, and will continue to be spent, to argue in the courts. Common Core, while voluntary, solidifies our institutional integrity through links in the chain of command. However Common Core has severe gaps that are reflected in standardized test score measurements. They do not address special or English learners and leave it up to the teacher to figure out how to conform to the traditional curricula. IEP Individual Education Plans help solidify this base objective however they conflict with state policy regarding virtual education.

If elected to the school board, this is it. My priorities are simple, but complex. The complexity of the situation may have led to the current Type Four Problems the board faces. Type Four Problems exist where critical, and complex solutions cannot be forged through incremental change. Therefore, virtually nothing is done, and things simply stay the same unless a clear policy prescription in the form of a rational overarching district vision with clear goals and strong leadership emerges. If we continue to do as we have, we will continue to have what many believe are chronic problems. However, I don’t see these challenges and priorities as problems, I see opportunity for transformational educational growth!

Mandi Hunter

Mandi_300Hiring the right superintendent based on a number of factors, remedying the lack of transparency and providing channels of communication to parents, teachers and our community are my priorities for the school board. Throughout this week, my responses have mentioned each of these goals because they are all integral to our district moving forward.

The importance of choosing the next superintendent is critical. Our district needs a superintendent that will foster a collegial environment, one that supports the teaching profession through professional development and mentoring, and have a personality that makes him/her approachable, regardless of whether or when you agree with him/her. In addition, the next superintendent needs to bridge the gap between the school district and our local business leaders, chambers of commerce, and local governments. The choice of the search firm and the ensuing interview process of candidates is vitally important to heal the fissure in the district.

The policies and procedures of the school district need to be revised and/or implemented to ensure parents, teachers and community leaders understand how the Board of Education is reaching the decisions on those issues that are important to its constituents. When the Board is largely making its decisions concerning taxpayer dollars, and the constituents of the district have concerns, the Board must implement mechanisms to address those concerns. Openness of Board discussions regarding their decisions is imperative. And creation of a finance committee to review the allocation of the budgeted dollars will provide a check and balance to our district while allowing for additional community partnership in the process. As stewards of these tax dollars, there should be no shadow of doubt concerning the votes cast.

Communication channels should also be created for parents, teachers and the community. A roll out of advisory boards for certain large initiatives is one communication tool. As discussed in my response concerning the district’s recent technology initiative, an advisory board at the inception of the technology initiative could have circumvented some of the issues currently experienced by parents and teachers however, the opportunity still exists to make proactive changes as we move forward. In addition, my goal is to host town halls for constituents to discuss their questions and concerns. It’s imperative that the members of the Board of Education have a pulse on the community.

I look forward to promoting positive change and building solutions for our district.

Heather Ousley

Ousley_300My three primary goals for the Board are (1) transparency; (2) community engagement; and (3) evidence based policy.

I believe transparency and community engagement build trust, and as such, I’ve held multiple public meet and greets throughout the District to speak with concerned parents and educators about their hopes and vision for the Board moving forward. I plan to dissent to the placement of controversial or big ticket items on the consent agenda, so that public discussion and debate can occur prior to the Board’s approval. I think opening the discussion up so as to reveal the Board’s motivations and reasons for supporting certain policies will help ease some of the suspicion that patrons and educators may have at the moment, especially in light of the various positions the Board has taken over the last few years. From implementing the Innovative School model at Apache, and then expanding the program to Rising Star despite the 8 point drop in reading scores at Apache; banning safety pins; attempts to restrict the topics parents can raise at Board meetings; and scheduling a Boundary change meeting the Tuesday after a holiday weekend with the only notice of the meeting going out late on Friday; there have been plenty of topics that deserved additional public input.

Kansas Public schools have been unconstitutionally underfunded in our state for the last seven years, and now we face unprecedented privatization risks from the federal level. Transparency and engaging the community not only ensures that the policy the Board implements is respected and appreciated by the parents and educators in the District, it builds the bond between the community and their public school. This bond ensures parents are tuned in and willing to protect their children’s learning environment from privatization attempts, be they “education consultants” or temp agencies, cuts to special need funding through Medicaid caps or cuts, or those who would push for vouchers that drain resources away from public schools.

I whole-heartedly disagree with the philosophy that education is like a business, and in that regard, I will demand evidence to support the implementation of new methodologies, practices, or policy. Children are not widgets, and schools cannot be analyzed from a profit driven motive. Further, I do not want to experiment on the children of this District, and I would not have supported the expansion of the Innovative School Model to Rising Star knowing that the reading scores at Apache dropped by 8 points after it was implemented there, because the evidence we have available to us currently indicates further scrutiny is necessary.

We are obligated to make sure the children raised in this District are able to carry the District’s excellent education reputation with them wherever they go.

SM West area race

Christopher White

White_300There are several areas the Board of Education should review. These three take center stage:

1. Creating More Trust and Transparency in the Decision Making Process
How are decisions made? Who is making them? Where is the input and information to make the decisions coming from? Public and open discussion of critical issues is important to the community. I would like the board to do a better job of sharing how and why they have made their decisions. I would also like them share with the community what information they have used to guide them to their decision. It is healthy to openly discuss important issues and concerns of the community.

2. Providing Exceptional Education for all students in the District
What does this mean? Curriculum, class size, teacher qualifications, educational standards and teaching methods, are among some of the areas that should be addressed. We are charged with educating our children. How are we to provide the best 21st Century education? There are new methodologies, new technologies, and an assortment of issues including demographic changes, federal and state funding, security, etc. that need to be thought about. Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) are very important today but so are the Arts. The District’s curriculum must be relevant for the future and include a well-rounded field of knowledge.

3. Re-Establishing the District’s Financial Stability
What are our reserves, how are we allocating the District’s resources and funding? How are we going to approach future funding decisions? There are several financial issues to be addressed by the new Administration. These three for me are standouts:

a.) Funding: How will future Federal and State funding be allocated? What will be the guiding principles determining program funding? We are fortunately moving in a positive direction with State funding but may lose $1.2 million in Medicaid funding. It will be very important to discuss with the community how any funds are to be allocated.

b.) Administrative Costs: It has been reported; the District grew from 11 cabinet level administrators to 28 in 4 years. The classroom aides and paras have been drastically reduced. We have out-sourced many services including our substitute teachers and have eliminated curriculum specialists. We have cut many programs but we have increased the administration costs by 3 times. We need to monitor this issue very closely.

c.) Reserves: We are self-insured up to a catastrophic loss. Our reserves have been depleted due to funding cuts. We need to work toward a more financially stable district.

Craig Denny (incumbent)


If I am re-elected to the board of education, finding the “right” superintendent for our district with input from all our stakeholder groups will be my top priority. I will continue to communicate with teachers, parents, students, administrators, patrons, businesses and others who support our district. There is a perception by some, but I don’t think all, patrons that the board has broken trust with the community. I will work to change this perception and improve our relationship with the school communities.



Laura Guy

Laura_GuyThe first priority is to rebuild trust by increasing transparency. There are already some steps being made in this direction but making limited use of the consent agenda is one way to continue this. The Board should also encourage discussion and even dissent if members believe it is not in the best interests of students to make a particular decision. The public forum time during meetings can also be changed so that it doesn’t appear so adversarial. I have watched other district school board meetings online to see how they handle the public forum time, and some of them do allow board members to respond to the issues raised by the public. In any case, if a written response is sent after the meeting, it should also be made public so that people can know both sides of the conversation. Beyond issues of transparency, we all must increase teacher morale. Teachers need to know that they are crucial to the success of our district and that their experience and wisdom is valued. They need to be given opportunities to give input on the search for a new superintendent. They need to be given competitive salaries. They need to know that the board welcomes their suggestions and concerns and that there will not be any negative consequences for voicing those concerns. Since the search for the new superintendent will already be underway when the new board members are seated in January, I hope that they would still be given opportunities to see the resumes and to request an interview with an applicant who may have been previously set aside. Finding the right person to lead our district for the next 5-10 years is one of the most important tasks of the new Board. Lastly, I would slow down any future talk of boundary changes until we had completely considered the impact on all the schools and families in the affected attendance areas.

SM East area race

James Lockard

  • Lockard_300Always do what is best for the students of the Shawnee Mission School District.
  • Represent the East area to the best of my ability.
  • Reducing class size/work load has got to be a district priority. We must have manageable workloads for teachers to be able to do their jobs.
  • Being retired, I plan to visit all the East area schools and do a lot of listening.
  • We must re-evaluate and improve the “one-to-one” technology initiative.
  • We need a long-term plan for our ageing buildings and facilities.
  • We must continue the district’s emphasis on anti-discrimination and anti-bullying.
  • We need more support for our at-risk and English Language Learning students.
  • The Environmental Science teacher in me knows we need to spend more Capital Outlay funds on energy conservation because those savings come back as dollars that can be spent directly on instruction. Moreover, it is the right thing to do.
  • Finally, I will work to convince the school board to establish advisory boards or standing committees or task forces (call them what you want) that hold regular public meetings. They would be organized not by attendance areas, like the one I served on, but by issue. I think boards should be established for topics like boundaries, technology, curriculum, and facilities, just for starters. (And shortly thereafter an advisory board/committee to discuss IB, AP and Signature Programs). I see these boards as a place for people to express concerns and get answers about specific topics. For instance, if there had been a standing board or committee constantly looking at and discussing boundaries, the surprise and rush of this spring’s boundary changes could have been avoided.

Mary Sinclair

Mary_300My priorities for the district are interrelated and begin with the following three goals:

  • a renewed focus on student success for all,
  • open communication, and
  • strengthening professional learning environments.

Renewed focus on Student Success.
Creating opportunities for every student to make meaningful progress toward college and career readiness is a primary goal of public education. I will encourage an inclusive and evidence-based decision-making process to prioritize the use of increased K-12 funding from the 2017 state legislature. Districts will see a partial restoration of state aid, with an estimated increase of at least $10 million to Shawnee Mission toward the more than $25 million in budget cuts made since 2009. One change I would like to see become a more routine practice is to explicitly communicate how board discussion and votes relate to the district’s strategic plan. I believe this practice will serve to strengthen the alignment of district resources with policies and practices focused on student progress and achievement of state standards.

Open Communication and Transparency.
I will prioritize a review of board procedures and district practices directed at improving communication with parents, the Shawnee Mission community as well as within the district. One immediate change I will bring to the board meetings is my tendency to ask questions and an expectation for public discussion among board members. I will also encourage consideration of procedures that are more effective at demonstrating active listening, respect and responsiveness to concerns raised in open forum. I believe the establishment of a council on diversity, inclusion, and equity will contribute significantly toward this priority.

Rebuilding Professional Learning Environments for Teachers & Principals.
Effective teaching and learning is more likely to be found in districts whose leadership is trusted by teachers and principals. An important trait of a trustworthy superintendent is the use of a management approach based on mutual respect and shared leadership – grounded in a common vision, clear expectations and informed decision-making. I will encourage the selection of a new superintendent who fits this description of an inspiring instructional leader, in alignment with the expectations of community stakeholders.

A big thanks to all the candidates who participated!

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