An outspoken activist for public education has filed to run for the SM Northwest seat on the Shawnee Mission Board of Education in next year’s elections.
Devin Wilson, who has been heavily involved in K-12 matters through GameOn for Kansas School and both the state and Shawnee Mission Area Council PTAs the past several years, filled out candidacy paperwork at the Johnson County Election Office last week.
Wilson said he had considered running for the seat four years ago, but didn’t see himself as holding substantially different views on issues from incumbent Patty Mach, who has held the seat since 2007. But with word that Mach has decided against seeking reelection, Wilson said “it was time” to step forward.
Wilson has two children who are currently enrolled in the district, one at Trailridge Middle School and one at SM Northwest.
“I’ve been thinking about it for a long time, and I think that as a parent with kids in the district, I can see how things are playing out at the school level and bring that perspective to the board,” he said.
Wilson said he believed the current board had been “much more transparent” than in recent years and that he was not looking to bring any “seismic shift” in how the board conducts its business.
“We have seen the board be able to communicate with constituents much more effectively,” Wilson said. “I think that we need to continue to do that and to build bridges with people. At the same time there are people in the community who are fired up about a lot of different issues, and we need to make sure those voices are heard.”
Among the issues Wilson said he’s keen on addressing is district-issued technology and the amount of time students spend on devices for school work, both in and out of the building. In November, an organized group of parents beseeched the board and the administration to reevaluate the district’s 1:1 technology initiative to ensure it was meeting its goals.
“Parents are concerned about the sheer hours per day of school-required computer use,” Wilson said.
As the SMAC-PTA’s legislative liaison the past couple years, Wilson has kept a close eye on the debate over K-12 funding and a new formula. He said that while the legislature may have gotten close to meeting the constitutional requirements for adequacy and equity last session, there’s a “large gap between adequate and aspirational.” To meet the goals set out in the Kansas State Department of Education’s Kansans CAN vision will require much more than the minimum amount required by the courts.
“It takes money to get class sizes down to where the research says learning is most effective,” he said.
The SM Northwest seat is one of four positions up for election in 2019. The SM South seat, currently occupied by Deb Zila, the SM North seat, currently occupied by Sara Goodburn, and the at-large seat currently occupied by Brad Stratton, will be on the fall ballot as well.
Mach says decision not to seek reelection was difficult, but that it was ‘somebody else’s turn’
Mach, who has been elected to the seat three times, said the decision not to seek a fourth term was difficult, but that she felt it was the right move.
“Twelve years — or it’ll be 12 and a half — is a long time to serve in a public office,” she said. “It was really hard because I am such a strong believer in education. But we’ve got fabulous people out there, and it was somebody else’s turn.”
Mach stressed that she “wasn’t going away” and that she would likely continue to be involved in the district in volunteer roles. And she added that she continues to believe that the non-partisan nature of the board will be key to its success moving forward.
“It’s got to continue to be non-partisan,” Mach said. “Because it’s about the kids, and nothing else.”