Jessica Hembree enters race for SM South seat on board of education, setting up contested election

Jessica Hembree filed to run for the seat at the Johnson County Election Office on Thursday. Submitted photo.

Saying she was driven to apply her deep experience in public policy to the challenges facing the Shawnee Mission School District, Trailwood Elementary parent Jessica Hembree last week filed as a candidate for the SM South area seat on the board of education.

Hembree’s entry into the race sets up a contested election to replace outgoing member Deb Zila, who announced earlier this year she would not seek another term. Brian Brown, chair of the NEJC Chamber’s government affairs committee since 2013 and a member of the United Community Services of Johnson County’s board, filed for the seat in March.

Hembree spent the past decade working as a policy director at the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City. Organization policy prevented her from seeking public office while in that role. But having recently left to start her own small business and having completed a fellowing program in education advocacy, she said she was compelled to find an outlet to apply her policy experience.

“There are kind of a combination of things that have happened recently that made me feel a sense of obligation to find a way to serve,” she said. “I will say that I view running as a kind of public service whether I win or lose. Elections are a time for communities to engage in a conversation about what issues are important to them. Running provides a venue for some of that to happen.”

Hembree was born in Kansas City, Kan., and raised in Wichita. She attended Kansas State University as an undergraduate on a Harry S Truman Scholarship. She then went on to earn a master’s degree at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public Affairs.

She has lived in Overland Park for the past 11 years. She and her husband have three sons, ages 9, 6 and 2.

Hembree said her primary interests are in supporting teachers, ensuring positive student outcomes and embracing the growing diversity of the district.

“I have strong sense of pride that our district has embraced the diversity that is happening,” she said. “That’s something I love and value. I’m proud to have kids in a district that is embracing those changes.”

However, she believes the district needs to take a close look at how it is measuring student outcomes, and review whether it’s providing chances for students to develop as people outside of academic endeavors.

“Outcomes are not just about student achievement,” she said. “I want to look at it more holistically. Is the district thinking of all aspects of our kids? Are they ready to be good citizens when they enter the world? Will they have what they need to become happy adults?”

Hembree has been involved in civic affairs beyond her time working for the Health Care Foundation. She participated in the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce’s Centurions program and was named a NextGen leader by the Kansas City Business Journal.

She launched a campaign website this week.