Shawnee Mission school board races take shape — 2 members file for reelection, 1 steps aside

SM East area board member Mary Sinclair, left, and Board President Heather Ousley, center, have filed for reelection on the SMSD Board of Education. SM West area board member Laura Guy, right, says she plans to step down after one term. File photos.

Races for three seats on the Shawnee Mission Board of Education up for election in November are beginning to take shape.

Two incumbent board members — current Board President Heather Ousley and SM East area member Mary Sinclair — have filed for reelection.

Meanwhile, current SM West area member Laura Guy says she will step down after her first term, making way for first-time candidate April Boyd-Noronha, who has filed to run for the seat, according to the Johnson County election office website.

Ousley, Sinclair running again

Both Ousley and Sinclair offered statements to the Shawnee Mission Post about why they plan to seek reelection following their first terms.

Ousley and Sinclair, along with Guy, were first elected to the board in 2017.

SMSD and the board of education have been faced with several major challenges in the intervening four years, including the ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic, rancorous negotiations over a new teacher contract last year and the hiring of two superintendents.

Ousley and Sinclair offered these statements to the Shawnee Mission Post on why they are seeking second terms. So far, no challenger has filed to run in either of those races.

Heather Ousley 

As we move into the next phase of recovery from COVID-19 and the transition to a new Superintendent, I’m committed to meeting the goals outlined in our community’s strategic plan for the District, and that we focus on supporting our students, so they can thrive as we move forward.

Mary Sinclair 

I’m an alumna of Shawnee Mission East, parent of recent graduates, long time PTA legislative chair and public education advocate. I also have a PhD in Special Education with a professional background in educational research on student engagement and dropout prevention. I care deeply about the Shawnee Mission School District and bring valuable perspectives and experience to the school board.

I am seeking re-election, in part, to help the district emerge from the headwinds of the global pandemic. While the impact of the virus is not yet behind us, our educators are making important advances in the equity work of the district. The identification of core competencies that students need to succeed, both academically and interpersonally, has been accelerated and lessons learned from immersion in the alternative learning modes are being catalogued.

I am inspired to serve a second term on the school board to advance this pivotal work towards ensuring every student the opportunity to build their own foundation for success in life’s endeavors. Our strategic plan was shaped by hundreds of stakeholders just two years ago. With the district’s clarity of direction, dedicated educators and staff, continued restoration of state funding for public education, and an infusion of federal relief dollars, we are poised to emerge stronger and better able to create opportunities for every student to succeed. My re-election will provide experience, stability and continuity in leadership for the district. I hope to be part of this exciting future.

Guy to step aside

Meanwhile, Guy says she will not seek reelection.

April Boyd-Noronha. Image courtesy University of St. Mary website.

The first-term board member and pastor initially filed to seek reelection but then withdrew her name when April Boyd-Noronha, a cybersecurity consultant and adjunct faculty member at the University of St. Mary in Leavenworth, also filed to run.

Boyd-Noronha did not immediately respond to the Post’s request for comment.

No other candidate has so far filed for the SM West area seat Guy is vacating.

In a statement to the Post, Guy said she wanted to clear the way for Boyd-Noronha by stepping aside and endorsed her candidacy.

It has been one of the greatest honors of my life to serve on the Shawnee Mission School Board.  I am continually inspired by the dedicated teachers, staff and administrators in our district who work tirelessly on behalf of our students.  I have the greatest respect for my colleagues on the board and I know that they truly care about our students and want our district to constantly improve.  I believe very strongly that the best days of the Shawnee Mission School District are ahead, and I can’t wait to see how we will rise to whatever challenges the future holds.

But I have decided that I will not run for re-election and instead will support the candidacy of April Boyd-Noronha. I first became aware of Ms. Boyd-Noronha when she was the keynote speaker at the Johnson County NAACP Freedom Fund Banquet in 2019.  We have recently met together several times and talked about our goals and dreams for the district. She is a parent of Shawnee Mission students and she has done extensive work in promoting STEM careers, especially for women.  I believe that she is an excellent candidate for the Shawnee Mission School Board and I hope to see her seated in January.

Thank you to everyone who has supported me as I navigated this new and sometimes difficult position on the school board.  I look forward to finding other ways I can support our district and our students once my term is over.

A critical time for education

Whoever wins in November, the district and board of education are expected to continue to face the lingering impacts of the pandemic on schools and students and will do so while also under the guidance of a new superintendent, current Deputy Superintendent Michelle Hubbard, whom the current board approved the hiring of earlier this year.

During the pandemic, student achievement has suffered, with ‘F’ grades and chronic absenteeism spiking, according to district data.

The pandemic has also worn on staff, with an unprecedented number of educators quitting or retiring early in the fall.

And parents both for and against a fuller reopening of schools have frequently questioned the district’s in-person and remote learning plans as local case numbers have fluctuated over the past several months.

In light of that, Megan Peters, chairwoman of education advocacy group Education First Shawnee Mission, said board elections this year will be critical:

“We are glad to see so much interest in this year’s Board of Education elections. The pandemic has shown the enormous impact of local elections to families in our district. We must ensure the SMSD School Board seats are filled by individuals who understand our District’s unique challenges, including cultural competency, anti-racism issues, transparency, and special education. We know the upcoming years will include many obstacles regarding public school budgets, especially as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. We look forward to speaking with each candidate, learning more about their priorities, and engaging them in our endorsement process.”