© 2021 KMUW
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Government

Your guide to the 2021 Wichita school board elections

school_hallway.jpg
Indiana Public Media
/
Flickr, Creative Commons

Candidates for the USD 259 Board of Education discuss the impact of COVID-19 on education; finding and retaining teachers; learning loss, and mental health issues for students and staff.

District 1

Ben Blankley

Occupation: Aerospace engineer at Spirit AeroSystems

Website: facebook.com/USD259RepBlankley/

Why are you the best candidate for this job? What is your overall vision?

My public service over the past four years shows that I am well-prepared to help lead USD 259 in a smooth pandemic recovery phase. I spearheaded the LGBTQ+ inclusive nondiscrimination policy in late 2019, and led the efforts to help ensure pandemic precautions were enacted during the past 18 months. I disagreed without being disagreeable during extremely challenging times, and I have developed collaborative relationships with other local elected leaders over my service. I am focused on our board's strategic plan for improving student success. I also provide an essential perspective, being both a district parent and a 14-year full time union employee of the largest private employer in our region.

Do you think the COVID vaccine should be added to the list of vaccines required to attend public schools in Kansas? Why or why not?

I believe KDHE should review the list of required childhood vaccinations for public school attendance in Kansas, to potentially include both the influenza and COVID-19 vaccines, as well as the rotavirus and meningitis vaccines. The best place for Wichita kids is learning in in-person school, and the sustainable way to achieve that for all students, especially including the medically fragile, is to require vaccinations for endemic communicable diseases. Requiring vaccinations, even with limited exceptions for medical reasons, results in a much higher uptake rate among families and, subsequently, a healthier student and community population with fewer absences.

COVID-19 disrupted learning for thousands of students. How should the Wichita district assess the scope of the learning loss and get students caught up?

Our students already have regular formal assessments in addition to our newly implemented standards-based grading across the district. This should enable the identification of learning loss more rapidly throughout the year. The direct student intervention in those content areas should be met with additional staffing and tutoring, provided via state aid and federal CARES dollars. These interventions will be the most impactful with individualized staffing.

What should the Wichita school board do to recruit and retain qualified teachers?

I believe the Wichita school district does the best hiring and recruiting from within, just like our regional major employers do as well. Therefore, we must refocus on training, hiring, and promoting from our existing ranks: from student or parent volunteer to paraprofessional, para to teacher, teacher to district content specialist or principal. We need to lobby for a smoother pathway from the professional sector and military service into PreK-12 public education. We should encourage highly qualified staff to serve part-time as adjunct instructors in our local colleges and universities, further enriching our relationships with higher education.

What should be done at the district level to address mental health issues for students and staff?

Because of my family history, mental health has frequently been an important part of my objectives for my public service. I think one issue I see in my own experience is that we all assume that our mental health challenges aren't big enough to need help. Instead, we should build a culture in our school district where it is okay to be vulnerable, and it is encouraged to ask for help with the little things before they become big things. We should be proactive in our own mental health rather than being reactive. That all takes compassionate leadership, and the willingness for us as elected leaders to own up to being imperfect people trying to build a better system for all. Systematically, the district offering counseling and an EAP for students and staff is the first step. Connecting people to those resources before little issues become big issues is key.

Education officials have said critical race theory is not part of the state’s standards and is not taught in Kansas schools. Nevertheless, the concept has become an issue in many districts. What are your thoughts on how schools should teach about race and racism?

USD 259 is an urban, extremely diverse school district. We as local educational leaders do all our students an extreme disservice by pretending that challenges with racism don't exist today, and historical racism doesn't have impacts today. Our system of magnet schools in Wichita was created, in part, to help improve the racial and socioeconomic diversity within our schools. Wichita still has the Assigned Attendance Area, where select central Wichita neighborhoods can send their children to certain paired schools instead of the neighborhood schools. Our students need to know why the east side of Hillside looks so different, even now, than the west side of Hillside. The people originally impacted by redlining and the people who justified and enacted that redlining are still alive today. These neighborhoods continue to see disparate economic development, unexplained by other reasons. The reasons for these actions are grounded in local history, and that local history must be taught to all our students.

Diane Albert

Website: facebook.com/DianeAlbertBOE

Diane Albert did not respond to the KMUW questionnaire.

District 2

Brent Davis

Occupation:

Owns Complete Education, a tutoring and test-preparation business

Website: Brent4USD259.com

Why are you the best candidate for this job? What is your overall vision?

I have been operating an educational services business and private school for 21 years, getting students consistently higher test scores. I have had 15 National Merit Scholars in the past 4 years in my little niche business. USD 259 student test scores have been declining for at least the past 8 years and it is time to change the focus of the school district to get this turned around for the sake of students, families and our economy that is negatively affected by poor student performance through loss of productivity and wasted resources on remedial remedies: poor performance compounds generational poverty. All kids can learn!

Do you think the COVID vaccine should be added to the list of vaccines required to attend public schools in Kansas? Why or why not?

Should we add the shingles vaccine to the children's vaccine list? No! Shingles is not a childhood disease. 281 children died of Covid between June 2020 and June 2021; 612 died in car accidents, and this is the lowest in years. Complications from the Covid vaccine for children are not well understood and bear several more years of testing. Given the low mortality and excellent antibody protection from infection survival, it is too early to place this vaccine on the vaccine list.

COVID-19 disrupted learning for thousands of students. How should the Wichita district assess the scope of the learning loss and get students caught up?

Well, the students were horribly behind before Covid. There are schools where all the students are at grade level and above. We will use their techniques and keep using them until all students meet the standard and not graduate someone until he or she meets the standard.

What should the Wichita school board do to recruit and retain qualified teachers?

They need to offer money commensurate with what they could earn using their skills elsewhere and provide a system where they are respected, supported, equipped and feel that they are doing something to make the world a better place every day, being successful and getting better every day!

What should be done at the district level to address mental health issues for students and staff?

When everyone is being successful, they will feel better about life and their future. There may be more we need to do, and we will evaluate that along the way. I have found churches to have adequate resources for myself.

Education officials have said critical race theory is not part of the state’s standards and is not taught in Kansas schools. Nevertheless, the concept has become an issue in many districts. What are your thoughts on how schools should teach about race and racism?

Western civilization has been strongly affected by Christianity. The New Testament says that we are all one in Christ Jesus: there is neither slave nor free, male nor female, Barbarian or Sythian, Jew or Greek, but we are all one in Christ Jesus. Jesus came to destroy the differences that divide us and unite us. I think we are in a long process to accomplish this. Sin holds us back, but we can repent and learn to do better. Let's keep applying the golden rule: "Treat others the way you want to be treated." Deal with sin as it arises, and do right going forward.

Julie Hedrick

Occupation: Retired director of operations for Wichita Public Schools

Website: hedrickboe.online

Why are you the best candidate for this job? What is your overall vision?

I am the best candidate for the BOE in District 2. During my past four years of service on the Board of Education, I have proven myself to be thoughtful, disciplined and wholly interested in the well-being of the students and staff of Wichita Public Schools – including their safety. I have listened to the concerns of students, families and teachers. I have made my decisions based on what is best for kids. I do not have a political or personal agenda; I only wish to serve. Due to my 28 and a half years of employment in operations for USD 259 plus my four years of service on the BOE, I know the concerns, needs and workings of the organization well. With this knowledge, I continue to celebrate our achievements and am also committed to continued improvement.

My overall vision is to continue to do the challenging work of the district in providing the education needed for our children to be successful in life after graduation. We must keep our focus on academics – including increasing graduation rates, third-grade reading proficiency, and providing credits and certifications for students in high school.

Do you think the COVID vaccine should be added to the list of vaccines required to attend public schools in Kansas? Why or why not?

I think the discussion around mandatory COVID vaccinations for public schools in Kansas is premature at this time. I am currently anxiously awaiting a vaccination for young children so my 10-year-old granddaughter and her elementary school mates across the country have a vaccine available to them. I am also waiting for more vaccinations to be given across our nation and hoping that more will be made available throughout our world so that people can be safe and “return to normal” and herd immunity can be reached. I am hopeful about these things now. I will be ready for the discussion about public school vaccination lists at a later date.

COVID-19 disrupted learning for thousands of students. How should the Wichita district assess the scope of the learning loss and get students caught up?

As a district we should continue using our many testing and assessment tools to monitor student progress. And then provide the supplemental learning opportunities tailored to each child that are needed to catch up. Our great teachers work one-on-one with their students, they know each child, learn about each one, and then working to fulfill the academic and emotional needs of each student within their care. As the board of education, it is our job to provide teachers and support staff the resources and support needed in order for them to do their jobs. As a result of COVID, additional resources are needed beyond normal. As a district, I want to continue and improve in providing the support our students and teachers need to succeed.

What should the Wichita school board do to recruit and retain qualified teachers?

The task of dealing with the teacher shortage is multi-faced, including continuing to receive adequate funding from the state, raising the public appreciation for the profession of teaching, working with the state board of ed[ucation] to streamline processes for teacher certifications and partnering with colleges/universities to prepare young adults to teach. The Wichita Board of Education’s part in this important task is to be proactive, including providing the best salary package we can provide in order to attract the best teachers to Wichita. Additionally, tuition forgiveness programs and student teachers having jobs while obtaining their degrees are other effective ways to get and keep good people. To retain good teachers, they must be compensated competitively, and we must listen to what they need and must continue to do better meeting their needs. I am very excited about the current cooperative initiatives between UTW and administration. These are great steps in working jointly as a team for the kids of our district.

What should be done at the district level to address mental health issues for students and staff?

Mental health needs are critical for our students and staff and these needs have been elevated with the isolation and other emotional/physical concerns created by the COVID pandemic. The district has already put in place some additional tools to help meet these needs. We must continue to make those known. Plus, the administration and the board of education need to listen to the needs at all levels and be willing to respond to the needs in additional ways as we learn about them. We need to be caring and creative in assisting students and staff through this difficult time.

Education officials have said critical race theory is not part of the state’s standards and is not taught in Kansas schools. Nevertheless, the concept has become an issue in many districts. What are your thoughts on how schools should teach about race and racism?

Critical race theory is not taught in Wichita Public Schools and the current board of education nor the Wichita Public Schools administration support teaching critical race theory in Wichita Public Schools. We should, and do include, curriculum that affirms the facts and history of the reality of the diversity of ethnic groups in our nation, including actual history of the different races of people that have been a part of the American story. Many great individuals of varied races and sexes have impacted our nation in positive ways. The narratives honoring these great men and women need to continue to be told. Conversely, racism and the events surrounding acts of racism should also be acknowledged and not hidden, denied or buried. The facts of racism and the racial atrocities that have been committed in our nation are an unfortunate part of our national narrative but nonetheless should be acknowledged. Hopefully, we as a nation can learn from the mistakes of our past and learn to treat all peoples with respect and dignity. Learning from the past is part of the importance of studying history.

Candidate Justin Bjork is on the ballot but ended his campaign earlier this month.

District 5

Mia Turner

Occupation: Administrative assistant for the Wichita Police Department

Website: facebook.com/MiaTurnerUSD259

Why are you the best candidate for this job? What is your overall vision?

I'm the best candidate for this job because I share [Wichita Public Schools’] vision, mission and beliefs for our children. I want our students to have the highest quality education and life skills training available to them. I will tirelessly advocate for equitable attention for every student. I also believe that we cannot achieve the plan to have our children future-ready if we do not adequately and appropriately take care of our teachers, so the teachers and staff have my solid support.

Do you think the COVID vaccine should be added to the list of vaccines required to attend public schools in Kansas? Why or why not?

I would like to see the COVID vaccine added to the list of the vaccines needed to attend public schools in Kansas because it helps develop immunity against the virus that causes COVID.

COVID-19 disrupted learning for thousands of students. How should the Wichita district assess the scope of the learning loss and get students caught up?

We have to make sure that each child's needs are identified first. Our teachers must be sufficiently trained to recognize and assist with any loss. Finally, it will take cooperation from the district, the students, and their support systems to fill the loss gap. We don't have to look at this as an obstacle but as an opportunity.

What should the Wichita school board do to recruit and retain qualified teachers?

Like any other profession, teachers want to be adequately compensated for all of the work that is expected of them. I have not spoken to anyone who doesn't believe that our teachers deserve more pay. Where the school board can't pay what we would desire to, we look to offer other amenities and benefits. We have to improve our marketing, so teachers and others interested in becoming teachers know what training, certifications, and educational programs we have to offer towards career development.

What should be done at the district level to address mental health issues for students and staff?

First, we have to remove the stigma of the term, “mental illness.” We have to be willing to talk about and raise awareness about mental health issues. Teachers and staff should receive some general training that helps them identify, address, and provide helpful tools and resources.

Education officials have said critical race theory is not part of the state’s standards and is not taught in Kansas schools. Nevertheless, the concept has become an issue in many districts. What are your thoughts on how schools should teach about race and racism?

I believe that the concept of critical race theory has become an issue in many districts because it is being used as a divisive tool to scare people. CRT does not teach that one group is "bad" or "evil" and should be ashamed or hated. CRT does discuss how our country does have some long-standing laws, policies and systems that were created to marginalize certain groups to benefit other groups. CRT also teaches that to improve racial and social disparities, we must first acknowledge the issue. Those who have the power to change damaging laws, policies or systems should. Regarding how schools should teach about race and racism, we are currently aligned with the Kansas State Department of Education standards. There is no current curriculum that solely focuses on race or racism, and to create one would require significant effort and time. Race and racism are such broad and touchy subjects that I honestly don't believe a course about race relations could be created in a timely fashion at the K-12 level. I would like to see the mythical, romanticized versions of history replaced with more diversity and inclusion of the many great people of this country.

Kathy Bond

Occupation: Substitute teacher

Website: facebook.com/KathyBondForUSD259SchoolBoard

Kathy Bond did not respond to the KMUW questionnaire.

District 6

Ron Rosales

Occupation: Social studies teacher at Haysville High School

Website: facebook.com/Futurokids259-876873455784235

Why are you the best candidate for this job? What is your overall vision?

I believe I am the best candidate for the BOE position because of my experience as a current teacher, retired veteran and a first-term BOE member. I have taught 16 years in the public school system, 21 years in the Navy and, of course, this is my fourth year as the 6th district representative for USD 259. As the first Mexican-American elected to the BOE, I bring a different vision to [the] district that is all-inclusive and equitable for all of our students from K-12. I see our district as nurturing and graduating skilled young people that will lead our community in the future.

Do you think the COVID vaccine should be added to the list of vaccines required to attend public schools in Kansas? Why or why not?

As of now, I don't think the COVID vaccine should be mandated for all employees and students in our schools. Once data about the [effectiveness] of the vaccine is thoroughly researched, then we can make a better decision going forward.

COVID-19 disrupted learning for thousands of students. How should the Wichita district assess the scope of the learning loss and get students caught up?

We will have to assess the scope of learning loss through testing, individual grades, and teacher and parental input. We currently have intervention in 259 like tutoring, but I'm sure more will be needed as more students get back in the routine of school and not have to think about the virus again.

What should the Wichita school board do to recruit and retain qualified teachers?

The BOE in Wichita will have to call and visit universities and be available to meet with education departments to help mitigate this crisis. There are currently programs like Grow Your Own Teacher that helps mentor college students. Current employees should be retained through the best compensation, but also making sure that policies are in place to ensure their safety and value their ideas and input.

What should be done at the district level to address mental health issues for students and staff?

Mental health care is part of our compensation package for all of our staff. We also have at least 22 schools that have social workers from COMCARE that work with our students to make sure they are being listened to and cared for.

Education officials have said critical race theory is not part of the state’s standards and is not taught in Kansas schools. Nevertheless, the concept has become an issue in many districts. What are your thoughts on how schools should teach about race and racism?

As a current high school social studies teacher, I can say that CRT is not being taught in our schools and is not being promoted by the State BOE, or any other school government group. I also realize there may be individual teachers that see a "teaching moment" about race and equality and might be able to expand their curriculum to discuss and learn from lesser known stories from the past and how those stories affect us today.

Holly Terrill

Occupation: Director of member support services for Meritrust Credit Union

Website: kansansforholly.org

Why are you the best candidate for this job? What is your overall vision?

I'm a Wichita mom running for the Member District 6 position on the BOE as a candidate who supports an inclusive and healthy learning environment for students, faculty and staff at WPS. I’m a woman professional in the Wichita business community with 20 years of financial services experience. I am the Director of Member Support Services at Meritrust Credit Union, and just as I am an advocate for financial education and financial wellness in our community, I would be present as an advocate for the students and educators of our school district, while also holding our administration accountable.

Nothing is more important to me than making sure my child is safe, feels accepted and knows that he is loved. This love and acceptance I feel for him extends to all children, especially those who don’t have parents or guardians who love and accept them for who they are, regardless of what society says they should be. I am passionate about providing children with opportunities to feel safe and secure while learning, removing the barrier of fear can allow kids to thrive and to become what they choose to be.

Do you think the COVID vaccine should be added to the list of vaccines required to attend public schools in Kansas? Why or why not?

I absolutely believe the COVID-19 vaccine should be a required vaccination for students of all age groups recommended by the CDC as they’re approved by the FDA. It’s important to put our faith in science, and just as we were able to eradicate diseases in the past through required vaccinations, we will be able to keep students safe from potential long term effects of COVID-19 through vaccinations.

COVID-19 disrupted learning for thousands of students. How should the Wichita district assess the scope of the learning loss and get students caught up?

I am not a proponent of standardized testing, but as we have required students to take assessments year after year, we can review this past year’s results of state assessments and compare them to two and three years ago to locate knowledge gaps. In the short term, and maybe even in the long term, we need to increase the number of teacher’s aides available during classroom time to provide extra one-on-one support for students to allow them to make up for lost learning.

What should the Wichita school board do to recruit and retain qualified teachers?

We need to provide mentoring opportunities to incoming teachers to help ease the transition of students of education to educators, increasing their success and likelihood of retaining newer educators in their first few years. I would like to see more magnet programs in USD 259. I believe that our magnet school programs offer amazing opportunities for both educators and students to grow through a focus on creativity and critical thinking. I’ve heard from current and past educators that the USD 259 pay structure disincentivizes longevity, and while I don’t have a solution, I know that acknowledging the problem is the first step in fixing it.

What should be done at the district level to address mental health issues for students and staff?

Understanding that each person is unique and has unique support needs is paramount in providing accurate and accessible care. Providing more access to mental health professionals in the school district can help ensure students and staff are better supported in their mental wellness journeys. This includes providing options that will best engage the person using the service. For example, providing multiple options such as phone, text, in-person, and video chat are all options that can help increase the chances that a student or staff person will reach out for help when they need it.

Education officials have said critical race theory is not part of the state’s standards and is not taught in Kansas schools. Nevertheless, the concept has become an issue in many districts. What are your thoughts on how schools should teach about race and racism?

[Critical Race Theory] is not something that is, or will be, taught in K-12. It’s a scare tactic by the right to bring out the vote and make educators fearful to teach history as history. CRT is a graduate level college theories concept. That being said, it's not something we can ignore because some diversity, equity and inclusion efforts are being attacked in the name of critical race theory. It is important for educators to address the matters of race and racism because these are struggles that exist in our society today and in the pages of history.

Hazel Stabler

Occupation: Retired

Website: facebook.com/stablerforschools

Hazel Stabler did not respond to the KMUW questionnaire.