Where Wichita's School Board Candidates Stand On Education Issues
Wichita's school board will have three seats up for election on Nov. 5.
But with Ernestine Krehbiel running unopposed for the District 3 seat, voters will instead focus on the candidates vying for the two other spots.
Board president and former Wichita educator Sheril Logan is the incumbent representing the at-large seat untied to a specific district. Joseph Shepard, Newman University's multicultural engagement director, is running against her.
Former Wichita City Council member Stan Reeser is running for reelection to represent District 4. His opponent is James Kilpatrick, a retired captain for Wichita's Airport Police and Fire.
KMUW asked the four candidates about their positions on several issues currently affecting Wichita Public Schools.
(Answers are edited for brevity and clarity.)
The current school board is considering whether or not to explicitly add protections for transgender students into the district's nondiscrimination policies. Where do you stand on this?
Sheril Logan (at-large): We have as a board asked the superintendent to bring us guidelines, staff development and then policies because we want to make sure that our teachers understand what it is they are to do. That's the guidelines. And then we need to train them. That's the how they do it so that we have consistency as a student moves from building to building. And then we adjust our policies. We are not to the policy level yet. We're still getting reports on the other two.
And we have discovered some things: One of the things that we discovered was that our student information system only printed out the legal name. It wouldn't give the preferred names. We'll have an adjustment made by next fall to print out a list for substitutes that if a student wants to be called Mary instead of Maggie they can have that on their list so they call them by the correct name.
Joseph Shepard (at-large): As an openly bisexual man I think it's extremely important to provide this level of support for our LGBTQ students. But another faction that I think is not really talked about enough is our LGBTQ employees and support staff, the individuals who are standing in front of our students every day.
And so I think this is a matter of protecting our students and providing a safe space for them, but also making sure we're protecting our employees and our support staff to make sure we're creating an environment where we support them while they're within the four walls of our schools. ... Also making sure that we're validating their experiences and ensuring that they are not at risk for being discriminated against or harassed without any consequences.
Stan Reeser (District 4): I think eventually we will add specifically gender expression and gender identity into the nondiscrimination policy.
If you look at our largest institutions in the Wichita areas, they have these areas covered in their nondiscrimination policy. So it makes sense that we would also do this. I think it would also send a very clear message about our anti-bullying effort.
And we can also move forward with more professional training on this whole issue. I think you can make it very clear that we won't allow discrimination in our policy but then we also must develop our policies and our guidelines so our teachers just aren't out there in the wind trying to say, "Well, then, how do I do this?" I think we're moving in that direction and hopefully a vote will come on that sooner than later.
James Kilpatrick (District 4): My policy is that community enjoys the same protections as everyone else. And I don't know what special protections they would give to sexual behavior because that's all it is, cause they just select a sexual behavior that they desire to fulfill.
The only thing that I can see that can be offered is some sort of First Amendment suppression of speech. Other than that what would else would you offer them cause they have the same protections as you do and I do?
In the past, Wichita had a strict zero-tolerance policy. Since then, the district has taken a less punitive approach to discipline. How should the district handle discipline issues?
Sheril Logan: We have restorative justice in all of our schools now. It doesn't mean that we do away with consequences because there are natural consequences. But what we want to do is teach kids, not just punish them. We want to have a staff member, a counselor, a social worker, a teacher or even a volunteer who has been trained to work with our students so that they understand what it is that they did.
Then we get the students together and have them have a discussion about how this made me feel and how this made you feel so that they can begin to develop some empathy and sympathy for one another. Those are huge factors which we need to help our students learn because if they're going to be successful in tomorrow's world they can't just do what makes them feel good. They have to look out for the other person too. And restorative justice helps us do that.
Joseph Shepard: I think we need to acknowledge that [Superintendent] Alicia Thompson has done an amazing job rolling out the restorative justice program, which includes trauma-informed practices.
A huge part of my campaign is called "healing-centered engagement." That's one of the five platforms that I'm running on. It acknowledges that that zero-tolerance policy has been reduced by the district, but it's helping our student get to the root of the trauma to help them heal.
We're not asking why a student is acting this way, why a student is not performing the way that they need to in regards to their character. It's getting to how do we help them heal so that way we don't see that students continuously be a part of this cycle where he or she or they are a repeat offender.
Stan Reeser: It should definitely be a combination of zero tolerance and restorative practices, meaning let's get to the root of problems with consequences.
There are going to be a few times where there will be absolutely no excuse for that type of behavior and there will be a severe zero-tolerance approach to that behavior. But at the same time we tend to want all behavioral problems in one group and we can't do that. It doesn't make any sense and it's counterproductive.
We are trying to establish more of restorative practices, which is basically just the practice of getting to the root of a problem and then having the offending party accept responsibility for their behavior. And then there is also consequences with it.
James Kilpatrick: To me, discipline in the classroom is the sole way you can control education. If you don't have discipline in the classroom you can't have education. The teachers can't teach.
So the policy is just very simple. You keep people grouped together of like abilities. Those that either refuse to learn or can't learn you move to a different area. And those that are discipline problems you just have to deal with them. Otherwise you teach the other kids to be discipline problems.
After years of court battles, the state Legislature has increased state education funding. How should that extra funding be spent?
Sheril Logan: We have a new strategic plan. The four goals of the strategic plan are increasing [the] graduation rate; making sure every child is proficient in reading by the end of third grade; looking at our career and tech ed as well as our graduation track to make sure that our students can graduate from high school and go out and get a job if that's what they want to do; and safety. And behavioral and social emotional fall under safety.
Our funding goes first to our teachers and our staff because they didn't get raises for a long time. And then it goes to things that will enhance those four goals in the strategic plan.
Joseph Shepard: It's important to note that our educators in Wichita are paid well when you compare it to other educators across the state. However, I think it's important to recognize with a very large school district of our size we should look at how we can continue to provide that pay increase for our teachers. That way we can continue to recruit quality teachers to our district, but more importantly retain the quality teachers that we have.
I think that additional funding needs to go toward our educators and go toward making sure we continue to provide an educational experience for our students. Eighty-seven percent of the budget right now goes toward the classroom and I think the district again has done a phenomenal job of making sure that is the case.
I want to look at how do we provide an opportunity for our teachers to feel that they are not only respected but they are being recognized and we're walking our walk as much as we're talking our talk as well. And I believe that that requires for us to look at how we can increase their pay.
Stan Reeser: First off, we had to take care of our teachers. Our teachers had gone almost a decade with very little pay increases. And then when you added onto the cost of health insurance and things like that some of them may have actually seen a decrease in their net pay. So that was a first step we had to take ... we had to find a way to help these professionals get caught up.
Once we do a better job on that I think we finally have turned the corned on teachers' pay because now we are going to be the highest paid school district in south-central Kansas. That will help us retain and attract teachers.
And then once that is done and once that corner has turned then it has to fit into our strategic plan. The funding and things that we do in the future are going to have fit into our top four goals of our strategic plan.
James Kilpatrick: So far the policy of the board has been to get the salary of the teachers up. Now that I can agree with.
The rest of the money that's coming in, which is going to be considerable, that is going to be interesting. There's a debate on their spending right now because they've taken school bond issues and said they were going to keep schools open and close[d] them and built new ones.
I would say if it goes with my policy we're going to see it move toward putting more industrial arts back into the schools.
What would you work to change in the district if elected?
Sheril Logan: I think we have to always be aware of change. The school districts reflect the culture around us and what our world is like around us. So if we try to teach like we did in the 1950s we're not going to prepare students.
Our strategic plan is very adaptive in the sense that we can move it in the way that we see as we get information. The superintendent is having listening sessions that will listen to the community to see if there are things they want adjusted in the strategic plan. So we are very much aware of our world and what we need to do to prepare our kids. And we're willing to make changes as we see that it's needed.
Joseph Shepard: First of all I have to say that I have nothing negative to say about the individual that I'm running against. I commend anyone who's willing to serve eight years on the school board. It's an unpaid position. It's the largest budget in our region. It's larger than the city, larger than the county.
Nevertheless, I think that there are some fresh perspectives that need to be brought to the table and when we're talking about the educational needs of our young people we need a young voice at the table. So I'm hoping to bring that engagement. I'm hoping to continuously knock doors, to go to the community, to meet them where they are, our children and our families to see what the needs are.
I really want to continue to connect our schools with our communities. It takes a village to raise a child. Needless to say a lot of the things that we want to do take money. But what happens when we don't have the money to do it? We have to be willing to connect with our community partners and I want to be able to expand those community partnerships.
And finally giving our students a voice in the decision making process is so important to me. I think it's our moral responsibility to show them that they have a voice in democracy right now.
Stan Reeser: One thing I really am interested in is if I'm reelected is I'm really interested in diving into this issue of ... poor working families. That number is increasing in Wichita dramatically because we've been kind of stuck in a low-wage economy now for two decades at least.
We have a lot of families out there that are working their tails off but they are struggling with paying rent and putting food on the table for their family and that is the number one roadblock to success now in our schools. I think a BOE member, if that was his or her priority to start really looking into that issue and see what we can do that would elevate that issue, would probably have a great impact on the working class and working poor families that we have in our city.
James Kilpatrick: I believe the school's primary purpose is education. Somehow they've gotten a lot of things involved into the schools that are not education oriented. So I would look to see if those are legal requirements or just something they've done to take on a responsibility.
The other thing is citizenship. We're having, whether you agree with it or not, many people come from other countries. This land did not make us prosperous or the envy of the world. It was our systems of government. So we need to teach these people, our own as well as anybody immigrating, what it is that makes them a good citizen of this country: the basic systems, why we have these systems, what works for us and why they can enjoy the same prosperity if they maintain the same systems.
If they're bringing the old system, which did not prosper and benefit them, here to America and implement them they can only bring down this system. So citizenship is a primary function to teach them what works, their role in the community and the purpose of the community so we can continue to prosper.
And that includes patriotism, because if you don't teach them why we have this, why it's valuable, why we should protect and their part in protecting it, then we have no value system to keep our culture prosperous in the civil manner that it is or was.
Stephan Bisaha reports on education and young adult life for KMUW and the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @SteveBisaha or email him at bisaha (at) kmuw (dot) org.