by Mary Rupert
Candidates for the Kansas City, Kan., Public Schools Board of Education this year are highly qualified, either through their previous experience on the board or in the education field, or through their community involvement.
Candidates described their qualifications at a series of public forums, including one on Thursday night at John F. Kennedy Recreation Center, one last week at Kansas City Kansas Community College, and before the primary, at the Armourdale Community Center. The forum Thursday night was sponsored by the Historic Northeast Midtown Association and the one last week was sponsored by Business West and other neighborhood business revitalization groups.
Running for the Kansas City, Kan., school board are George Breidenthal, Irene Caudillo, Korri Hall-Thompson, Janey M. Humphries, Brenda C. Jones, Gloria A. Willis, Valdenia C. Winn, and Maria Cecilia Ysaac. A primary election for this contest was not required. Four of the eight candidates will win positions on the board.
The candidates addressed several issues in the recent forums.
At the KCKCC forum March 18, the candidates criticized the governor’s block grant funding bill, which became law on Wednesday. (See block grant forum story at http://wyandottedaily.com/kck-school-board-candidates-lambaste-block-grant-bill/)
At the Historic Northeast Midtown Association forum on Thursday, March 26, a sparsely attended event, candidates discussed the board’s duty to oversee the superintendent. Some individual members of the Northeast Midtown Neighborhood Association also were interested in truancy and how to keep kids in school.
Views on board-superintendent roles
“It is my belief that we hold the superintendent accountable for the things we want done and at the end of the school year evaluate the superintendent to see how much she has gotten accomplished,” said Gloria Willis, a long-time member of the school board, in answer to a question about the role of the board and superintendent. Willis said before the board decides what goals to achieve, there are many discussions with the superintendent.
George Breidenthal, also a long-time member of the school board, said the board evaluates the superintendent once a year, when they ask her about her goals and she presents information about the goals, what they have achieved and what she wants the schools to achieve.
Korri Hall-Thompson said she would look at how the superintendent establishes morale, as the superintendent sets the tone. She would also look at retention rates and student promotions.
The board’s role is not “getting into the weeds” at all, said Irene Caudillo, but is policy making. Accountability lies in the benchmarks that the district will achieve, she said. The board needs to give the superintendent the tools to be successful, and then it’s up to the superintendent to hire the right people to implement it. She said transparency, the expectation of being fiscally sound and fiscally responsible, student achievement, and graduation rates are the expectations of administrative accountability.
Janey Humphries said when the board sets goals and evaluates the superintendent, the board members need to be at the board meetings, and they also need to do more, going to the schools and finding out why certain goals were not accomplished.
Valdenia Winn, also a school board candidate, said she would not want to wait a year to look at the goals, but periodically and regularly look at the goals from all parties, administrators, teachers and students.
On the issue of what would be done if the district loses money, and if the goal required money to achieve, Breidenthal said the board has been working for months now on the budget. If the superintendent says the district needs certain equipment as a priority, the board and district try to figure out a way to do that, he said.
“We may not get everything we want,” Breidenthal said. The superintendent may ask principals to go back to their schools and see what they can do. “If we had all the money that fell out of the sky, that would be great,” he said. “But just because we have less resources does not mean our students don’t deserve as good as any other students in the state of Kansas,” Breidenthal said.
Winn said if a goal requires a large expenditure, she said she hopes collectively the board and superintendent would have a pilot program first, on a small scale, to see the outcome before it is implemented district-wide.
Willis said the district took a look at its older school buildings years ago, and made a plan to replace them. “We have been able to build a number of buildings in this school district,” she said. Funding comes from a separate capital outlay budget to build schools, that cannot be used for operations.
If there is no money available for a goal, it shouldn’t even be on the table, Hall-Thompson said. This should already be researched before coming to the board.
At the KCKCC forum on March 18, the candidate gave their priorities if elected:
Ysaac said her goals would be to be an ambassador for the district to local businesses and residents; and to be a conduit and advocate for the children. She said many business owners would be happy to contribute in some way to the district.
Winn said her priorities are creating scholars by closing the achievement gap, and helping make policy to expand college and career technical programs.
Jones said her goal would be to continue the Diploma Plus program, where students have college credits or postsecondary technical education when they graduate. She continues to go to activities so students can see someone cares about them.
Willis said Diploma Plus provides one year of college if they complete the program; an industry-recognized credential for young people who don’t want to go to college; or at least a 21 score on the ACT test.
Caudillo said she agrees that closing the achievement gap is very important. She would like the board to improve parent involvement in their students’ education, and to move library resources to the forefront.
Humphries said her priorities would be the Diploma Plus program. She is a supporter of it. Parent involvement also is important, she said. “Our students need to take ownership of their learning,” she said. They have to learn the material and retain it.
Breidenthal said all students are now going on to college education or technical training through the Diploma Plus program, which is one of his priorities. Also important is the library system, he said.
More information about the candidates
Maria Cecilia Ysaac is making her first run for public office. She is an interpreter who is a business owner. A lifelong resident of Wyandotte County, she has two students in the public schools. She has previously worked on political campaigns. She is a past member of the state Task Force on Racial Profiling. and also is a past appointee to the Kansas Hispanic and Latino American Affairs Commission.
She said she would like to serve the community and represent a demographic that has not had representation for a long time. The district has a responsibility to all of the students, even to graduates after they leave the schools, to assist them in their career path and career planning, she said.
Valdenia Winn, also a school board candidate, is the state representative from the 34th District. She is a professor at Kansas City Kansas Community College and has more than 40 years’ experience in education. Winn is a graduate of Washington High School, Kansas City Kansas Community College and the University of Kansas. She said she could bring a variety of experiences, skills and knowledge to the Kansas City, Kan., school board.
“As a college professor, I know what it takes to be college- and career-ready,” Winn said. One of her goals is to continue the policies that help students prepare themselves for their future careers. She said she has been on the front lines to protect education funding in the Legislature. She also supports closing the achievement gap and increasing graduation rates.
Winn said she plans to continue serving in the Legislature if elected. She said there are several representatives in the Legislature who also serve on school boards, and is not considered to be a conflict of interest. It would strengthen the board and district, she said, if she were elected.
Brenda Jones, an incumbent board member, is a community volunteer. She serves on the executive board of the NAACP, has been a Girl Scout volunteer including a past member of the board of directors, has volunteered with her church where she is the church clerk, is on the board of directors of United Way of Wyandotte County, and is on the board of Workforce Investment board. She is an ATT retiree after 36 years of service.
She is a graduate of Northeast Junior High and Sumner High schools, and attended Kansas State University. She said she loves to serve the community and the 22,000 children of the school district.
Jones is focusing on aligning curriculum and expectations with national and state standards; broadening the curriculum focus beyond reading and math, including an emphasis on writing; continuing professional development for teachers; continuing the Diploma Plus program for preparing students for college and careers; and strengthening community and parent involvement.
Gloria Willis, a member of the school board for 20 years, said she wants to continue to serve the people who are part of the school district. Willis is a retired teacher and administrator with the district for more than 41 years. She has a teaching degree from Huston-Tillotson College and her master’s degree and administrative certification is from Kansas State University.
The district continues to work with the children who need more work to be successful, and it will still provide for them, Willis said. “Our finances are not what we want them to be, we still want to continue to do what is right for our children,” Willis said. “We will continue to help those people who need help in our district.” She said the district will continue its Diploma Plus program.
Irene Caudillo, a school board candidate, is the president and CEO of El Centro. She said her parents emphasized and valued education. Her parents’ nine children received nine high school diplomas, seven undergraduate degrees and five graduate degrees, she said. Caudillo, a parent of three in the school district, has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri and her master’s degree in public administration from the University of Missouri at Kansas City. She has worked with several nonprofit agencies in the Kansas City area. She has volunteered with two PTAs in the Kansas City, Kan., district. She also serves on the KCK Public Library Foundation.
She is emphasizing collaboration and accountability. “I want to be part of a district that has every child achieve their own personal goal,” Caudillo said.
“We have to close those student achievement gaps,” she said. Her goals also include increasing parental involvement; increased graduation rates; administrative accountability; and advocacy for adequate state funding.
Janey Humphries has been a volunteer with the schools, serving on site councils, the booster club, local and state PTAs, and committees. She also served four years raising funds for the new South Library. She has lived in the area for 39 years; she and her husband have four grown children who attended the KCK schools, and currently have grandchildren in the schools.
For the past six years Humphries has regularly attended KCK school board meetings. During the past year she has actively visited district schools of all levels. She said parents are the first teachers of their children.
“Serving as a school board member involves more than attending two meetings a month,” she said. Board members must spend time for school visits, training meetings, community meetings and talking to residents, she said. “I have the time and ability to serve as a school board member,” she said.
George Breidenthal has served on the KCK school board for 32 years. “I love Kansas City, Kan., and what goes on with those students on a daily basis,” Breidenthal said.
Breidenthal is a graduate of Washington High School, Donnelly College and Kansas State Teachers’ College at Emporia, Kan. He is a former president of board of trustees of Donnelly College; former president of Turner Bank; and former chairman of the board of Kaw Valley Bank.
“We’ve made great strides in what’s going on in our community,” he said. “Graduation rates are up, college credits are up,” he said. Current goals are for every student to have enough credits for the first year of college or post-secondary education to be completed when students graduate from high school, he said. There is still room for improvement on attendance in certain areas of Kansas City, Kan., he said.
Korri Hall-Thompson, is a graduate of Schlagle High School and Kansas State University, graduating in 2000. She is the Gear-Up site coordinator for the University of Kansas, and works with some Kansas City, Kan., students as part of that work. “I believe in this district and the kids in this district,” she said. “I know they can achieve everything that I can.”
An educator for 13 years in the KCK schools, Hall-Thompson is from a family that included teachers; she said she grew up as a little child helping her mother in her classroom. “I want to work hard and be the voice of parents, students and teachers of this district,” she said. “I have a new, young voice with fresh, new ideas.”
She said she believes every child can make a C and every teacher who is here wants to be here. “I have no problem walking the hallways of every school in the district,” she said.
The KCKCC candidate forum, with more comments from the KCK school board candidates and other candidates for office, is being shown on the KCKCC cable television channel and is also on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QdK7I12eYDo&list=PLMfeRPiOepX0OcIPkqAD97qMJ1OI1_9eu&index=1.
To see a previous story on the Kansas City, Kan., school board contest, visit http://wyandottedaily.com/kck-school-board-candidates-lambaste-block-grant-bill/.
To see a story about voting information, visit http://wyandottedaily.com/three-contests-on-the-april-7-ballot-countywide/.
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