School board candidates share their views

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There are nine candidates running for the USD-418 School Board, Tricia Warring, Brian Meek, Brooke Kanitz, Jake Whiteneck, Gene Wilson, Bruce Laude, Tony Wedel, Brian Kynaston and Lara Vanderhoff. The McPherson News-Ledger editorial board compiled a list of questions for the candidates. Below are the unedited responses from the candidates who participated. Jake Whiteneck and Bruce Laude have withdrawn from the race. The other candidates did not respond to the questions. 

 

Brian Meek

What skills and abilities do you feel qualify you for this position?

I believe that the skills I have developed throughout my life qualify me for this position. As a Nuclear Chemist in the Navy, I learned about commitment, serving your duty honorably, and perseverance through difficult tasks. My time as a Safety Manager at a nuclear power plant taught me the importance of setting action-based goals that require rigorous evaluation and course correction when necessary to achieve the desired results. My time here in McPherson teaching electric lineworkers has shown me what skills our tradespeople need when joining the workforce. Last, but not least, my journey through life as a father and husband has taught me to see the world through the eyes of our friends, family, and neighbors. When dealing with complex issues the most important thing to remember is that we are all in different places in our lives, and just because we disagree on individual issues, we have the same goal: educating our children for a better tomorrow.

 

What prompted you to run as a candidate for the USD-418 School Board?

This is my second time running. I originally chose to run 2 years ago. I felt that our district was on the wrong path and needed assistance to correct that course. I still believe that now. Even though I lost the last election, I have fought for more transparency in our district decision-making processes. When the district decided to end the public comment portion of its meetings, I stood up for the community to get that process reinstated. When the district went virtual and refused to record meetings, I started live-streaming and archiving the video for future reference. I believe that I can help turn the district around and make USD 418 one of the best districts in the state.

 

What do you see as the single biggest challenge for the students of USD-418 and how would you address that challenge?

Sadly, the single biggest challenge to our children has changed over the past 2 years. 2 years ago, I said that it was the curriculum and disjointed organization between the schools and grade levels. That is still a problem. But classroom distractions have become a bigger issue. Whether it is the latest Tik-Tok trend, racial slurs, theft, or just general disregard for classmates, teachers don’t have time to teach. There is no accountability for bullying or poor behaviors at school. This has to stop if we are going to improve this district.

 

What do you see as the School Board’s role in the day-by-day management of USD-418?

Day-to-Day management is the responsibility of the administration. It is the board’s job to govern, not manage. The board should communicate their expectations to the administrative staff and hold them accountable to meet those expectations. This is not occurring right now. Priorities are not clearly defined. Goals are not clearly articulated. No one is being held accountable for failing our students. No one is being held accountable for the mass exodus of teachers and staff. It is the boards job to fix this issue.

 

How would you encourage teacher retention?

LISTEN TO YOUR TEACHERS! We need to continue to improve teachers’ salaries, but just as importantly we need to listen to their concerns and fix the issues in the classroom. The Teachers should be developing the policies and practices in the classrooms. The administrators should be supporting the teachers. This district should be managed from the bottom up, not top down. Let’s do what we can to make teachers jobs easier. Not only will we retain teachers, but we will see test scores rise. Most teachers chose this profession to help kids succeed. Let’s empower them. Finally, when teachers leave, find out why they are leaving. The fact that we don’t do exit interviews illustrates our head-in-the-sand culture, if we don’t know about a problem then it must not exist. This culture is also the biggest factor in why our students aren’t performing as well as other districts. We ignore the issues and hope they go away instead of fixing Them.

 

How do you believe the school board and community could partner together moving forward?

In order for the school board and community to improve their partnership the board must become more transparent and open. Improved transparency would garner more trust and open doors for public/private partnerships. There is a lot of industry in this town that is ready to give back when given the right opportunity. Let’s explore some of our capital improvements with help from our local industries. This starts with a football stadium and goes right through academic aid, shared learning spaces, and a host of other advantages that our community would love to participate in, if given the opportunity. Create committees filled with people from all aspects of our community.

Like my slogan says “Together We Succeed”

 

How would you encourage transparency as a board member?

First, near, and dear to my heart, start streaming the board meetings and archiving them so people can watch them later. I would recommend that the board hold regular town hall meetings with open forums. If the board doesn’t agree to this, I will personally do it. I will talk openly and honestly with community members and encourage other board members to do the same. I would ask for feedback on how we are doing.

Give me a grade, if its good enough for our kids, its good enough for me. If I am failing you, tell me why, so I can fix it. Also, encourage open discussion between board members in a public setting. It is ok to respectfully disagree, when the public is able to see all sides of a story it creates more trust in the decision to move forward.

 

Lara Vanderhoof

What skills and abilities do you feel qualify you for this position?

First, I am my children’s first educator and committed community member. I have been actively engaged with USD418 board meetings for years both virtually and in person. I am civically-minded and a community volunteer having served as a United Way board member, committee chair for cub scout pack 133, a local anti-human trafficking organization member, a USD418 High School PTO member, and a conflict mediator with Offender Vitim Ministries. I hold bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in social work. I worked previously for USD418 offering an insider-outsider perspective. I have served with my church denomination board of administration. Furthermore, I teach policy

courses at undergraduate and graduate levels providing a unique perspective for

policy development.

 

What prompted you to run as a candidate for the USD-418 School Board?

 

I am running for USD#418 to be a voice for those who are unable to participate in our public educational system for a variety of reasons. I believe that I can be an advocate for students, parents, community members, teachers, staff and bring the needs, ideas, solutions to the BOE table. I want to see accountability and higher educational outcomes achieved for our students and by our students. In addition, I value our teachers and staff and want to be a advocate to ensure their voice is not only recognized, but valued and understood.

 

What do you see as the single biggest challenge for the students of USD-418 and how would you address that challenge?

Preparation for life after high school. It seems that students depending on their career path need additional preparation to be successful for their preferred future. There are many considerations including: civic engagement, financial literacy, problem-solving skills, critical thinking, fundamental skill development such as reading, writing, communication skills, math skills, and other life skills.

There are many ways that this overarching challenge of preparation can be attained such as, but not limited to, parent involvement, school engagement, student-teacher connection, robust learning opportunities, mentorship in one’s chosen career path, and collaborative public-private partnerships to enhance students’ preparation from pre-K through graduation.

 

What do you see as the School Board’s role in the day-by-day management of

USD-418?

The day-to-day management of USD#418 needs to be the responsibility of the District Administrators while the BOE members are kept informed and provide oversight to the Administrators, in particular, the superintendent of schools to ensure compliance with school board policies and procedures. If the BOE is needed for day-to-day operations that would be in emergency situations rather than for how to teach, instruct, and care for the behaviors and needs of the students.

 

How would you encourage teacher retention?

There needs to be a multi-pronged approach. The following is not in a prioritized order, but rather each is needed. First, we must address the salary scale and align it with the professional standards that educators deserve. Second, we must ensure that effective, open communication is valued, and that all teachers’ voices are heard and recognized. Third, we must create a culture for teachers in which they feel welcomed, heard, valued, recognized, and promoted for their excellence in the classroom. Fourth, we must provide teachers with the necessary resources such as aids, para support, textbooks, and additional curriculum resources without needing to pay for items from their personal funds.

 

How do you believe the school board and community could partner together

moving forward?

First, the trust and communication between the community and BOE needs to be repaired and restored before the next steps can be fully achieved. The school board and community can partner together by developing public-private partnerships such as a multi-purpose wellness center which includes a track, regulation size competitive swimming pool along with a childcare center. In addition, the BOE and community could begin the conversation for how to develop a stadium to serve multiple needs athletically and academically (band).

There is room at the table for further partnership with businesses for coaching and mentoring students in career paths.

 

How would you encourage transparency as a board member?

I would encourage transparency as a board member first by changing the BOE policy to require that all BOE meetings are live-streamed and archived for viewing as needed through the USD418 technology. In addition, I would ask that BOE members respond to stakeholder’s inquiries within 2-3 business days.

I would also continue to permit space for appropriate public comment at all BOE meetings. I would welcome stakeholder ideas for how to ensure transparency is paramount.

 

Gene Wilson

What skills and abilities do you feel qualify you for this position?

My diverse background. My experience as a parent, my tour in the United States Air Force, seven years as a department manager with a manufacturing company, plant manager of multi-nation company, and business owner are the top positions that I feel have given me a broad base of experiences that will help me in this position if elected.

 

What prompted you to run as a candidate for the USD-418 School Board?

I felt there was a lack of board members standing up and voting on board decisions the way their constituents wanted them to vote. The board is not there to fall in line and get along. It is there to have difficult conversations over difficult issues/decisions and develop the best ways to address those issues with input from the community, teachers, and parents/students.

 

What do you see as the single biggest challenge for the students of USD-418 and how would you address that challenge?

I believe the answer to this is easy, low academic test scores. While new buildings, sports, after school activates are all VERY important in the student’s life, the school’s main responsibility is to educate. I feel like the BOE needs to be very proactive in response to this. To simply say we have a curriculum director that is working to turn the scores around is somewhat passive. This should be discussed at every BOE meeting, setting short term goals, status as to where we are at, long term goals, and benchmarks to see where we are at in relation to those goals.

 

What do you see as the School Board’s role in the day-by-day management of USD-418?

I believe the BOE should spend some time in ALL the schools throughout the year. See with their own eyes what’s going on, talk to the teachers and find out what their daily struggles and needs are, talk to students get firsthand account of what is working for them and not so much. BE AVAILABLE to teachers, staff, and parents. Bring that feedback to the BOE meetings when discussing the above issues and solutions. The board is there to direct the district thru the superintendent. I am not sure that one can be effective without knowing what is going on.

 

How would you encourage teacher retention?

We must partner with our INCREDIBLE teachers to improve the environment they work in. From what I have heard talking to teachers, many feel like the administration and BOE do not listen or even care what they have to say. We must take a very hard look at the books and figure out where the money is going that we cannot get our teacher pay where it needs to be. Again, this goes back to get out and talk to teachers and find out what they need, what would make their incredibly important/difficult job easier or more effective. I believe this idea is lost on much of the administration and BOE, without teachers we are not a district. The BOE and the administration are here to help the teachers do their jobs, not the other way around.

 

How do you believe the school board and community could partner together moving forward?

I feel like we must develop ways for the teachers AND the administration to be partners with the parents. We have some administrators that talk down to parents and make parents feel like the administration knows best and does not need or want to hear any input from the parents. THIS MUST CHANGE. We have parents pulling their students from 418 and taking to surrounding schools partly because of this. Without students, and teachers mentioned above, there is no reason for the BOE or administration. We have many teachers that already do a great job with this idea. We need to talk to them, put them on a committee to grow this idea and encourage it across the district.

 

How would you encourage transparency as a board member?

COMMUNITY involvement! A great point to this question is the bond issue that was just voted down. I feel like the big reason it was voted down is because the BOE/Administration was NOT transparent in the events leading up to the vote. The committees were hand-picked to push the ideas that the administration wanted. It felt like there were deals made under the table out of the eye of the voters. Finally, we were presented with $125+ million bond that was full of WANTS not needs. If they had talked to more of the community, they would have found out that bond of that size was not what we wanted or would support. Had the board been transparent with this multi-year process the bond would not have been voted down two to one.

 

Tricia Warring

What skills and abilities do you feel qualify you for this position?

I have the unique perspective of being raised in McPherson as a person in the LGBTQ+ community. Planning the LGBTQ+ pride event the last two years has built organization and leadership skills as well as built resilience from having difficult and sometimes scary conversations. 

While earning my bachelor’s degree from Fort Hays State in psychology and sociology, I developed critical thinking skills that allow me to look at issues from all sides to see the big picture. I understand culture and social change. 

I am a foster and adoptive mother. Because I have co-parented children with multiple sets of parents, I have developed skills that allow me to build relationships with people that I may not necessarily like on a personal level but must work with in the best interest of the child. My work as a parent of children who come from hard places has taught me how to build positive connections and seek the reason behind negative behaviors.

I have had children, nieces, and nephews in this school district for over 15 years. One of my children uses special education and has had an IEP for 8 years. In an effort to learn how to advocate for him, I became a trained educational advocate through a group called Families Together. Now I am assigned to advocate not just for my own children, but for the educational needs of children who are wards of the state. In 2013 I began volunteering as a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate, 9thcasa.org for volunteer info), which means I spoke up in court for the best interest of the children I was assigned. No matter the situation, I am trained to do what is best for the kids I serve. If elected, I will do the same for the families of USD 418. 

What prompted you to run as a candidate for the USD-418 School Board?

Planning the LGBTQ+ pride event put me in touch with the teacher leader of the school’s GSA (Gay Straight Alliance), who informed me that their GSA was not a school sanctioned event. This made me realize that our students need an advocate who will ensure their rights are being protected and their need for a group in which they belong is met. The LGBTQ+ community is at higher risk for suicide because of the social “othering” that occurs. Building inclusive schools will save lives. 

What do you see as the single biggest challenge for the students of USD-418 and how would you address that challenge?

I don’t think there is a single biggest challenge, but one of the challenges for our students is feeling heard. They need to be given a voice. The things that the admin and the parents feel are concerns might not be what the students are concerned about. Giving students a tool to communicate their opinions will give them the ability to express their wants and needs throughout their lives. 

I learned today from Mr. Kendrick that the high school has a Student Advocacy group. The students have decided that one of their goals is to develop an inclusive school culture, so the non-profit I helped establish, McPherson Coalition for Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity has pledged to support them in their endeavors. 

What do you see as the School Board’s role in the day-by-day management of USD-418?

One of the most important roles of the school board is to establish the rules and policies of the schools in the district, which does have a huge effect on the day-to-day in USD 418. The school board holds the superintendent responsible for the day-to-day management of the district.

 

How would you encourage teacher retention?

Teachers deserve higher pay. We cannot keep teachers in our district without significantly increasing their salaries. We should also not expect our teachers to supply their own classrooms with normal school supplies. 

Our teachers and our administration need to be heard and supported so they can more effectively carry out their jobs. Creating a subcommittee that meets with teachers on a regular basis would likely help. Teacher retention will improve the quality of education of all the children in our district. 

How do you believe the school board and community could partner together moving forward?

I realize the money to pay our teachers more would have to come from somewhere. I am interested to hear ideas from the teachers, administration, and the general public of how we can make this happen for teachers here in our community.

The community groups I am involved in, MCEID and the LGBTQ+ community, have already begun partnerships to support some high school groups, the GSA and the Student Advocacy groups, as previously mentioned. I encourage other community groups and businesses to offer support as well. 

How would you encourage transparency as a board member?

The school board meetings should be live-streamed. Brian Meeks currently records and posts the videos online afterward but live streaming them will enable people unable to attend in-person to ask questions they feel are important. 

Brooke Kanitz

What skills and abilities do you feel qualify you for this position?

I was gifted with the skill of relatability & connection. I am able to sit & discuss topics with anyone, whether or not we agree. I can & will provide a safe space for board members to have conversation around topics & a safe place for the community to connect. As a family nurse practitioner, I was taught critical thinking skills that I carry with me each day, in each encounter. As a business owner, I have learned how to work with many differing personalities & look at how to serve the overall team best, even if it’s not my personal preference. And as an international life coach, I’ve worked with hundreds who have shown me that we all just want to be heard, be seen & have our value recognized. I believe that this alone will change how the public is able to interact with the board of education.

 

What prompted you to run as a candidate for the USD-418 School Board?

I think that if you want to see change, you get to present ideas for a solution & you must be willing to be part of that plan. I was as guilty as anyone of complaining from my home, my phone & my computer. It was time to speak up for all children & their parents who felt that they were not being seen or heard. I desire to make McPherson schools the place that teachers, staff & students want to be, want to learn, & want to teach.

 

What do you see as the single biggest challenge for the students of USD-418 and how would you address that challenge?

We lost normalcy 19 months ago & our students are stuck in the middle. Kids are not immune to stress. They pick up on everything at home, in the community, on social media & at school. We are in a place where their mental health is suffering & I worry about their future if we don’t intervene on their behalf, advocating for mental wellness.

 

What do you see as the School Board’s role in the day-by-day management of USD-418?

To create, adopt & amend policies that will serve as the compass for our district. And, to ensure that those policies are being followed, so that students, teachers & staff get to do what they do best. If we are doing our job well, we shouldn’t be in the spotlight. Like a good referee in a big game–upholding policies, walking in accountability & going unnoticed.

 

How would you encourage teacher retention?

I’d ask them to describe what support looks like from the BOE, administration & from our community. We get to create an environment where teachers are free to speak without fear of retribution or retaliation. And, where teachers & staff feel empowered & supported, so that they can do what they love to do–teach.

 

How do you believe the school board and community could partner together moving forward?

Let’s bring back the art of conversation & allow for public input on all things. We are elected to serve the public, who fund the district & who lend their children to us for a short while. We get to pay attention to what the community is saying. To their concerns. To their experiences. To their ideas. No one has an exclusive on good ideas.

 

How would you encourage transparency as a board member?

By ensuring that the meeting is occuring at the meeting, in the public, so that the public gets to hear it. By having conversation around topics, seeking clarity & asking questions at the meetings–in front of the public. By pulling back the curtain on the how & why behind topics, decisions, & operations. People are much more willing to trust if we let them in on the “behind the scenes.”