A political action committee started this year by Shawnee Mission parents hoping to influence an upcoming school board election endorsed several candidates Monday, less than a month before a primary narrows the field for two of three November races.
Education First Shawnee Mission, a parent group and PAC that formed in January, announced its support for three Shawnee Mission school board candidates running for an at-large position and the Shawnee Mission West seat in an Aug. 1 primary.
For the Shawnee Mission West position, Education First endorsed Laura Guy, a former public school teacher and substitute, as well as the current pastor of Living Water Christian Church in Parkville.
Guy is running against incumbent Craig Denney, an engineering consultant who has served on the board since 1998. Lee Biard and Christopher White, a former bond and capitol improvements supervisor for the district, are also running for the open seat.
For the at-large position, the group backed two candidates: civil rights attorney Heather Ousley and private practice attorney Mandi Serrone Hunter.
“After much consideration, we have chosen to dual endorse for the at-large race, as there are two extremely qualified candidates,” said Tiffany Johnson, a founding board member of Education First, in a statement. “While Ousley and Hunter bring different experience to the position, either would be a welcome addition to the Shawnee Mission School Board.”
Education First Shawnee Mission members said they picked candidates based on their commitment to six areas flagged as necessary priorities by the parent group: transparency, budget, cultural competency, special education, school funding and positive working culture.
Members used candidates’ responses to an Education First survey sent earlier in the summer, as well as questions posed during Shawnee Mission Area Council PTA forums earlier this month, to inform their decisions.
Ousley made headlines in recent years for organizing walks to Topeka to advocate for Kansas schools, while Hunter has served on the Corinth Elementary board of directors and PTA.
Ousley and Hunter are running against incumbent Cindy Neighbor, a Kansas representative who will finish her fifth term as a school board member this year. Robert Roberge and Fabian Shepard have also filed to run for the at-large spot.
A third open position — a race between newcomers James Lockard and Mary Sinclair for a seat vacated by longtime member Donna Bysfield — does not require a primary.
The endorsements come at a time of increased parent engagement in the Shawnee Mission School District. Mounting frustration with the school board and district decisions made under the leadership of former Superintendent Jim Hinson have sparked calls for transparency and a new direction when it comes to school board leadership.
Earlier this year, the National Education Association-Shawnee Mission’s political action committee also expressed support for first-time candidates on the school board. The group endorsed Ousley in the at-large position race and White for the West area seat.