The candidates for Kansas City school board should get bonus points at the start for perseverance.
Not that long ago — in midwinter when the candidates were seeking voter signatures for the filing petitions — the elected board itself was something of an endangered species.
The state’s education commissioner, at that time, was contemplating reform plans for Kansas City that she hoped would become a model on how the state should intervene with unaccredited districts.
The hottest idea wasn’t to keep the old board.
But since then, the state has at least postponed its intervention plans, giving the district time to show if it can repeat a provisional score on its state report card this August — something the superintendent, with increasing optimism, says may happen.
In other words, the long-term prospects of the job have brightened considerably.
Ordinarily, board terms are for four years, but the district is beginning a transition to reduce the size of the board from nine to seven in 2019, so this year’s winners will serve five-year terms.
Five of the current nine seats are up for election. Three are contested — the 4th Subdistrict and two at-large seats.
Gunnar Hand is unopposed and returning in the 2nd Subdistrict, and Carl Evans also is unopposed as the incumbent in the 6th Subdistrict.At large
Anyone looking for fresh faces on the district’s two open at-large seats will get them.
Four first-time candidates have filed for the race, bringing a wide range of experiences.
• Amy Hartsfield comes from a background in theology and counseling, working in the religious community to strengthen many of the district’s neighborhoods.
• Pattie Mansur is an activist parent, with 19 years of service in various parent leadership roles, who brings career experience in public relations and community outreach.
• Catina Taylor is a teacher with experience in public and private schools and a business background that she says gives her an understanding of the business of education.
• Janelle Bailey is an attorney who, as a former assistant prosecutor, witnessed the fallout when failures in the education system led youths into the criminal justice system.
They are pursuing seats vacated by Kyleen Carroll, who left the board a year ago, and Crispin Rea, who is leaving to run for City Council.
The board’s primary focus in the coming years will be regaining full accreditation.
Hartsfield said she would push to direct district resources toward smaller class sizes with more focus on reading and math, a longer school year and universal pre-kindergarten.
“I know the value of a good public education,” she told a recent election forum audience. “I know the value of a good teacher.”
Mansur believes the district must strengthen its pipeline of highly effective principals and reduce turnover in creating stronger, positive climates in schools. She also emphasizes pre-K.
“Our district is at a pivotal point,” Mansur said. “I want to be part of bringing this community back into this school system.”
Taylor wants the district to increase its efforts to engage parents. Stronger recruitment, retention and development of teachers are also critical, she says.
“We have to be strategic,” Taylor said. “We have to fight hard and more expeditiously because our children have only one chance for a quality education.”
Bailey believes the district needs to bring more resources to increase the wrap-around social services for families, as well as building the strong leadership in schools to help retain strong teachers.
“We need to build our trust,” Bailey said, “by communication and by actually getting things done, and by holding everyone accountable, including myself.”4th Subdistrict
In the 4th Subdistrict, incumbent Joseph Jackson focuses on the current rise in the district’s fortunes and its hope for provisional accreditation.
Challenger Melissa Robinson sees a disheartening longstanding narrative that she wants to help change.
Jackson, who is in his first four-year term, believes voters should return him to the post to help continue the changes under way. The board is overseeing a district that has balanced its budgets and earned clean audits while scoring in the provisionally accredited range on its last state report card, he said.
Providing teachers professional learning communities, boosting attendance and establishing univeral pre-K are keys to continue the growth, Jackson said.
“We must get our district re-accredited,” Jackson told a recent election forum audience. “Our children need to be ready to compete in a global society.”
Robinson believes her experience on community health and service boards as well as her executive directorship of a health care coalition have prepared her to be a strong advocate for schools, she said.
“Wealth equals health,” she said. “We need to be sure our children are on a trajectory to success.”
The district must push more resources into direct classroom instruction, better engage parents and reach out for civic partnerships more strongly, Robinson said.
The board needs a healthier balance of power with the administration to help push the district toward higher goals, she said.