Below are the questions posed by the Lawrence Education Association along with my answers. The exciting news is I have received LEA's recommendation!
1. In a general statement, share why you are running in this election or seeking re-election to the USD 497 School Board. Include specific skills, experience, and viewpoints you bring to the elected position that set you apart from other candidates.
As a parent of two students and the wife of a teacher in the district, I know how decisions made by the school board can impact our students and staff. I am running so that I can make an impact. I believe that every student should have access to a high-quality education. As a member of the Futures Planning Committee, I received a more in-depth training on the budget and district operations. It is imperative that we have an open and transparent budgeting process to build trust with the community that we serve. Many of the skills I have developed in my career will also aid me as a board member. In my job as a buyer, my focus is on the consumer. As a board member, the number one priority is focusing on serving ALL students. Very few decisions will be cut and dry, and a board member should exercise due diligence in understanding all sides of an issue. During these past few years of controversial topics addressed by the board, I found that I sometimes changed my opinions on an issue after listening to all sides. When faced with difficult decisions, the board needs to be as transparent as possible in order to gain buy-in from all stakeholders. In my job, I have to communicate effectively with the different teams I work with in order to run my business successfully. Collaboration & teamwork are also important traits of a successful board member. I practice this daily in my job where I work cross-functionally to achieve our goals. A board member should advocate for a strong public education system. As a member of Educate Lawrence, I have written many letters to our legislators encouraging them to fully fund special education, prioritize funding for public schools over vouchers, support our trans youth in their right to play sports, and support local control of our schools.
2. LEA and Lawrence Public Schools have had a strong partnership for decades. What is your experience with labor unions? Summarize your philosophy about the role of unions in a local economy and in creating a just workplace.
I support the right of all workers to organize unions in their workplaces. My husband is a teacher at LHS and is a member of LEA. Prior to becoming a teacher, he was a para at FSHS and signed on to support the formation of what has become PAL-CWA. LEA represents hardworking individuals who play a vital role in our schools. I believe in upholding and strengthening the rights of workers without fear of retaliation and will work to enact policies that support and protect workers’ rights. I recognize the crucial role that unions play in ensuring that workers are treated with dignity and respect along with achieving the objectives of workers' rights, fair wages, safe working conditions, and job security. I believe in collaborating with unions and their members to find common-sense solutions to the challenges facing our community. I am committed to an open and constructive dialogue with LEA to address the concerns of your members. I recognize that the well-being of workers and their families has a direct impact on the overall health and prosperity of our community. I am expressing my commitment to working together with LEA to advance the interests of your members and our community as a whole. I believe that by collaborating and advocating together, we can achieve positive outcomes for working people and create a fairer and more just society.
3. Please describe your involvement in public education and/or the Lawrence Public Schools up to this point. How do you envision the school board being involved in schools, as well as strengthen trust and morale within the community?
In the years leading up to now, I joined my children's schools' site councils, the superintendent's advisory board, the Lawrence Schools Foundation board, the Future's committee, and most recently the district site council as attempts to see firsthand what was happening in our district. I believe the board should be in the schools as frequently as possible to see firsthand what teachers and students are experiencing as well as be able to receive feedback. Board members must cultivate a connected culture by developing strategies to engage our community. A direct relationship exists between an involved and informed community and improved student outcomes. As such, the board should be open to community feedback. It goes beyond reading and answering emails. It is making oneself available to the community to have conversations. The current model of public commentary in meetings is not interactive. I would like to see more opportunities for the public and the board to have meaningful discourse. One way this can be done is via community mapping, where each member acts as a liaison to different community groups. I also value transparency and accountability in decision-making. I am committed to open and honest communication with the community, ensuring that the school board's actions are understood and accessible to all. A few ways to increase transparency would involve upgrades to the current district website. There should be a master calendar with all the board and committee meetings on it. This way any member of the public who wants to attend, can do so. Every committee should have a page or pages that include information about what the committee does, the membership, and minutes from the meetings. Another addition to the website is based on the city commission’s site. There you can look up any member of a committee and see not only their attendance but their voting record. The public should have access to this information. I believe the board meeting agendas and relevant information should be posted in board docs earlier. This would give not only the board but the public more time to review as well. I think these are small changes that can provide our community with greater access to what is going on and hopefully help rebuild trust.
4. The district recently convened the Futures Planning Committee to look at short and long term operational goals of the district. Goals focused on increasing staff wages, increased utilities, and increased funds for contingency. What are your short and long term goals for Lawrence Public Schools?
I agree that the goals set for the Future's committee were and are important. We all know from our own personal experiences that costs are rising. The district needs to find ways to pay for these increasing costs. We also must build up our contingency funds. I believe the target should be even higher than what was given to the Futures Committee. That is not a goal that will be achieved overnight, it will take time. More urgently, we must offer competitive wages and a livable wage to our classified staff in order to retain and attract top talent. Great progress has been made, but we have not fully achieved this goal. The district needs to foster a positive culture within each school as well as the district as a whole. Low wages and poor work culture can cause staff instability which directly impacts student achievement. We need to put more focus on improving achievement and within that, closing the achievement gap. Parental involvement can also have a positive impact on student achievement, as such we must foster closer cooperation between parents and schools. The past few years have caused the community to lose trust in the district. We must work to build that back. The easiest way is to improve transparency in our decision-making. I also believe that we need to improve our relationship with the city. The district and city should work together to draw families to Lawrence. I have met with several current commission members in order to gain their perspective on how the city and district can work better together. Based on these conversations, I believe the time is right to create an improved relationship so that we can work together on shared goals.
5. What is your top priority for the superintendent to address over the next two years? Describe the board’s role in overseeing and evaluating the superintendent.
My top priority for the superintendent would be to set a course to close the achievement gap for students of color, students from low-income households, and students receiving special education services while also raising the overall performance of all students. With the pandemic and budget battles over the past few years, the district has not been able to focus on improving achievement. As a board, we must set clear goals and benchmarks for student achievement, track progress against those goals, and take action when necessary to improve educational outcomes. In setting clear goals, we must ensure that they are SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. District leadership should evaluate progress toward the goals periodically and then determine if adjustments are needed. The board should receive regular progress reports in relation to the goals. This includes the data used to determine whether or not progress is being made, what the proposed steps are to make changes should they be required, and why they think these changes will work. The board must hold district leadership accountable for student outcomes. If goals are not being met, then the board should determine if there needs to be a change in leadership. This is applicable not just for improving student achievement and closing the gap, but for any goal the board sets, including, but not limited to improving the competitiveness of teacher pay, providing a living wage for staff, and rebuilding trust within the community.
6. Educators view their working conditions as student learning conditions. As a Board of Education member, how do you plan to support negotiation issues such as, but not limited to, smaller class sizes and caseloads, district-wide health and safety measures, increase plan time, and competitive compensation (including but not limited to benefits, extra duty, stipends, leave buy back, leave reimbursement, etc.) during your term on the School Board?
I don't know that I can have a seat at the negotiation table given that my husband is an LEA member, but I will absolutely advocate in support of the union. Recent raises were funded through cutting positions. This in turn led to an increase in class sizes, which translates into increased teacher workloads. That really doesn’t amount to a raise and teachers' work/life balance was impacted. Reducing class size needs to be a priority. A teacher's effectiveness decreases when there are 30+ students in a class. This also applies to special education teachers who have to manage large caseloads and travel between schools. I also understand that despite these historic raises, there is still work to be done. Our salaries are still not competitive. In addition to salary, we need to provide greater support for mental health. We need to create outlets for teachers, staff, and school leaders to be able to ask questions and voice concerns without fear of repercussions. Fostering collaborative and positive cultures in our schools and ESC is important. The district conducts building surveys, but they should also conduct surveys about the district and admin. We need to understand what the schools with happier, more satisfied staff are doing differently so we can implement that elsewhere. Workloads also need to be reviewed. Tasks that do not directly impact students and learning need to be re-evaluated to see if they can possibly go away. Lastly, student behavior has become more challenging to manage post-pandemic. We need to provide more support to teachers and staff as they deal with increasing challenges in their classrooms.
7. What is the role of a school board member in the local budget and advocating for fully funded public schools at the state-level? How will you accomplish this during your term?
I understand the importance of fiscal responsibility. I will fight for responsible budgeting that prioritizes resources where they are needed most while minimizing waste. Resources should be focused on enhancing student learning, supporting academic success, and reducing achievement gaps. I will actively support the needs and well-being of teachers, staff, and all school employees who play a vital role in our education system. The greatest challenge to school funding has been the Kansas legislature. They are sitting on a record surplus, yet they refuse to fully fund special education at the statutorily required level. When you look at the base aid per pupil in 1992 adjusted for inflation, it would take a 55% increase to the current base aid to match inflation. The legislature does not value public education. You can see it in the funding levels and the bills they propose to provide vouchers for students to use at private schools. I will continue to advocate for our school district at the local, state, and national levels, working to secure the resources and policies needed for our students to thrive. Not only should board members act as advocates, but they should encourage others in their community to do so as well. We need to better organize as a collective to advocate for improved funding in Topeka. We should be reaching out to other districts and boards to work together. The board needs to look for examples of successful advocacy for public education and see what lessons can be applied to our situation.
8. What is the role of the Board in supporting Staff and Students of Color and LGBTQ+ individuals in our schools?
I am dedicated to justice and equality for all members of our community, including students and staff. If elected, I will actively work to promote equity and inclusivity by addressing achievement gaps, reducing disparities in resources and opportunities, and creating a safe and welcoming environment for all students, regardless of their race, gender, socioeconomic status, etc. Providing equitably distributed funding to support the needs of all students, including those with diverse learning abilities and backgrounds, is a critical responsibility of the board when overseeing the allocation of financial resources and something I fully support. I want to ensure that we incorporate diverse perspectives and experiences into the curriculum to ensure that students are exposed to a wide range of voices and ideas. I will champion policies that protect and support LGBTQ+ students, ensuring they have access to safe spaces and resources. I will promote a zero-tolerance policy for bullying and harassment in our schools, ensuring that all students and staff feel safe and respected. I will support efforts to increase diversity and representation among school staff and leadership positions. Representation matters, and it's important for students to see themselves reflected in the adults who guide their education. I will actively listen to the concerns and experiences of students, staff, and parents from marginalized communities and use that feedback to inform policies and decision-making. I will continue to advocate for equitable funding, resources, and opportunities for our schools, especially those in underserved communities. My commitment to justice and equality extends to all members of our community, and I will work to create an educational system that is fair, inclusive, and free from oppression in any form.
9. One of the goals of Lawrence Public Schools is to make data-driven decisions. Describe how you will get information to make effective decisions for the district and support LPS staff in holding building/district admin, as well as school board members, accountable?
I recognize the value of data and research in making informed decisions and analyzing results. I deal with data daily in my job. Buying shoes is a lot more Excel work than looking at pretty shoes. My time at Payless has shaped my expectations. When budget items are presented, I would like to see historical information and future years' projections. The history will help provide context for the numbers that are being presented. I would like the ability to dig into the numbers myself to understand what is happening. If a survey has been done, I expect to see the results summarized and would want access to the raw data. I expect that any relevant data will be shared before board presentations. Having the data before meetings will allow the board to ask intelligent questions even before the presentation happens and can improve the quality of discussion amongst the board. It is the responsibility of the board to come prepared for the meetings. We need to have read the agenda and all related items. Board members should hold one another accountable to ensure this work is being done. Attendance records and meeting minutes can also be used to hold members accountable. As a board member, I will use data to inform decisions, but ensure that this data is interpreted in collaboration with those directly impacted by the policies.
10. Would you like to share anything that has not been mentioned in this survey that LEA members should know?
I am not running for school board because I disagree with one specific decision that has been made. I am running because I sincerely want to help make our schools better. I know I still have a lot to learn. If elected, I will spend a lot of time just listening, watching, and asking questions. I want to hear multiple perspectives on issues, I want to be challenged in my thinking, and I want to be transparent in my decision-making. I think there are opportunities for improvement from where we have been and I am excited to help bring about change. My love of education has been around since before I first went to kindergarten. I have a college degree in middle-secondary social studies education. Through a random series of events, I ended up as a buyer, not a teacher. But having been through a student teaching experience and being married to a teacher, I have empathy for our teachers and what they have been through over the past few years. My dream of two married teachers living a comfortable life no longer exists. I can't afford to make that career shift. We, as a society, need to place more value on the work that teachers do and the impact they have on our lives, our children's lives, and the lives of every child they teach. I hope to be able to shine more of a light on that as a board member. But even if I am not elected, I will continue to advocate for better funding, better pay, and better respect for our teachers and schools, because I know how important you are.