What makes a candidate "qualified" to

be a School Board member?

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QUALIFICATION #1: UNDERSTAND HOW A SCHOOL BOARD WORKS

 

Candidates who apply for the job of serving as a BV School Board member should understand what that job is - and is not.

Stand Up Blue Valley emailed a questionnaire to the 6 School Board candidates with a letter explaining our organization’s mission and purpose; we invited them to complete and return the questionnaire and then schedule an interview with members of our candidate evaluation committee. Andrew Van Der Laan, Gina Knapp, and Lindsay Weiss returned our completed questionnaire by the deadline. Kaety Bowers, Christine White, and Jim McMullen did not.

Van Der Laan, Knapp, and Weiss accepted our subsequent invitation to an interview, where we learned more about them and their candidacies. Additionally, we have read websites and social media from all 6 candidates and reviewed available public statements, campaign literature, and other information.

Through questionnaire answers, interviews, and based on their experiences, we learned that Van Der Laan, Knapp, and Weiss understand the role of a School Board member and how a Board operates. These 3 candidates understand that the role of the School Board is to guide and oversee - more than to micromanage. Andrew Van Der Laan and Lindsay Weiss have served on BV Board advisory committees, working alongside School Board members. Van Der Laan currently serves as President of the Board of the Coterie Theatre in Crown Center. Gina Knapp herself works as CFO at a youth-serving nonprofit governed by a Board. All 3 candidates whom SUBV endorsed have personal experience with how a Board functions and its role.

We have concerns that the 3 candidates we did not endorse do not understand well what their role would be.

The campaign websites for Bowers, White, and McMullen specifically say as Board members they would each advocate for the same specific methodology to teach reading. They all three state they want teachers trained in a specific “Method” to teach reading. No! That’s the job of education experts. The Board should set expectations and provide oversight to ensure they’re met. None of these candidates are education experts; none have a degree in education (that they’ve made public anyway). Even if they were - the Board’s job is big-picture oversight, not getting into the weeds. What if every 2 years a new Board makeup dictated a different “method” teachers were to be trained in? Not cost-effective; not teacher-friendly; not their job.

 
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QUALIFICATION #2: UNDERSTAND HOW SCHOOLS ARE FUNDED, AND NOT MAKE FALSE OR MISLEADING CLAIMS ABOUT SCHOOL FUNDING

 

Raise your hand if you understand how schools are funded. Anyone, anyone? Yes - it’s a complex subject. But we think a minimum level of understanding should be expected of a person who has applied for the job (filed to run) to be a School Board member.

Most of our members know that there are different “pots” of money that cannot, by law, be co-mingled or used in ways other than intended. We also know that teachers and staff are funded by Operating funds from the Kansas Legislature. Our School Board canNOT get more funds to fund more teachers. They canNOT use funds in ways that are not legal.

After evaluating candidates, we are comfortable saying that our three endorsed candidates Andrew Van Der Laan, Gina Knapp, and Lindsay Weiss DO possess a basic understanding of how schools are funded in Kansas. They aren’t telling voters that they plan to hire more teachers with money that cannot be used in that way.

We ALL want smaller class sizes. In fact, the 3 candidates we did not endorse, Kaety Bowers, Christine White, and Jim McMullen, are campaigning on it. Unfortunately it’s a promise no candidate can make. Bond funds and Capital Outlay funds (which some of these candidates incorrectly claim is available for use to lower class sizes) canNOT be used to pay teacher salaries. Or any staff salary. ONLY Operating funds can pay teacher salary and those funds ONLY come from what’s allocated by the KsLeg. (There are very small fractions of staff salaries - not teachers - that may be covered by Capital Outlay. For the purposes of understanding how schools are funded, we are simplifying slightly.) Bowers, White, and McMullen have all said on their websites and social media that they want to decrease class sizes *in ways that canNOT be done.* Building funds canNOT be diverted to teacher salaries. Operating funds canNOT be increased by KsLeg without paying taxes to cover them.

Additionally, here’s another little aside. To decrease class sizes (which we’ve agreed we’d all love to see happen), more teachers and more CLASSROOMS would be required. So: either existing buildings would need to be enlarged, spaces repurposed, or existing classroom space divided up - or more buildings would be needed. Which brings us back to taxes. Either solution would require more Bond (tax) money.

If you hear a candidate for School Board say (or see on social media) they want smaller class sizes - ask them how they’d make that work. If they tell you they’d take money from another “pot” - they do not understand how schools are funded. You can refer them to our page to learn more. https://www.facebook.com/StandUpBlueValley/posts/273595722

 
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QUALIFICATION #3: UNDERSTAND AND APPRECIATE THE NONPARTISAN NATURE OF THE SCHOOL BOARD

We’ve been fighting this battle since 2015: Local Elections Are NONPartisan.

Candidates for School Board (as well as Mayor and City Council, BOCC, JCCC Trustee, and other local races on our Nov. 2 ballots) are not backed by, and should not campaign on, affiliation with a political party. School Boards are NONpartisan and each member must be committed to that mindset. School Board candidates and members should not seek to politicize our schools by invoking party affiliation or ideology. This nonpartisan nature of local elections is state law and commonly accepted best practice.

Our School Board needs community-minded individuals, focused on the success of our Blue Valley students - that’s it. They shouldn’t be beholden to party ideology or leadership. (We’ve heard horror stories of how party leadership demands and games in the KsLeg have influenced votes - not in good ways.) Rarely, BV School Board members have gone on to run for other offices - and in recent memory, even those offices have been nonpartisan.

Comparing candidates on this topic: We have endorsed Andrew Van Der Laan, Gina Knapp, and Lindsay Weiss, and in interviews, they have made it clear they do NOT intend to campaign on or use party affiliation or ideology in their campaigns or after being elected.

Conversely, we posted about a letter signed by candidates Kaety Bowers, Christine White, and Jim McMullen (and not repudiated by any of them as far as we know) in which they refer to themselves as “conservative Republicans” - the letter was sent to registered Republicans. https://www.facebook.com/StandUpBlueValley/posts/2780625478896051

Bowers, White, and McMullen have held in-person forums with well-known local Republicans including Kansas Legislator Kellie Warren.

Candidates repeating talking points from established ultraconservative anti-public education sources deserve a mention here, too. We’ve seen KPI’s worn-out talking points used by Bowers, White, and McMullen: misleading information about per-pupil spending (knowing, as we’ve explained, that Bond money going toward building projects, is not considered per-pupil spending); false information about student achievement (we’ll talk more soon about test results and grade-level proficiency). This practice invokes party ideology.

Past volunteer work for partisan candidates or a political party (we are not aware of any specifics of these) or donations to a partisan political candidate, unrelated to their School Board candidacy, is not interpreted by our evaluation process to be evidence of intent to use party affiliation in the School Board campaign. All 6 candidates are registered to vote with party affiliation (they are not Unaffiliated, in other words). We’re saying that clear statements and actions in the course of campaigning for School Board is contrary to the nonpartisan intent of local elections.

 
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QUALIFICATION #4: DEMONSTRATE INTEREST IN BLUE VALLEY SCHOOLS OVER TIME

How can we say this nicely? We prefer candidates for School Board who have showed up for more than a minute prior to putting their names on the ballot.

Why is this important? By volunteering in our schools and/or at the district level, interacting with students, other parents, teachers, and administrators, they’ve learned about functions and processes of the District. Their history of service, commitment, and ability to work with others in these school-related roles shows how they’ll work on the Board, if elected.

Andrew Van Der Laan, who we’ve endorsed for the Northeast Area Position 4, has been a longtime committed volunteer in his kids’ schools and at the district level. He has served on the district Legislative Group as well as the Health & Wellbeing Board Advisory Subcommittee. He’s held numerous PTO positions in his kids’ elementary and middle schools over the past 6 years, including a PTO VP position. He has run “Science on Wheels” for 4 years - an innovative hands on science program delivered by parent volunteers. He is well known in his kids’ schools for good reason: He shows up and does what needs doing.

Van Der Laan’s opponent, Kaety Bowers, did not return our questionnaire. She does not list any volunteer service with the district or in her kids’ schools on her website or Facebook page.

Gina Knapp, who we’ve endorsed for the Northwest Area Position 5, moved to Blue Valley with her family 3 years ago (although she grew up in nearby Lenexa). Knapp served on a district advisory committee in her previous school district, and since moving here she’s been on the BVNW QB Club Board for 2 years, and treasurer for one. She and her husband have coached flag football and basketball teams for the past 3 years, she’s served as a Girl Scout Leader for 5 years, and Pack Committee Chair for 2 years. Parents know Knapp because she is present, doing what she can for their kids.

Knapp’s opponent Christine White, who did not return our questionnaire, does not list any previous volunteer service on her website, nor did she on her Facebook page before taking it down. White is a well-known local pediatrician but there is no evidence of school or district volunteerism, prior to mid-2020 when she started showing up at Board meetings to vocally argue against school children wearing masks, and in fact, was appointed to a panel to advise the district on gating criteria. Since then, of course, White has done a 180 on her masking “views” and stated she’s “withdrawing” from the race - although the filing deadline passed a long time ago and her name will appear on the ballot.

Lindsay Weiss, who we have endorsed for the South Area Position 6, has served 6 years on two Board Advisory Committees and served on the District Middle School Redesign Committee. She has chaired more committees at her kids’ elementary, middle, and high school PTOs than you knew existed, seriously. And we’re talking committees that PTOs sometimes have to beg people to chair, like Activity Night and Communications. Weiss knows the challenges our schools face because she’s been there; she knows the great stuff our schools do because she’s seen it, too.

Jim McMullen, the other candidate in the South area, did not return our questionnaire. His website, Facebook page, and Twitter account (although prolific) do not indicate any service at the school or district level.

So there you have it. Three candidates who KNOW our schools and our district from boots-on-the-ground hours upon hours of service, much in behind-the-scenes, not flashy but very necessary support roles. And three candidates who do NOT have the same knowledge or experience and to be honest, haven’t done their homework. The distinction is clear.

 
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QUALIFICATION #5: COMMUNITY CONNECTIONS

Yesterday we talked about the many ways the candidates SUBV has endorsed have served their kids’ schools and our school district. Today, we’re covering their connections in the wider community.

When we interviewed our endorsed candidates, one theme was consistent: they decided to run for the BV Board of Education because they were asked to run by their friends and neighbors. Their community actively encouraged these candidates to represent them. As they seek to represent Blue Valley families with a wide variety of needs and opinions, we feel certain the candidates we have endorsed will use those connections to actively represent our community well.

Andrew Van Der Laan, who we’ve endorsed for the Northeast Area Position 4, currently serves as the President of the Board of the Coterie Theatre in Crown Center. He has volunteered for American Legion Boys State for almost 30 years. He is a Scoutmaster for a local Scouts BSA troop. Professionally, Van Der Laan is a self-employed executive leadership coach and business consultant, with a background in finance and operations.

Kaety Bowers, the other candidate for this position, who did not return our questionnaire, owns and operates a business as a Tattoo Artist, including paramedical tattooing, in Prairie Village. Her campaign website does not list any community volunteerism or memberships.

Gina Knapp, who we’ve endorsed for the Northwest Area Position 5, works remotely as the Vice President of Finance for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater St. Louis. Gina and her husband have head-coached flag football and basketball teams for the past 3 years. She has served as Girl Scout Leader for 5 years, and Pack Committee Chair for 2 years.

Christine White, the other candidate for the Northwest Area, did not return our questionnaire. White has stated she is withdrawing from the race, but her website is still active. It doesn't list any community volunteer work. White is a pediatrician.

Lindsay Weiss, who we have endorsed for the South Area Position 6, owns her own local business. She’s volunteered with the Junior League of Kansas City for 10 years. She’s volunteered on the Advisory Board of Braden’s Hope for Childhood Cancer for 5 years and as their Home Tour Coordinator for 4 years. Other community volunteerism includes being a Child Grief Group Lead at KC Hospice and Swim Team Co-Manager for the Mills farm Mustangs for 4 years.

Jim McMullen, the other candidate for the South area, did not return our questionnaire. McMullen does not list any community connections/volunteerism on his website. He attended law school but does not practice law; his website says he owns and operates an investment banking firm.

We’re encouraged that three qualified candidates with many connections in the Blue Valley and greater Metro community have volunteered to run for our School Board. We believe their community connections will serve them - and our school district - well, as they represent their constituents and in turn, work for our schools.

 
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QUALIFICATION #6: VALUE AND SUPPORT OUR DISTRICT'S DIVERSITY

Our members don’t think Diversity is a bad word, and they know that Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) is a GOOD thing - representative of a 21st Century-focused school district. Not only is Blue Valley Schools diverse, but so is the world our students live in today - not to mention the world they’ll navigate in adulthood.

We also know that a commitment to DEI is good for business. When our community’s public schools are both academically excellent AND inclusive to all students, that means Blue Valley is best poised to attract the types of business and industry our local economy needs to grow and thrive.

We’ve already discussed how attempts have been made to equate DEI with “CRT,” the law-school-level theory that is this season’s catchphrase for some who want to distract and divide voters. Don’t be fooled by the rhetoric.

From the district website:

Blue Valley students identify 90 different languages as their primary home language with almost 11 percent of students reporting a home language other than English. 30% of Blue Valley students have an ethnic identity other than White.

“Blue Valley Schools is committed to examining multiple perspectives and working to prepare all members of the Blue Valley community to thrive in a diverse world...The district's diversity team leads Blue Valley's efforts toward culturally responsive schools...The district offers many special programs including the Blue Valley Academy, a non-traditional program for high school students; and ACCESS, a program teaching independent living skills for students with moderate to severe disabilities.”

The BV School Board candidates we have endorsed - Andrew Van Der Laan, Gina Knapp, and Lindsay Weiss - celebrate and appreciate the diversity of our district - and of our community at large. Acknowledging and supporting diversity has an impact on student mental well-being and academic success, as well as preparing them for the real world.

The three candidates we did NOT endorse have all made statements about doing away with (the already nonexistent) CRT, “unproven ideologies,” and “Identity-Based Politics” central to their positions. The April 27, 2021 edition of “The Sentinel,” a Kansas Policy Institute e-publication funded by dark money that consistently works against our public schools, wrote: “Dr. Christine White plans to run for school board in the Blue Valley School District. She said critical race theory has no place in that district, one of the largest in the state...“Blue Valley should be focusing its time, money, and effort on teaching core subjects, not on unproven ideologies.” “ (White stated she is withdrawing from the election and will resign if elected - but her name remains on the ballot, her website is still active, and fellow candidates Bowers and McMullen are still urging their followers to vote for White.)

Jim McMullen devotes space on his website’s Key Issues arguing against “critical race theory or critical gender theory” (what?). Kaety Bowers thinks “we should remove political pressures and unproven ideologies from the classroom and instead teach critical thinking in government and constitutional education.” (Again, we’re not sure what all that means, but Blue Valley Schools already teaches those things, and if Bowers had returned our questionnaire we would have asked in an interview what “unproven ideologies” concern her.)

Bowers, White, and McMullen all three piled onto social media to promote a petition to “Return To Kill a Mockingbird to the Blue Valley School District Freshman Reading List.” McMullen incorrectly characterized the situation: “The district banned the novels in the fall of 2020.” Of course, the books were not “banned” and McMullen, an attorney, knows that. Here’s the truth about TKAM, as reported by the BVNW News: https://bvnwnews.com/.../blue-valley-removes-four-books.../ McMullen persists in arguing that the four books were “banned,” despite being corrected by others on social media.

Perhaps more concerning is McMullen’s Twitter account. Here’s a McMullen tweet from Nov. 6, 2020:

“Happy to explain some reasons we voted as we did: (1) we want our kids in school, (2) we embrace liberty, (3) we believe abortion is evil, (4) equality not equity, (5) it’s Latina/Latino, not Latinx, (6) riots suck, (7) there are no 8-year-old transgender kids.”

Twitter being Twitter, it’s hard to tell what he was responding to, but the thread has a couple of apparently deleted McMullen tweets referring to “child abuse.” In another tweet, McMullen retweets a piece about the mother of a transgender child with the statement: “ABC promoting a child abuser.”

In response to the following tweet:

“If some folks put as much time and effort into seeking justice and learning history as they did into combatting Critical Race Theory, there would be no need for Critical Race Theory.”

McMullen replied in a tweet:

“This is nonsense. “CRT” is a stand-in term for all the stupid, non-educational propaganda that school districts now adopt in the name of racial equity, none of which improves students’ academic performance. Liberals should just get whips to flog themselves when they feel guilty.”

We could go on, but you can read McMullen’s prolific Twitter for yourself.

Andrew Van Der Laan, who we’ve endorsed for the Northeast Area Position 4, Gina Knapp, who we’ve endorsed for the Northwest Area Position 5, and Lindsay Weiss, who we have endorsed for the South Area Position 6, have expressed a commitment to supporting ALL Blue Valley students, families, teachers, staff, and community members. This is what good school board members do - and why we’re proud to endorse them.

 
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QUALIFICATION #7: POSITIVE ATTITUDE

Are Blue Valley Schools perfect? No.

Is there an opportunity for improvement? Always.

But our endorsed candidates start with the positives. Based on their families’ personal experiences with all levels of Blue Valley Schools, they look to improve on what BV is doing well, while also looking carefully for areas of need.

Our questionnaire asked candidates the following related two questions:

What are 2-3 things you think Blue Valley Schools does best and why?

AND

What are 2-3 things where you think BV schools has room to improve? What are some steps that could be taken to achieve this improvement?

In today’s post, we’re illustrating our endorsed candidates’ positive attitudes by focusing on the second question - what can BV do better? Because even when discussing room for improvement, it’s possible to take a positive approach.

Andrew Van Der Laan, who we’ve endorsed for the Northeast Area Position 4, has this to say:

“First, Blue Valley needs to improve communication between the district and its community, including staff, students, families, and taxpayers. In the most recent patron assessment from 2017-18, 73% of respondents listed “Friends and Neighbors” as their primary source of information about the district. We saw the negative effects of this community-wide game of Telephone during the pandemic, and even before with the concern about changes to middle school electives. The district must provide transparent and effective communication to all stakeholders about the great work that Blue Valley Schools do for our community. This outreach should be through as many channels as possible, from social media to PTO meetings to public town hall discussions.

Second, the district should work to ensure that we are the best place for teachers to work in the KC metro area. That means providing the best possible pay and benefits to staff within budget, and it also means empowering teachers with professional development that allows them to grow within their careers. Additionally, BV should invest in greater mental health resources to reduce the burden of classroom personality management on teachers, especially through the increase of counseling support. These improvements will help ensure that the district can attract and retain the best teachers for our kids.

Finally, education was dramatically changed during the Covid-19 pandemic, and we need to be aware of the aftereffects. In the fall of 2021, students may be entering the school year without the prerequisite knowledge that the existing curriculum demands. Though this is not the fault of the district, or a reflection of the quality of its teaching, it is essential that Blue Valley makes a significant effort to reintegrate our students into this rigorous learning environment. The trauma experienced by both in-person and virtual learners in our community over the last 16 months must be taken into account, and teachers must be given the flexibility to review and tailor lesson plans to help our students get back on track.”

Gina Knapp, who we’ve endorsed for the Northwest Area Position 5 answered:

“Blue Valley can do a better job with their Special Education services. A deep dive similar to the middle school study they did a few years back, to look at what districts around the country do to support their special education kids is essential. In addition, a parent advisory committee with a voice to the Board and superintendent is key. I have lived and worked in communities with exceptional Special Education services. It CAN be achieved.

The second thing I believe Blue Valley has room to improve is its diversity and inclusion. As our district becomes more diverse, we need to be culturally sensitive and adaptable. Our community will continue to evolve and it is our responsibility to make ALL kids, regardless of race, religion, sexual identity/orientation, or ethnicity. We do this by listening to the needs of our diverse populations and taking action.”

Lindsay Weiss, who we have endorsed for the South Area Position 6, shared these thoughts:

“Our reading assessment scores are trending lower -- a nationwide trend that prompted us to look at our curriculum in 2018 and realize we needed to shift back to a more phonics-based approach. 2019-20 saw the beginnings of that shift -- especially for those with dyslexia and/or struggling with reading -- but the 2021-22 year will be the first that ALL students see a change in the iLit reading curriculum, which has shifted to a more structured literacy approach. Following this shift closely, and making sure teachers are properly trained should be a huge priority.

Teacher support and retention -- Our teachers are our best resources and we lost more of them last year than we typically do. Not surprising given the pandemic, but as the daughter of two teachers, I know the sacrifices they make. I think we need to be regularly asking teachers what support they need, listening closely in exit interviews, and prioritizing their mental health and well-being.

Diversity, equity & inclusion -- this is an incredibly hot-button issue right now, but it’s important enough that we need to wade through the muck and make sure it happens. DEI is not critical race theory. DEI is making sure every student feels safe, included, and respected in their school community. I think we start by looking at our DEI committee’s preliminary recommendations and creating a short and long-term plan with buy-in from parents, teachers, and students.”

So from the 3 candidates we have endorsed, we have 6 priorities that our district can do better - with a couple of the priorities shared by more than one candidate. By looking at what the candidates chose as room for improvement, and the words they chose to describe the issues, we see they have a positive attitude and approach, while also knowing that our schools are NOT perfect and there’s always work to be done.