Update: Kyle Bryant’s responses were added to this story March 23.
March 25, 2022, update: This story has been updated to reflect a change in how Daniel Currence’s website refers to Kyle Bryant’s campaign.
In the Liberty Public Schools school board race, four non-incumbent candidates have paired off to compete for two open slots. The winners would serve three-year terms.
Ahead of the April 5 election, The Kansas City Beacon sent five questions to each candidate about the district’s and school board’s strengths and weaknesses, and why they’re the right person to help their district improve.
In the coming weeks, we’ll publish similar candidate questionnaires for other major Kansas City-area school districts with upcoming elections. We’ve already published responses from Independence school board candidates.
In Liberty, Karen Rogers is an education law attorney who co-founded Liberty Parents for Public Schools. The group supports “safety, wellness and equity” in schools and hosts discussions of challenged books.
Rogers wants to address employee burnout, improve communication about the district’s plan for student learning, help students recover from the pandemic’s impact and promote “belonging through a culture of dignity.”
Matthew Sameck, a former teacher with nonprofit administration experience, is also endorsed by Liberty Parents for Public Schools.
Sameck, who praises Liberty Public Schools’ administration, wants to restart academic improvements that were “derailed” during the pandemic, improve communication about new educational practices and develop a slate of projects for a bond proposal that meets community needs and garners support.
Daniel Currence, an engineer who has experience as a school board member in central Missouri, wants to retain quality teachers, focus on academic excellence, improve transparency about board decisions and promote parents’ role in shaping the “moral character” of their children. His website suggests voters “also consider supporting” Kyle Bryant.
Bryant, the founder of the #LetThemPlay movement in the Northland, wants to promote an education system that leaves out politics, focus on helping students catch up academically, improve transparency on the school board and let parents know “they have their voice back.”
Two other candidates listed on the ballot — Jim Bates and Jon Rhoad — unofficially withdrew from the race, according to Ballotpedia and Bates’ campaign Facebook page. Rogers posted endorsements from both of them on her campaign Facebook page, both noting they withdrew to support the other candidates. Bates expresses support for Sameck as well in his endorsement.
Responses have been edited for clarity and Associated Press style, and one of Sameck’s responses was edited for length. See his full answer.
Click a question to jump ahead:
- What parts of your experience and background make you the best candidate to serve on the school board?
- What are some of your school district’s primary strengths and what challenges does it face?
- What is the school board doing well and how would you like to see it change or improve?
- If you are elected, what are the top two or three things you think you can realistically accomplish to improve the school district?
- Who would you like the school district to partner with to better serve families and students?
What parts of your experience and background make you the best candidate to serve on the school board?
Karen Rogers: I have 16 years of experience as an education law attorney, working with school board members, administrators, teachers and students. I’ve trained and advised board members and employees across multiple states on their responsibilities. I’ve worked with districts of all sizes on student education and privacy rights, employment matters, safety and health, transparency and effective governance. My husband and I have two LPS students at the elementary and middle school levels, and I am a member of and volunteer with school PTAs. I also co-founded Liberty Parents for Public Schools, a grassroots group to support our schools.
Matthew Sameck: I have a background in education, having gone to college to do so. I taught English language arts at the middle school and high school levels. I understand the challenges of the classroom and even the friction that can sometimes exist between teachers and the district itself. This insight will help in balancing the needs of teachers, the direction of administrative leadership and the expectations of the community. I have seven years of nonprofit administrative experience in arts management, with five of those years spent reporting to a board/committee structure. I also currently serve on the Development and Marketing Committee for Kansas City Actors Theatre. This gives me practice in working within the inherently collaborative, but accountable, structure the district operates under, in addition to experience helping to set budgets that have to balance priorities in the face of having too many things to spend money on and not enough funds to do it all.
Daniel Currence: While recently living in central Missouri, I served three years on the Eldon R-1 School Board, including one year as board president during the pandemic. As an engineer, I will bring critical, data-driven decision making to the board. In my current job, I bring together competing plastic pipe companies from across North America to reach consensus on key strategies for the industry. Therefore, my background and experiences have prepared me to be a valuable member of the Liberty Board of Education.
Kyle Bryant: Public education has been the lifeline of my entire family. My parents retired from the North Kansas City School District. My wife is a teacher, my brother and sisters-in-law are teachers. I am proud of my family’s involvement with public education. My wife and I also have three children attending the high school, middle school and elementary so I am heavily involved with the schools and will be for quite some time. I’ve also already proven that I can work with the community and the school board when I founded the #LetThemPlay movement for the Northland to keep sports and other activities alive during the pandemic.
What are some of your school district’s primary strengths and what challenges does it face?
Rogers: Our LPS teachers and workforce overall are highly experienced, skilled, and dedicated to serving students. I’ve spent significant time talking with teachers and administrators as well as leaders in nutrition services, health, safety, operations, school-aged care, finance and other areas. It’s clear we have talented and motivated people. Our challenge is to effectively address the burnout resulting from the past two years of pandemic learning so we can continue to attract and retain high-quality teachers and employees.
Sameck: There is a solid feeling of community support for the district, an excellent range of high-quality extracurricular activities and a well-regarded academic reputation. The district seems responsive to community needs and is working to improve.
The district has a solid financial footing and an excellent administrative team. Both teacher and administrative turnover may be a concern in the coming years, so we need our proven administrative leadership to continue the great work they’ve been doing to help provide stability.
Many of the steps the district had taken to improve educational practices before the pandemic were derailed. These initiatives will need to be reestablished. Additionally, there is necessary ongoing work to address learning gaps.
The district also will be crafting a slate of projects for a no-increase bond proposal later this year to address necessary facility updates. Communication and advocacy will be necessary to select a set of projects that meets the needs of the community and generates support.
Currence: One of the Liberty Public School District’s strengths is its incredibly talented, trained and experienced staff, teachers and administrators. I expect the challenges of working through the pandemic the past two years, coupled with a “hot” job market, will make retaining quality teachers a challenge for the district in the coming two years. The district will need to anticipate and be prepared to address this challenge so that classrooms can continue to be led by well-qualified and motivated educators.
Bryant: Leadership is by far the greatest strength for Liberty Public Schools. We continue to see principals like Dr. April Adams be congratulated as Principal of the Year by the Missouri Association of Secondary School Principals. Top-notch staff is what makes LPS one of the top districts in Missouri. As far as challenges, I feel as if politics have majorly influenced our education system over the last 16 years and I feel like we need to move back towards an education system that leaves this out. Politics do not belong in schools, and we are nearing a point of influence of our students that may not be able to be reversed.
What is the school board doing well and how would you like to see it change or improve?
Rogers: Our board has worked with our community to develop a strategic plan for student learning that prioritizes preparing students for their chosen life path, whether that includes college, military service, the workforce, or other experiences. The plan identifies core skills and competencies students should possess by graduation. The board and administration have acknowledged that LPS needs to do more to help parents and other stakeholders understand this plan, answer questions and reassure parents LPS will continue to assess feedback and adjust as needed.
Sameck: I think the board has generally done a good job of maintaining oversight of the district and listening to community input around educational equity and the importance of meeting different student needs during the pandemic. I believe there is room for improvement in communication between the district and parents around academic changes the district has been working on, like a move to more proficiency-based grading and adjustments to “accelerated” academic programs. I believe more communication around how and why the district is making these changes could help significantly in getting widespread community buy-in on these research-backed adjustments.
Currence: The board has kept the LPS District on solid financial footing, while maintaining the trust of patrons and keeping up with demand for additional classroom space. As the district looks forward, this success provides an opportunity for the board to consider facility improvements that can focus on academic program improvement and enhancements versus simply adding more classrooms. I think the board has an opportunity to further improve its relationship with the patrons by working to be more transparent with decision-making on sometimes contentious issues, so the community has a better understanding of the rationale behind these decisions.
Bryant: I attended this last school board meeting in March, and I can tell you that the vision for the future is bright for Liberty School District. The board will be making many decisions on capital improvements throughout the district and many of them are extremely exciting! For myself, I have a unique opportunity to bring a divided community together. We must listen, learn and honor each other’s values. Unity and cohesion does not mean that we agree on everything and I am willing to speak up and take a stand even when it doesn’t follow the popular narrative.
How do I vote?
Check your registration on the Missouri Secretary of State website.
Research and/or contact the candidates:
- Karen Rogers: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Matthew Sameck: email@example.com
- Daniel W. Currence: Currence4LPS53@gmail.com
- Kyle Christopher Bryant: https://www.facebook.com/bryantforlps53
- James (Jim) Bates: On the ballot but unofficially withdrew, according to Ballotpedia and campaign Facebook
- Jonathan (Jon) Rhoad: On the ballot but unofficially withdrew, according to Ballotpedia
Find your polling place by putting in your address. Check with your local election authority for the most updated information about your polling place.
View a sample ballot by clicking “View Candidates and Issues” after finding your polling place.
Vote between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m on April 5. If you’re in line at 7 p.m. you can vote.
Bring an acceptable form of voter ID — such as one issued by the state, the federal government or a Missouri college or university.
If you don’t have an ID or forget to bring one, you can cast a provisional ballot. It will be counted if you return with photo ID the same day or if your local election authority verifies your signature.
If you can’t vote on election day for one of several reasons Missouri accepts, request an absentee ballot by 5 p.m. March 23 or vote in person at the election authority office until 5 p.m. the day before the election. If not voting in person, most people need to have their absentee ballots notarized and you may need to attach a copy of your ID.
If you are elected, what are the top two or three things you think you can realistically accomplish to improve the school district?
- Voters may have an opportunity to approve a no-tax bond issue in August to address renovation needs. The board will likely vote soon after the election on the projects to be included.
- Invest in student well-being as foundational for successful learning, including:
- Addressing the pandemic’s impact on student learning with additional support.
- Continuing efforts to create “Belonging Through A Culture of Dignity” throughout LPS.
- Prioritize teacher retention and recruitment (because we know high-quality educators are key to learning).
Sameck: If elected, I would want to focus on working to improve communication around new educational practices with parents and other community stakeholders and helping to establish and promote a successful facility improvement bond initiative with the community.
Currence: I want the focus of the board to be academic excellence. Coming off the pandemic, the traditional bell curve reflecting students’ academic achievement has been spread out and flattened. I’d like to see emphasis placed on monitoring how the district can make up for any lost ground during the pandemic so that the lag in academic advancement does not follow these impacted students as they move forward. As stated in the prior response, I’d like to see key decisions by the district become more transparent. Assuring these key decisions are added to the board’s agenda so that on-the-record discussion can occur and asking questions to facilitate discussion are a couple ways to improve transparency.
Bryant: We are coming off the last two years of pandemic schooling. It’s been rough, and I know teachers are burned out, students have lost a lot of focus and our parents have little trust in the system. My hope is I can bring focus back to our district with determination and grit on pure academics. We need to get back to truly educating our children and make up any lost ground with our students who were impacted and are now behind in their academics. I also want to let parents know that they have their voice back. I will be there as a parent myself and will focus on changes to the board’s transparency as well as how we communicate as a community. We serve them, not the other way around.
Who would you like the school district to partner with to better serve families and students?
Rogers: Our family supports the Liberty Education Foundation, which helps fund additional student needs. Learning is impacted when students are hungry, homeless or struggling with unmet social and/or emotional needs. LPS counselors, social workers and health care team members already have strong connections with community partners to help address these needs, and I’ll support that work. I’ll also leverage relationships with businesses and nonprofit organizations to seek additional support. I recently attended a Liberty Alliance for Youth meeting, which focused on addressing students’ emotional needs. Many LPS staff members also attended, and we should recognize their efforts.
Sameck: With the focus on real-world experience at the high school level, the level of partnership at that level continues to be considerable. I think a strategy to continue to expand the opportunity to work with local businesses and institutions of higher learning like William Jewell College and Metropolitan Community College should be welcome.
Currence: The number one partner in students’ education should be the families. The district should work to foster improved communication between district decisions and patrons. The district should avoid implementing initiatives that undo the parents’ role in shaping the moral character of their children. The district should also continue its partnership with law enforcement agencies by maintaining and potentially expanding the school resource officer presence at LPS buildings. In addition to being on the front line of emergency response, providing consistent and healthy interaction with the SROs can pay dividends for future civic relations and reinforce the value of boundaries established by our laws and school policies.
Bryant: I’ve been a member of the Northland community for 40-plus years. I remain active in my community and have formed positive connections with local leadership and businesses. Reaching out to these networks and working with our Network 53 program and other available internships to create real-world experiences for our students is a vital part of the future of education.