Lee's Summit school board candidates Jennifer Foley, Larry Anderson, Melissa Kelly-Foxhoven, William Lindsey and Heather Eslick.
Top row from left: Jennifer Foley and Larry Anderson. Bottom row from left: Melissa Kelly-Foxhoven, William Lindsey and Heather Eslick. (Provided photos)

For a candidate questionnaire with the 2023 Lee’s Summit R-7 School District candidates, click here.

In the race to serve on the school board for the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District, eight candidates are competing for two slots, each serving a three-year term. 

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 week, 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 and Liberty school board candidates

Responses have been edited for length, clarity and Associated Press style. Follow the links to see full responses from:

  • Melissa Kelly-Foxhoven, a longtime Lee’s Summit parent and volunteer who has human resources experience.
  • Heather Eslick, a former active-duty Army officer who has worked as a district manager and sales account manager. 

The Beacon did not abbreviate responses from:

  • Larry Anderson, a candidate with experience on the Butler R-V school board. 
  • Jennifer Foley, a community volunteer with experience leading teams and managing budgets. 
  • William Lindsey, a candidate who has worked in education for 20 years. 

The Beacon was not able to reach Anna Geanes, Joseph Yacaginsky or incumbent Mike Allen. 

Click a question to jump ahead:

What parts of your experience and background make you the best candidate to serve on the school board? 

Larry Anderson: I have six years of school board experience serving as the secretary, treasurer, vice president and president for the Butler R-V School District School Board. I was also selected to serve on the statewide Missouri School Boards’ Association Leadership and Development Committee, and I obtained a master board certification by the MSBA. Other experience includes graduating from the City of Lee’s Summit Leadership Academy and advocating in Washington, D.C., and Jefferson City, MO, for public education. Finally, I have a B.S. degree in electrical engineering.

Melissa Kelly-Foxhoven: I am a 20-plus year active LSR7 parent and school/program/district level volunteer. 

Our children have been a part of a wide range of programs within the LSR7 school district, from special needs services to advanced studies.

I have experience as an HR professional, as well as partnering with LSR7 alumni and community resources/organizations. I’m currently on the CSIP committee for LSR7, PTO parent. Fundraised and worked as a community advocate to bring in additional financial support for school activities. 

I hope to play a part in modern education and governance.

I have seen the caring and support our teachers have given our students and believe my volunteer experiences have prepared me for effective board service.

Heather Eslick: I developed strong leadership skills through my experience as an active-duty Army officer. I had responsibilities for soldiers’ lives and millions of dollars of government equipment in high-stress, high-stakes situations. I later took a role in operations in the electrical industry and worked my way to a district manager role within three years. This provided me the chance to learn business management, profit and loss, and acquire skills in organizational leadership. I have worked for the last four years as a sales account manager. This role allowed me to refine my negotiation skills and become an even more skilled communicator. 

All of the above skills are transferable to a position as a board member. Good listening skills, a willingness to learn from others and a common-sense approach are strong suits for me.

Jennifer Foley: In my career I have had experience with leading teams, managing budgets, creating and implementing quality improvement projects, and serving on committees and executive boards. I have volunteered with children and teens in the community for several years and have built relationships with many families in our district. My career skills combined with a passion for relationship building in the community make me well suited for the position.

William Lindsey: I have been in education for 20 years. Prior to that, I had 15 years corporate experience in insurance management and 12 years military. I’m involved in the local community. My variety of experience and accomplishments should prove valuable as a board member for LSR7.

What are some of your school district’s primary strengths and what challenges does it face? 

Anderson: The Lee’s Summit School District has a great history of education excellence and community support. The district is also well-known for its student support and special services programs. I believe the two greatest challenges are recruiting and retaining highly qualified teachers and staying focused on enhancing a safe, positive and equitable school culture and environment. Closing the achievement gap is a priority for the school district. Doing this requires a long-term commitment. I am eager to support programs to reach that goal.

Kelly-Foxhoven: Our district is cognizant of our challenges and has put together a diverse team of educational professionals, parents/guardians and community members to evaluate our current and future needs. We have implemented tools that provide caregivers with insight into our students’ curriculum, grades, attendance, Chromebook history and overall progress. The acknowledgement of our gaps and seeing the board’s approval of programs to close those gaps in reading, math skills and mental health support is encouraging.

Eslick: LSR7’s strengths are the challenging academic programming and variety of activities offered to our students and the quality of our teaching staff. Our district offers opportunities to take AP and IB courses and earn trade experience or college credits. On average, our teachers are more experienced in the classroom and have more degrees than the state average. Parental experiences with teachers one-on-one are typically positive.

The district’s challenges are struggles with perceptions in the community. Because of the way the district communicates, some parents are not seeing the transparency and information provided about their children which they would prefer. For example, the district conducts social-emotional learning surveys, but parents do not have access to their child’s results and are not required to provide consent. 

Foley: We have a wonderful staff that is dedicated to the success of our students. I believe that our team is well equipped to handle many obstacles. One of the current challenges we face is dealing with the learning loss associated with the pandemic. Educators are challenged with catching students up from what they missed while also learning new material. We need to do everything possible to make sure the teachers have all the tools and resources they need in accomplishing this task.

Lindsey: The strengths in the district are found in its history, parent involvement and graduation rates and acceptance to colleges and universities. Challenges are lower enrollment and less budget. Board moving from reactive to proactive mindset. Parent voices being part of decision making.

What is the school board doing well and how would you like to see it change or improve?

Anderson: Recently, the LSR7 school board unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding with an organization to provide valuable social-emotional and behavioral support services within some school buildings for students. Providing support for our students’ social, mental and stress as it is related to the pandemic was a major concern for parents. The board responded with this pilot program. I support their decision and will strive to have this service available in all of our district buildings.

Kelly-Foxhoven: Recognizing that a portion of our service population feels underserved and marginalized is a huge issue that must be addressed. 

Although standardized test scores show increasing improvement in our schools, significant differences among economic and cultural groups still exist. We need to significantly close the achievement gap.

As an IT HR professional, I have had the opportunity to be a part of several successful diversity and inclusion programs in the private sector. Our district has been doing the same important work.

Our goal as a district is to prepare our students for a life after graduation. Successful employers focus on skills/academics, as well as social skills, so understanding the diversity of the workplace will aid students in their future careers. 

Eslick: I believe our school board has their heart in the right place. I believe our board members care about the success of our students and the success of the district. In my opinion, the perceived value of parental and community input is not something that is a priority. I simply see this as a function of the individual board members’ views of parents’ roles in education. Board members also have a finite amount of time in this volunteer position to address the multitude of concerns. I think a renewed focus on the partnership between families and the schools in education can improve community relations and perceptions. 

Foley: The school board is doing well at keeping disagreements civil. This has not always been the case in LSR7.

Going forward, I would like to see more two-way communication like town halls. I have heard many families express distrust because they feel unheard. I believe taking proactive steps to improve communication can go a long way. Many times a solution is already there, but if our community members are unaware of some of the district’s resources or don’t know the full scope of a situation, the transparency is lost simply because of miscommunication. 

Lindsey: I believe the board communicates well with the different mindsets of the group. Decisions consistent with safety, health and overall improvement of the school district.

How do I vote?

Check your registration on the Missouri Secretary of State website.

Research and/or contact the candidates:

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, you can 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?

Anderson: I will use my past school board training, experience and proven track record to influence the board to stay focused on prioritizing student achievement. I will support and stay accountable to continue implementing instruction support services for all students to achieve, recognizing the pathway to achievement may not be the same for every child. Finally, I will promote programs that retain, recruit and benefit high-quality teachers.

Kelly-Foxhoven: Working in tandem with the district to provide governance and to be a steward of the public’s financial investment, for the purpose of educating our students, is important to me.

I wanted to be part of a board that recognized that all kids need support, and that support looks different for each student. 

As a board member, I look forward to the committees that are aligned with community partnerships, assessments, processes, legislation and citizens advisory committees. I’d also be interested in working with the special education superintendent and ED teams.

As a long-standing parent in the district, I have also experienced silence when I’ve had an issue, and I understand how frustrating that can be. I have no problems referring individuals to the appropriate decision-makers when contacted.

Encouraging enriched K-12 STEM programs is a passion. 

Eslick: Improved communication — The district does the legally required minimum. The board is required by law to provide 24 hours notice about public meetings. I will request that we revise the policy to provide four days notice so the public can plan to attend meetings. 

Improved transparency — Town halls and open forums with two-way communication could be a vital resource to have meaningful dialogue. I will emphasize protecting families’ rights to approve nonacademic engagements, surveys and media exposure.

Support for learning differences — Our students with learning differences, diagnosed or not, can fall through the cracks in academic and disciplinary ways. Though we have some resources and excellent special education teachers, I support broadening the support and training in the general teaching population.

Foley: I believe I can help increase clarity in why decisions are made by being open about the process and information that is available. If we make a decision, especially if it is a controversial one, I want the public to understand why.

I can leverage my relationships in the community to bring awareness to the administration when there are concerns from our citizens. While a board member can definitely not fix every problem, if we know there is a growing trend we can bring the topic up for consideration.

Lindsey: Top three things to address during my first term would be:

  • Better relationship with families in the community.
  • Improve service to the families and community.
  • Plan proactively for the future to insure a continued successful future for LSR7.

Who would you like the school district to partner with to better serve families and students? 

Anderson: LSR7 e-newsletters, public information and live streaming events are communication priorities that parents want from the district. The district has made great progress but more can be accomplished. Communication is a platform that I am campaigning on..

Kelly-Foxhoven: Building our partnerships with experts and businesses specializing in tech- and science-based careers will provide internships and added resources and support for our students. 

Eslick: I think the district can partner with community businesses and local nonprofit organizations to provide resources and support to students and families. Students can get real-world experiences by working within the community. To continue to create career-ready students, it’s important for the district to remain in tune with the needs and gaps of the workforce. As for nonprofit organizations, the district has needs that can be filled by volunteers or part-time employees who don’t necessarily have a degree in education. Students with tutoring needs may be able to receive support from volunteer organizations. The transportation department has a major need for bus drivers and appealing to some of these organizations might yield people willing to help. 

Foley: Parents and community business leaders are great resources that we can grow our partnerships with. Now is a great time to partner with parents that have increased their involvement with their children’s education due to the pandemic. We should capitalize on the opportunity to bring interested parties in to volunteer or to serve on committees.

When community business leaders offer resources and support to our schools, I think those opportunities should be evaluated and considered.

Lindsey: Would love to see the district partner more with local businesses and churches and senior organizations.

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Maria Benevento is the education reporter at The Kansas City Beacon. She is a Report for America corps member. Follow her on Twitter @MariaFBenevento.