North Kansas City school board candidates. Top row from left: Terry Ward, Frances Yang and Daniel Wartick. Bottom row from left: Susan Hines, Josiah Bechthold and Laura Wagner.
Top row from left: Terry Ward, Frances Yang and Daniel Wartick. Bottom row from left: Susan Hines, Josiah Bechthold and Laura Wagner. (Provided photos)

For a transcript of a forum with the 2023 North Kansas City Schools candidates, click here.

In the race to serve on the school board for North Kansas City Schools, 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. 

The Beacon has published similar candidate questionnaires for other major Kansas City-area school districts with upcoming elections, including from Independence, Lee’s Summit, Liberty and Park Hill

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

Josiah Bechthold is a parent of three North Kansas City Schools students. Susan Hines is a parent of young children with experience in education and human relations. Neither of their responses was shortened. 

Andrew Corrao announced in a March 25 Facebook post that he is withdrawing from the race and will be voting for Wartick and Ward.

The Kansas City Beacon attempted to reach Duane Bartsch through an email address listed on his campaign Facebook page and through a Facebook message to another campaign page for both Bartsch and Bechthold, but did not receive a reply. 

Click a question to jump ahead:

What parts of your experience and background make you the best candidate to serve on the North Kansas City School Board? 

Terry Ward: I earned a Ph.D. from the UMKC Bloch School of Management and the School of Education. I have served in many volunteer roles in the Northland and across the entire city and state. My most relevant experience has been serving on the NKC School Board. I have been closely involved in district work on curriculum, new and updated school buildings, technology deployment, creating the new Early Education Center and maintaining the highest fiscal performance with no tax increases since 2014. I have also fostered efforts to reduce energy consumption by one-third. My years of service on the board have provided excellent experience, greater than any of the other candidates. I have fostered innovation and collaboration that led the district toward ever-improving student performance.  

Frances Yang: As a current North Kansas City School Board member, I received extensive training through the Missouri School Boards’ Association. I was the only Pacific Islander school board member in ALL of Missouri at the MSBA Legislative Forum. It is my mission to do my part representing our district for diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility through every training opportunity. 

As a parent of two young children in NKCSD, I am committed to all of our children and families. I have been an educator at Harvard Medical School, Medical College of Georgia, and currently at the University of Kansas Medical Center. I am the only board member with over 40 publications and funded research grants with peer-reviewed publications. I used the same methodology to examine NKCSD data. 

Josiah Bechthold: I’m a parent of three children who attend schools in the North Kansas City school district. That means I care. Enough said.

Laura Wagner: For five years I served on the NKC Education Foundation Board, helping award $500,000 in grants to teachers, librarians and staff who sought to add innovative approaches to teaching and student learning; and scholarships to amazing students. I now serve on the Industry Executive Council (IEC) for the district, introducing future career options to both students and teachers as they develop the new Pathways program. As a mother of two district students (teenagers), a former small-business owner, and labor union member, I have honed my negotiation and communication skills.

Daniel Wartick: My background and experience include being a student, parent, educator and community member in North Kansas City Schools. I also have business experience in the insurance industry. I offer leadership from various perspectives – most importantly as an educator who purposely chose to stay at the building level to work collaboratively with students, families and staff. I appreciate the value of inviting stakeholder voice to engage in their neighborhood schools so that all points of view are represented in decisions that create excellent educational opportunity for students while also creating a community culture of support for teachers and staff.  

Susan Hines: I’ve demonstrated my passion for lifelong learning throughout all seasons of my career – first as an ESOL teacher, then as a standardized test development professional at a not-for-profit and now in HR at a 300,000-person international company.  In addition to my teaching, assessment and corporate experience, I am a person of color, recently completed a DEI Solutions certificate course and am a parent of young children (first grader and preschooler). Combined, I can uniquely contribute to the mission, future vision and strategy of NKC schools to access, affirm and activate the full potential of every student.

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

Ward: We are the largest district on the Missouri side of the metropolitan area and the second largest district in Missouri. We are growing by about 300 students a year. We are meeting the fiscal demands of matching this growth with resources. The district is about half composed of students on free and reduced-price lunch. We have the most diverse high school and elementary school in Missouri. 

Even with these challenges, we consistently perform at or above the state average and provide an inclusive learning environment that fosters student growth. We initiated programs that support pre-K education, student learning through external collaborations with business, industry-focused high school education and a full array of extracurricular and co-curricular experiences. 

Yang: The strength of the North Kansas City School District is its diversity. There is value added to our district through the differences in perspectives, background and languages. Another strength is the teachers who care and inspire our students each day to be curious and creative. 

One major challenge is having interactive, adequate and effective communication for all families regarding our children’s education. As an ELL parent, I know everyone deserves a voice and access to resources. Second, teacher and staff retention to prevent burnout: We need to provide our teachers, bus drivers, mechanics, custodial and staff with the respect and competitive compensation they deserve. Last, but certainly not least, are safe schools with updated buildings and technology utilizing companies that treat their employees fairly. 

Bechthold: The biggest strength is our students and teachers who have had to put up with disruptions to learning. The biggest challenge? Getting rid of the burnout teachers and students alike have faced and raising our academic scores.

Wagner: The North Kansas City School District has been working hard to try to determine what graduates will need in the future. It is establishing a Pathways program that shapes curriculum around industry input. It helps prepare students for jobs after graduation and internships while they are still students. 

There are things every school district needs to work on when it comes to inclusion, and the NKC district is no exception. My greatest concerns are the groups actively working to defund public schools. These groups are largely national but are working at state and local levels to divert funds for what they call “parent choice.” Parents already have a choice on how to educate their children. This defunding effort will cause more harm than good. 

Wartick: North Kansas City Schools has a strong tradition of excellence that has a mission centered on student success. I’d like to continue contributing to all efforts to ensure district graduates are well prepared for success after high school, regardless of their postsecondary plans. The challenge is preparing our community for a new normal as we emerge from a global pandemic. We must reinvest in our teachers and staff, recruiting and retaining valued educators in a healthy professional environment supported by a community that trusts and respects their work in creating exceptional learning opportunities for children. We need to ensure that an appreciative culture exists for all employees of the district. 

Hines: We made an intentional choice to move to this district in 2020 because of its diversity — seen and unseen — and reputation as a great place to raise a family. Northlanders take pride in their communities! The challenges our district faces are the health and wellness of everyone in the district, teacher retention and having a school board, administration and teacher profile that reflects the diversity of the community.  

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

Ward: The school board is composed of seven individuals who share their perspectives, their ideas, and their vision to guide the district forward. Differences will always exist, but a key attribute of the North Kansas City School Board is the ability to find common ground by focusing on serving the students and the employees of the district. Honest communication among board members and between the board and the district leadership is important. Board members must be good listeners to the community and they must inspire the district leadership to lead the district toward ever-increasing levels of performance and relevance while assuring fiscal responsibility.

Yang: The school board is doing well in allowing everyone an opportunity to attend board meetings, watch the livestream and review past board meeting materials. However, navigating through the district website is sometimes difficult, and I want to propose a streamlined process with a better search engine. For example, parents are unaware about how to report bullying through the district website. This document needs to be translated for multilingual families. The school board meetings also allow everyone in our school district to have three minutes to speak about concerns and celebrations. It is especially encouraging to see students engaged in this process. To address differences of opinion, we need to discuss openly between and across members of our community in a respectful manner. 

Bechthold: I’m not aware of anything the school board is doing well. Academic scores are falling. From forced masking to letting kids fall behind in their studies due to forced homeschooling, not to mention the emotional toil of isolating kids six feet apart, what good has come of the last two years? And to add to the outrage, the school board is allowing adult material into the school libraries. It’s time to bring things back to the way they were, before the dark times of this tyrannical school board that ignores the voices of concerned parents.

Wagner: The NKC School Board does excellent work and has done so in difficult circumstances. Most recently, the board has dealt with mask mandates, hybrid learning, questions about books in the libraries, and the angry parents that come with these issues. In the face of all of it, this school board has kept the students at the forefront – doing what is best for them and their growth and development. There are more challenges ahead, and I would be pleased to help see them through to the finish line.

Wartick: Members of the North Kansas City Schools Board of Education are highly committed volunteers who are dedicated to the work of ensuring the best possible outcomes for the children the district serves. I believe they consistently do their best to listen to all vested parties and incorporate various perspectives prior to making decisions in the best interest of students. I hope to enhance the work of the Board of Education, particularly by bringing my experiences as a student, parent, teacher and administrator to the board. I have worked closely with students, teachers, and staff and understand how school communities’ work. These experiences offer a unique perspective that I would like to put to work in improving outcomes for our school community.

Hines: The NKC school board overall does a good job of communicating and being transparent about its decision-making processes. Members seem to have a professional rapport with each other and I also appreciate their willingness to revisit decisions/discussions in the face of new information/input from students and community. For improvement, I’d like to see a board that better reflects its constituent communities. A more diverse board will also attract a more diverse pipeline of staff candidates. The research is clear that more diverse teams (operating in a psychologically safe culture) make better decisions.

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 North Kansas City School District?

Ward: Educational excellence is always the number one task of the school board and the district. The pandemic opened new possibilities for our students but affected academic achievement. We need to complete the facility upgrade that we started. We need to continue to address our student population that is growing and increasingly diverse. The Portrait of a Graduate work and Career Pathways reframing of high school education must be completed, evaluated and fine-tuned. We have struggled with test scores in math; we are instituting our second effort in three years to improve results. While we are running slightly ahead of the state average, performance is not at a level that is acceptable. We need to find ways to improve student performance across all grades and curricula. 

Yang: If I am elected, one of the top things I will realistically accomplish is to provide parents, staff and teachers with platforms to voice opinions openly and honestly, protecting their privacy to avoid retaliation. It is important that the data is transparent and replicable, potentially analyzed by a third party to avoid any bias. 

I want to provide secondary education students, especially underrepresented minority students, with paid summer research opportunities in higher education through a National Institutes of Health R25 grant. This will also provide the district with additional funding and programs for science teachers. 

Through my simple, 3-pronged ACTionable approach of Accountability, Commitment and Transparency, I believe we can improve our ability to listen to all voices and address every concern. 

Bechthold: Well, the top issue is extending the district bond levies so we can continue to upgrade our school facilities. And I intend to ensure that we can retain quality teachers.

Wagner: I am hoping we can encourage innovative teaching in the district, where teachers have opportunities to make learning enjoyable for students; and I am hoping to remove obstacles to learning, such as phone use in the classroom when it isn’t needed and finding ways to reduce class sizes.

Wartick: One area of focus for me is cultivating a culture of respect and support for district employees. Those who work with our students every day are at a point of crisis with many choosing to retire and/or leave the profession. We must turn that tide. I aspire to a board position to contribute to the work of maintaining exceptional teachers and support staff by more fully incorporating their voices into decision-making. 

I want to ensure a continued effort around listening to diverse points of view, encouraging greater partnership with families and community to inspire engagement with schools. All voices – including those of our critics – are valuable in building communities of trust, finding common ground and uniting people around doing what is best for all learners.

Hines: 1. Level off/reduce regrettable losses of teachers and staff.

2. Establish additional evaluation metrics/criteria beyond test scores to measure the “health” of our district key performance indicators.

3. Make free breakfast and lunch permanent: Could we have an agricultural/food services pathway that incorporates new vertical farm technology so we can grow and cook our own food for the district? This would also alleviate some of the current supply chain issues we’re facing.

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

Ward: First, we need to continue to find ways to meet the social-emotional needs of students. We are partnering with several nonprofit organizations in the area to address this, including Tri-County Mental Health, Synergy and Cornerstones of Care. We have received funding from the Clay County Children’s Fund. 

Secondly, we need to continue to find ways to partner with institutions of higher learning to increase the rigor of instruction and not only prepare students for postsecondary education, but actually have them start that work while they are finishing their high school diploma. The district does not have the resources to provide everything for every student, but, because we see the community as a partner in our work, we find ways to bring more resources than just ours. 

Yang: Partnerships with local businesses and labor unions are important to better serve families and students in the North Kansas City School District through purchasing supplies and services that are made in the USA. By supporting our local businesses, we will in turn be able to receive their support to fill gaps in our school district and vote for the upcoming bond and levy transfer. I would like to see the school district partner with local foreign language schools, along with embassies in the Greater Kansas City and the Midwest, to offer foreign language experiences from pre-K to elementary school grades. 

Bechthold: We need more programs through the Northland Career Center to enable high school students to be an EMT or a certified plumber or electrician the day they graduate. College is not for everyone. Our high schools need to become vocational schools that teach actual life skills instead of turning our kids into snowflakes headed towards universities that will only burden them with tens of thousands of dollars of student debt.

Wagner: I want to see more local businesses, nonprofits and entrepreneurs partner with the district to provide student enrichment and internships – and reach out to parents as well for opportunities.

Wartick:  The school district has a rich history of partnering with the community to support our students and staff. I was proud of our district for leading the way many years ago in building strong relationships with local law enforcement agencies to be part of our work in providing safe schools. Another strength of the district is being proactive with establishing partnerships with our area’s health and wellness network of agencies. The district has reached out to businesses, both small and large, to support the career pathways that were launched in our four high schools this school year. I strongly support continued efforts to expand wraparound services for our families. Our most important partnership is with parents, guardians and extended families, working together to advocate for each student, preK–12.

Hines: I’m impressed with the number of community partnerships the district already engages with today. One possible enhancement is connecting the district’s purchasing power with Minority Business Development Agency programs and services to broaden and deepen the diversity of the district’s network.

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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.