Raytown school board candidate Natalie Johnson-Berry and Blue Springs school board candidate Bobby Hawk.
From left: Natalie Johnson-Berry and Bobby Hawk. (Provided photos)

In the race to serve on the Blue Springs district school board, four candidates — including two incumbents — are competing for two slots, each serving a three-year term. 

In Raytown, five candidates — also including two incumbents — are vying for two seats with 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. 

We have been publishing similar candidate questionnaires for other major Kansas City-area school districts with upcoming elections, including from Independence, Lee’s Summit, Park Hill, North Kansas City and Liberty.

The Beacon received just one candidate response from each district, so we are combining their answers. 

In Blue Springs, incumbent Bobby Hawk is a parent and lead pastor. The Beacon attempted to reach Nick Bleess, Will Hecht and incumbent Rhonda Gilstrap through Facebook messages sent to their campaign pages but received no responses. 

In Raytown, incumbent Natalie Johnson-Berry is a longtime teacher and parent. The Beacon could not find reliable contact information for Edith Marsalis, Michael Watson or Alexis Christopher. We attempted to reach incumbent Bobbie Saulsberry through her Facebook campaign page but did not receive a response. 

Responses have been edited for clarity and Associated Press style, and Johnson-Berry’s responses were edited for length. See Johnson-Berry’s full responses.  

Click the links to jump ahead:

Blue Springs

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

Bobby Hawk (incumbent): I have served on the school board for the past three years, two of which have been during the COVID-19 pandemic. I am an alumnus of the Blue Springs School District and have a daughter in middle school and another daughter entering kindergarten this coming fall at BSSD. In my professional role I am a lead pastor at EPIC Church and the executive director of the EPIC Sports Lodge. I have served in various leadership roles on a variety of boards throughout my lifetime. I currently have a master’s in organizational leadership and I’m finishing another master’s degree along with a doctor of education in organizational leadership. I feel like my experience on the board, along with my professional experience and educational background and being a parent of children in the district are all beneficial to my role as a school board member.

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

Hawk: BSSD is a very strong district and consistently ranks as the highest on this side of the state. We have great academic programs along with athletics and activities for so many students. Our career tech programs continue to expand and we have become a destination district for many families and educators in the KC metro. Of course, our district has challenges like every other district. Financially we want to support teachers and staff with higher pay, but we are also limited by the income we receive from local, state and federal funding. Making sure our schools are as safe as possible is another ongoing challenge along with providing the additional counselors and staff to address mental health needs. 

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

Hawk: Our current school board works very well together with our superintendent. We have navigated the difficulty of COVID-19 and had to make several difficult decisions along the way. While we do not agree on everything, we come to consensus often and work together as a team to do what is best for staff and students. One of the key improvements we are making is adding additional resource officers and counselors to our schools to help with the physical safety and mental health needs of our staff and students. We must continue to make this a priority as we move forward.

If you are elected, what are the top two or three things you think you can realistically accomplish to improve the school district?

Hawk: As a school board member I cannot accomplish anything on my own or make promises since we are a board of seven. However, as a TEAM we are committed to the following four areas. 

  • T – Teachers and staff (the recruitment and retention of teachers and staff is very important in the shortage we are seeing nationally and statewide.) 
  • E – Educational pathways (innovation for new career pathway opportunities and interventionists to help our students who need it most after COVID-19.) 
  • A – Allocation of resources (budgeting for current and future priorities while also completing our current bond project and planning for the next bond campaign.) 
  • M – Mental health (providing support to staff and students in a variety of ways and adding specialists to our schools to help those who need the extra support.)

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

Hawk: We are already in partnership with other school districts along with businesses in our community for career pathways. I’d like to see the number of business partnerships grow when it comes to internships, job shadowing and high school career curriculum opportunities.

How do I vote?

Check your registration on the Missouri Secretary of State website.

Research and/or contact the candidates

Blue Springs:


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. 


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

Natalie Johnson-Berry (incumbent): I am a parent of a student in the Raytown School District and have the experience of being a highly qualified teacher with more than 20 years of experience. I am also a future school leader with a specialist degree in educational leadership and I advocate in my community for students. Other qualifications include being an equity trainer, a teacher of the year multiple times and recognized as one of the top eight teachers in Kansas. 

I want to ensure that every student feels like they belong in the classroom and that our teachers are respected and provided the resources they need to be their best for our students. I am involved in organizations that focus on curriculum and instruction. I value being a lifelong learner and I am currently in school for educational leadership to receive a doctorate. I have the endorsement of the Raytown National Education Association. 

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

Johnson-Berry: Key strengths of the Raytown School District include the diversity of our families and students. We are a small, close-knit community and support each other. We also have a staff that is second to none. 

Raytown also has a strong support base with the community that champions the success of our students, and this community works with organizations such as Raytown Educational Foundation to provide educational opportunities. 

One area that we can continue to improve is how we engage parents in our community. Our district could also have more professional development in culturally responsive practices. We could also revisit our discipline policies to address root behaviors. We must also focus on improving our district enrollment, teacher morale, provide comparative salaries to staff, increase their retention, as well as revisit other inclusive policies for our students. 

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

Johnson-Berry: Raytown has innovative and real-world learning programs and resources that support our family and students’ growth. I would like to see more project-based learning across the district at the middle school level. I would welcome service-based learning opportunities. There is also a need for a more inclusive curriculum for diverse learners. An increase in our college and advanced course offerings could continue to improve student learning and engagement. I also believe that it is vital to include stakeholders in our decisions concerning academic offerings and programs. 

Additionally, Raytown is one of the best-known districts for intentionally making a space for a diverse student population. We can improve in the area of diversity by committing to having teachers, leaders and other staff that are representative of the diverse body of students and families that Raytown intentionally cultivates. 

If you are elected, what are the top two or three things you think you can realistically accomplish to improve the school district?

Johnson-Berry: Some of the priorities that I feel are important include improving teacher morale and retention; improving equitable, culturally responsive policies for students; supporting the social and emotional health of teachers and students; and improving the academic innovation and interventions for students. As a public school teacher, I believe in the professionalism of teachers and want teachers to continue to feel valued. These efforts can improve belongingness and increase agency and retention. Teachers who feel valued and supported are the best individuals to teach our students. 

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

Johnson-Berry: I would like the district to partner with community organizations and groups that could improve our support in the area of mental health for our students and staff. It would also be beneficial to partner with organizations that could provide a wider access to academic real-world opportunities, more college access resources, as well as organizations that support students with academic interventions and mentorship. 

Students cannot learn at the optimal level if they lack the basic needs including housing and food, and parents need access to more resources to support them in their role as parents. The district currently has some invaluable resources in place for many of these needs, but an increase of these programs at an even more substantial level would help us to better serve students, parents and staff. 

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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.