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In the race to serve on the school board for the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District, seven candidates are competing for three slots, each serving a three-year term.
Ahead of the April 4 election, The Kansas City Beacon sent five questions to each LSR7 candidate, asking why they’re the right person to serve on the board and how they’ll tackle the district’s challenges.
All seven candidates responded.
The responses have been edited for clarity and AP style. Several of Kathryn Campbell’s and Regina Garrett’s responses have been edited for length. See their full responses here.
Click a question to jump ahead:
- What background and experiences make you best qualified to serve on the LSR7 school board?
- What would you like to see the school board do differently, and/or how would you like to see it build on its previous work?
- What are the top three challenges LSR7 is facing?
- If elected to the school board, you’ll be working alongside the other members and won’t be able to take many official actions as an individual. Pick one of the challenges you mentioned in the last question. How would you work with your fellow school board members to make positive change on that issue?
- Imagine a parent or teacher comes to you with a criticism or concern about LSR7. What steps would you take to address their feedback?
What background and experiences make you best qualified to serve on the LSR7 school board?
William “Billy” Peterson: As a prior military service member, I bring leadership, mission-driven success and integrity above all else. I learned through hard work and adversity how to overcome obstacles and challenges most people never consider. After leaving the service, I attained a bachelor’s of science in computer information systems. My experience in life allows me to think critically and from different perspectives working with diverse stakeholders to achieve mission success.
Regina Garrett: I have experience managing large sales accounts. Along with my work in customer service, that gave me the ability to interact with people with diverse needs and come up with viable solutions. I believe it is critical to have trustworthy stewards of our school district’s tax dollars that are everyday people. I have a child that requires an IEP (individualized education program) and I found the support of Parents as Teachers as well as the Great Beginnings early learning program. I have been very involved in the educational process each year to come up with IEPs by interacting with teachers, physical and occupational therapists and special education teachers. I believe my involvement in and knowledge of the district’s programs allows me to understand the diverse needs of students and families.
Erica Miller: My background in behavioral health and family therapy has given me experience in communicating with a wide range of people, resolving conflict, advocating for the needs of families and evaluating the effectiveness of programs and services. I believe my ability to work collaboratively with others and my passion to see positive change for children, teenagers, parents and educators will help me address the needs of students and families within our school district.
Kamile Johnson: As a pharmacist and professor, I have experience tackling complex issues and working with diverse populations and points of view. My work allows me to help individuals with a range of conditions, including mental health and substance use disorders. These experiences have given me a deeper understanding of people. As an educator, I am familiar with curriculum development, educational research and evaluating educational programs. I believe my background in problem-solving and critical thinking would help our district identify and address future challenges.
Stacy Cronhardt: My family has lived in Lee’s Summit for 20 years and my children, high school students now, have attended LSR7 since kindergarten. I have a vested interest in the success of this district and will bring a parent’s perspective to the board. I have a deep understanding of the district’s culture, strengths and challenges.
As an occupational therapist of 23 years, I have worked with children and families in a variety of settings. I’m confident these experiences will help me address the needs of all students, particularly students with special needs and those who may be struggling academically or socially.
David Grady: I worked in industry and held several leadership positions. I learned the best ways to get constructive things done. I now teach at the college level in career technical education (machining/tool making), so I understand the workings of a school district from the inside. When solving problems, get the best people (teachers) together and get their input. Formulate a plan to implement what they offer. Tweak it as needed for maximum success.
Kathryn Campbell (incumbent): I have been honored to serve on the LSR7 Board of Education for the past three years and as the president this past year and am excited to bring my experience and learning to the opportunity to continue board service. I’ve obtained my master certification from MSBA (the Missouri School Boards’ Association) and am currently working on my distinguished certification. I’ve expanded my governance learning through MSBA courses, reading board governance books and learning from other board members in Missouri. I also bring strong leadership experience and focus on understanding, building relationships based on respect, championing change and prioritizing students and their educational opportunities.
What would you like to see the school board do differently, and/or how would you like to see it build on its previous work?
Peterson: I would like to see the district place increased emphasis on early learning and literacy. I would like to see the district expand the previous work of cultivating business pipelines and technical education opportunities in the realm of STEM.
Garrett: I would like to provide a forum where all parents’ voices make a difference in the direction our district takes to bring educational success for all students while also being fiscally responsible. I want our school board to consider the best way to address getting LSR7 students back on track for academic success. I want to focus on reading, writing and arithmetic to increase proficiency rates within our school district. I would like to see more transparency in regard to NWEA test results for all students to see how we truly look academically as a district.
Miller: I would like to see additional programs to address the mental health needs of students and staff. I have proposed during my campaign the creation of a student assistance program to provide free access to counseling, therapy, support groups and prevention programs for students. Post-pandemic, many of our kids have struggled socially and academically and educators nationwide have expressed they are experiencing heightened levels of stress and anxiety. Our district must take a holistic approach to the health and well-being of students and staff.
Johnson: I would like to see the school board conduct meetings at venues other than the Stansberry Center. Perhaps meetings could be held at high schools or elementary schools in the district, local businesses and even parks when weather permits. This would help the school district engage more broadly with the community.
I would like to see LSR7 continue its efforts to prepare all students for success by expanding access to apprenticeship programs and licensing and certification in trades for high school students who are not choosing to attend four-year colleges and universities.
Cronhardt: Our district has made efforts to improve communication between the district and families, but more can be done. I think it is important to build trust through transparency. Our district should provide more opportunities for families to give feedback on important decisions and initiatives. This will ensure everyone has an opportunity to be heard and that district decisions are being made with input from parents and community stakeholders. Developing a clear and consistent messaging strategy, so that everyone receives the same information, through multiple communication channels, would help deter confusion and misinformation.
Grady: We have some excellent programs in place such as the Summit Technology Academy. Grow it with more career technical options. Redirect all resources into academics so we get our district back to its No. 1 status. Raise the bar. Students rise to the level that is set for them by their parents, teachers and leaders.
Campbell: It’s important that we continue to learn and grow in governance as a board – ensuring we’re focused on setting our district’s strategic direction, collaborating with the superintendent, monitoring district and superintendent performance and engaging our community members, all while keeping our students at the center. This past year, our board did a book study on board governance which helped build our relationships and our focus on governance — I think it would be helpful to continue to find books that improve our collaboration and leadership.
What are the top three challenges LSR7 is facing?
Peterson: The district is facing challenges like many school districts. A top challenge of the district is making all stakeholders feel included and valued. Secondly, retaining quality teachers and staff is a core issue facing many districts including our own. Lastly, literacy and reading mastery are at very low levels through every grade level K-12.
Garrett: One challenge I see is recovering time that was lost (in the pandemic) and getting our students caught up. We need to start by analyzing the areas where students are behind and implementing programs and policies that support achievement. Another challenge is getting access to specialized reading programs for students with dyslexia and other reading deficiencies. One statistic is one in four children have dyslexia. We have 17,763 students enrolled in LSR7 and only 46 are in the second year of using the Wilson reading program.
A third challenge is making the voices heard of all families and teachers. I would want to find common ground with constituents and have solutions that best address the district’s educational needs while at the same time being good stewards of the taxpayers’ money.
Miller: My conversations with parents and community stakeholders reveal that hyper-partisanship has distracted some and discouraged others from the main mission of our school district: educating children. I would like to see a return to civility in our discourse and good-faith efforts to work together for kids.
Access to special education services in LSR7 remains out of reach for too many families. A streamlined process to access dyslexia, reading intervention programs and other special education services is needed to ensure every child has the resources to succeed.
Competitive pay for teachers is also top of mind for me.
Johnson: District leadership must allocate resources to areas that have a direct impact on student learning. Our struggling students must have the resources they need to be successful. The competitive wage gap between our district and other employers must be addressed if our district intends to retain qualified staff. Improving pay for educators and support staff –- our bus drivers and bus aides, teachers and paraprofessionals, and food service workers and custodians, among others — ensures the sustainability of our district. Lastly, collaborative and supportive school environments for staff are essential to the quality of work they provide to our families.
Cronhardt: LSR7 has teachers who are not earning wages commensurate with their years of service. This issue disproportionately affects our longest-tenured teachers. It is past time we fairly and fully compensate our teachers.
Recruiting and retaining qualified diverse staff is vital to providing quality education for all students. Hiring professionals that reflect the community is vital to this effort.
Student vaping is an issue within our district that requires a public health approach. Our district should partner with community health organizations and incorporate their insights into district cessation campaigns. Families also must be equipped with information to help their children.
Grady: Attracting qualified teachers, paras and other staff; low test scores; lack of discipline.
- Looking at competitive salaries, benefits for staff as well as culture and climate ensuring they feel valued.
- I’m concerned about our students that are struggling. While I’m thankful that our district has worked hard to implement MTSS (multi-tiered system of supports) and it will be exciting to track our progress with this, we also need to be focused and ensure that our students have the supports they need to be successful.
- I’m excited about the Real World Learning and career pipelines that are being built –- I also want to ensure that we’re thinking about scalability and growing these to broader impacts for our students.
Pick one of the challenges you mentioned in the last question. How would you work with your fellow school board members to make positive change on that issue?
Peterson: Finding common ground is key to the success of our district. I will be effective at bridging the gap on core issues of literacy and academics. I will do so by fostering an open and fair approach to solving issues for all stakeholders. Specific to the area of literacy, focusing on early intervention pre-third grade is of the utmost importance. I would like to see more evidenced-based literacy instruction across our multi-tiered systems of support.
Garrett: I believe as a school board member it is my responsibility to do much research into solutions that would be of great educational and financial benefit to the district and present my findings to other members about what programs are available and that would give the best return on investment for our taxpayers.
Miller: As the parent of a dyslexic child, access to special education services is an issue close to my heart. Witnessing the emotional toll dyslexia and dysgraphia takes on children and families is heartbreaking. Every family deserves the services they need to help their child succeed in the classroom. I want to work together to conduct an audit of all special education programs in LSR7 to determine the causes for delays in access to programs, to measure which programs are effective, to review additional programs for implementation and to create a long-term strategy to address special education needs in our district.
Johnson: If the debt service levy is approved on April 4, I am committed to using these funds for staff wages. These funds should not be used to raise administrative salaries, but to ensure competitive pay for teachers, food service workers, custodians, paraprofessionals, bus drivers and aides and other classified staff. It is important for voters to know this opportunity to value our staff is on the ballot on April 4. I encourage everyone to vote “Yes” on the debt service levy and then vote for school board candidates committed to using these dollars to benefit those who need it most.
Cronhardt: On the issue of recruiting qualified diverse staff, I would work with my colleagues to create inclusive hiring practices to ensure job postings were widely distributed, implicit bias training was provided to the hiring administrators and diverse hiring committees were established. I would also work to build supportive and inclusive cultures throughout the district so this culture was reflected in our recruitment process. This could include creating affinity groups for staff members and ensuring that school policies are inclusive and equitable. Lastly, partnering with colleges and universities to create additional mentorship and internship programs would be beneficial to recruitment efforts.
Grady: As a leader in industry, sometimes I had to work with people of differing opinions. I looked for common ground and built from there. In this election, I think all seven candidates support the tax levy shift. Since there is no opposition, it will pass in a landslide. We can build on that common ground to do other things as a team.
Campbell: With any of these challenges, it’s important to collaborate with our superintendent and our administrators, relying on their experience and their expertise. There may be challenges when it’s important to call for a committee ensuring we have broader engagement and input. As board members, we need to ensure that we are relying on our experts or committees to share data and recommendations with us. At that point in our discussion we also need to listen to each other for different questions and perspectives, hopefully coming to a consensus to move the district forward and always with the focus on what benefits our students.
Imagine a parent or teacher comes to you with a criticism or concern about LSR7. What steps would you take to address their feedback?
Peterson: It’s important to reassure parents and teachers that they are heard, understood and acknowledged in their criticisms and concerns. I would do this by keeping an open line of communication and an open mind to understanding the perspective of all people in the district.
Garrett: I think the best way to approach a parent or teacher that has a criticism or a concern is to really listen to the criticism or concern. I would want to have empathy for their concern and restate for clarification what their concern is. I can apologize for any concern that a parent or teacher has. Lastly, I would take action and offer a resolution to their concern. These are skills I picked up during my employment in customer service and sales. I want all families and teachers to be included in the LSR7 students’ educational success.
Miller: One of the things lost within our culture is the art of listening to learn rather than to respond. In my 15 years as a family therapist, active listening has allowed me to help far more people than debating or criticizing ever could. I would bring this approach into my interactions with parents and teachers. I view my job on the school board as an opportunity to discover areas of our school district that need improvement, to listen to the people most affected by the areas that need improvement and to work as a team to make our district better.
Johnson: Oftentimes community and staff criticism and concerns are the catalysts for school district improvement. I would listen to concerns, gather as much information as possible, and try my best to connect the parent or teacher to the person(s) who can best address their concerns. I would also seek to get feedback from other school board members and administrators to determine the best course of action.
Cronhardt: I think it is important for school board members to listen to the concerns of all parents and teachers with an open mind. While not all concerns have a remedy, all should be considered and valued. As a board member, I would seek to bring my colleagues, which includes the school board and district administration, into the decision-making process after I have gathered all relevant information.
Grady: First, I would investigate the truth of the claims. If they are correct, I would work with the rest of the board and the administration to fix the problem. I will be open to citizen concerns regardless of who voted for me. All citizens need to be heard. When we work together as a team, we can accomplish much.
Campbell: It’s important to understand that we entrust the operations of the district to our superintendent so as we share a criticism or concern from our community, we ask our superintendent to investigate and resolve these issues ensuring we have a final update on how it was addressed. That trust relationship is important.