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Eight candidates have filed to run for the Liberty Public Schools 53 school board, but only three will prevail.
Ahead of the April 4 election, The Kansas City Beacon sent five questions to each candidate, asking why they’re the right person to serve on the board and how they’ll tackle the district’s challenges.
Five candidates — Angela Reed, AJ Byrd, Kira Montuori, Brian Ahart and Amanda Beers — responded to the questionnaire.
Karl Cox and Luba Koval did not respond to repeated emails.
Jenn Bauer responded to say that she had “asked a couple other candidates if they are participating and they said they either weren’t aware of the opportunity, or are going to pass.”
The responses have been edited for clarity and AP style. Several responses have been edited for length. See those full responses here.
Click a question to jump ahead:
- What background and experiences make you best qualified to serve on the school board?
- What would you like to see the Liberty school board do differently, and/or how would you like to see it build on its previous work?
- What are the top three challenges the district is facing?
- If elected to the Liberty 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 Liberty school board members to make positive change on that issue?
- Imagine a parent or teacher comes to you with a criticism or concern about the district. What steps would you take to address their feedback?
What background and experiences make you best qualified to serve on the school board?
Angela Reed (incumbent): I am a retired educator. I taught fifth grade for three years. I then worked with K-12 special educators for 25 years. I continue to work with students and have been a substitute teacher for nine years. During my career as an educator, I served on building- and district-level committees. I also attended and presented at district, state and national conferences.
I have been a member of the Liberty school board since April 2014 (nine years). I have served on various board committees, including Liberty Alliance for Youth, Missouri School Boards’ Association and Kansas City and Liberty TIF (tax increment financing) commissions. I have served as the vice president of the board for two years.
AJ Byrd (incumbent): I earned a master’s degree in public administration from the Bloch School of Management at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Having served six years on the LPS 53 school board, I have a close working relationship with board members. We have grown a more diverse workforce that includes a cabinet-level position in the director of equity. At building leadership levels, principals, assistant principals and counselors, diversity numbers have increased during my tenure on the board. A unanimous board vote advanced the bond issue passed by the voters in 2018. All projects are complete. Through the CCAAL (Clay County African American Legacy) organization, as president, I have brought program enrichment such as ASEM (After School Education Mentoring) and LURP (Lion and the Unicorn Reading Program) into LPS 53’s Liberty High School, Liberty North High School and Epic and Franklin elementary schools.
Kira Montuori: I have served in nonprofit leadership for 15 years using my skills to create opportunities for children to reach their potential. I bring experience with executing budgets, developing programs, strategic planning and human resources. I have experience managing and serving on boards. Beyond my professional work, I have personally advocated for vulnerable children through mentorship of a child in the foster care system and youth in our community.
Brian Ahart: The school board’s purpose is to advise and provide consent to the district leadership team. As a business leader with more than 30 years of experience in consulting, process reengineering and project management, I am a qualified candidate. I work in a collaborative environment and deal with difficult situations on a daily basis, and these skills translate to being an effective member of the Liberty school board.
Amanda Beers: I was a high school teacher in Tennessee before becoming a stay-at-home mom. Our family moved to Liberty in 2013, and during the pandemic I became a substitute for LPS secondary schools. Since we moved here, I’ve been involved with the PTA at Lillian Schumacher Elementary, assisting with many school activities. This past year I’ve served as treasurer of the PTA. I was a Webelos leader for several years, and for one year, I worked with a group of moms and organized a free soccer league. I’ve also been an election worker since 2020.
What would you like to see the Liberty school board do differently, and/or how would you like to see it build on its previous work?
Reed: I would like for LPS to continue with several initiatives begun during my tenure on the board. Student internships across the metro area allow our students to be placed with businesses, nonprofits, etc. Students then learn about the position in an actual setting. This helps them really find out if this is something they would like to pursue.
LPS has also begun programs at the high school level that encourage students to work together to solve problems dealing with environmental issues and similar topics. Students research an issue, work together with a group and use their academic skills to develop a viable solution.
LPS also has worked diligently with first-generation college-bound students through the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program. This multiyear program helps students to learn the skills necessary to succeed in college.
Byrd: LPS 53 could improve its strategy related to TIF (tax increment financing), 353 and other instruments that are used to stimulate business and residential development. The city of Liberty and KCMO, critical partners of LPS 53, are under pressure from developers. By initiating engagement with the school district, these government entities can inform LPS 53 of the developers’ TIF plans and together we can develop strategies that help both the district and our city partners. In addition, a higher profile that might include greater citizens’ participation and other new tools to incentivize developers’ response to LPS 53 needs could be helpful.
Montuori: There are many positive strategic priorities in the current LPS plan. I hope to bring my perspective to advance personalized learning initiatives and strengthen outcomes for all students. I appreciate the district’s value of belonging but feel this is an area of growth to make sure every student experiences it.
Ahart: For the past two years, the school board and district leaders have done an excellent job navigating the pandemic. One thing I believe the board should do differently is to begin rebuilding the respect that our faculty and staff deserve. With the political divisiveness today, people often forget that our teachers are their neighbors and friends. The board must be more deliberate in communicating that to our patrons. Highlighting staff excellence in a more public and intentional way and changing how the teacher of year nominations are conducted and communicated are just a couple of ways to start that process.
Beers: I would like the board to address more mental health issues. I’m aware Missouri has passed a new statute requiring more training for suicide awareness. I want to work to get educators better training for suicide prevention and depression awareness, and protocols in place for reintegration of students after suicide attempts. I do like how the board has handled complaints about library books; the board reads the challenged material and generally has not been in favor of banning books. We need to ensure that all students can find themselves in the art and literature available in our schools.
What are the top three challenges your school district is facing?
Reed: Recruiting and retaining qualified teachers is so important. Many teachers have second jobs because educating our children does not pay their bills.
Recruiting and retaining classified staff (secretaries, custodians, transportation drivers, paraprofessionals and many more) is also important. LPS is in competition with the larger companies when paying hourly wages.
The legislation introduced this year in Jefferson City challenges our district regarding open enrollment, school vouchers and curriculum to be taught, among other educational topics. My concern is that legislators may not be fully aware of the impact their decisions will have upon the ability of school districts to receive the funds necessary to educate our students.
Byrd: LPS 53 faces competitive challenges with other districts in relation to salaries for certified and classified personnel. The district’s salary structure is built to reward long-term, tenured staff.
LPS 53 has made tangible progress in attracting a more diverse staff at the administrative level, but success at the classroom level remains spotty. I am hopeful that equity training being injected at all staff levels will reduce much of the feeling of isolation resulting in bolstering retention.
Local control is a challenge that LPS 53 faces as forces within the state and outside appear to want more control over the day-to-day operations as well as policy changes that will broaden external influence.
Montuori: I believe the top three challenges are teacher recruitment, staff retention and continuing the academic strength for which we are known.
We have to stay competitive in our recruitment of a highly skilled workforce across the staff profile with a salary and benefits package that demonstrates our commitment. Beyond compensation, teachers need to feel valued and supported. It is also important we continue to meet the needs of differential learners.
Ahart: My No. 1 goal, if elected, is to continue to focus on the learning gap created by the pandemic. Initiatives like Across Liberty Literacy, offered at the elementary level, should be reevaluated and potentially expanded to the middle school level to help close the learning gap. Additionally, finding ways to attract top talent and improve retention in the hiring process is essential. For example, shortening the time between interview to offer. Also, ensuring that new initiatives are piloted, reviewed, planned, faculty and staff trained, and effectively communicated to patrons. It is imperative that we review the current process so that we do not waste taxpayer dollars on poorly implemented initiatives.
Beers: First, mental health. The crises of depression, suicide and poor overall mental health are affecting our students in ways we have never seen before.
Second, challenges to library materials. Representation is essential to the emotional and mental health of us all, especially in childhood. Academic freedom must be upheld. Students and educators must be able to pursue knowledge and have an exchange of ideas without interference, and that includes libraries.
Third, student behavior. The middle schoolers seem to be the most affected, behavior-wise. Their conduct in the classrooms is unlike anything I’ve seen before, and the teachers are struggling.
Pick one of the challenges you mentioned in the last question. How would you work with your fellow Liberty school board members to make positive change on that issue?
Reed: Recruitment and retention of staff would be the priority because individual staff members have the most impact on our students. I would want to ensure that all board members had the basic information and were given the time to discuss the issues. There are seven individuals on a school board and consensus is important when determining the direction for the board.
Byrd: (For the salary structure challenge:) Use the current infrastructure, Team Liberty (already exists) that could possibly be enhanced to create out of it a salary study committee made up of board members, teachers, organized labor, administrators, classified staff and community members to examine comparable districts’ salary structures and then follow up with recommendations to Team Liberty, the superintendent and the board.
Montuori: Teacher burnout is real. They are facing more challenges in the classroom, more expectations and increased public scrutiny. I will work hard with the other board members to listen, lead and lift our teachers up. I believe when children are thriving and teachers feel supported, all boats rise.
Ahart: Part of working together is defining expectations and what success looks like, as well as coming with an attitude of respect. Secondly, having facts and data is imperative. We can all have opinions, but decisions must be made with data in mind. Competency-based learning is being implemented across the district, but I do not believe that everyone is working from a common understanding and practice. As board members, we should help the district by ensuring we are doing our due diligence and understanding what has gone well and what needs to be adjusted.
Beers: I would love to make positive changes with mental health. As mentioned before, I would like to create a protocol for reintegrating students after suicide attempts. My oldest child attempted suicide in the fall of 2020, so I have personal experiences that I can bring to the board. I would also like to remove from the high school student IDs the advertisement and coupon to a local smoothie shop and replace it with suicide and depression hotlines. My work as an educator and my being in the classrooms, working with current students, can help to inform the other board members.
Imagine a parent or teacher comes to you with a criticism or concern about the district. What steps would you take to address their feedback?
Reed: I would listen to the individual and ask questions to ensure that I understood what the concern or problem was. I would most likely inform the individual that I needed to gather more information. I would provide a time to get back to them with information. I would then contact the individual(s) who could help me with the information or would be able to directly speak to the person with the concern. Most importantly I would want the information to be accurate and timely.
Byrd: First, I always start with active listening to ascertain the circumstances and immediately determine if anyone is at risk. Secondly, I work to identify all the players in the situation to determine who is the appropriate referral source. Thirdly, I attempt to assist the parent or teacher in developing next steps. My fourth and usually final step is to follow up with the parent or teacher on the outcome. There is a possible optional step: to engage as a direct participant in the situation. As a result of LPS 53’s resourcefulness I have not had to be involved in any direct negotiations.
Montuori: First and foremost, listen because all feedback offers opportunity. Secondly, not rush to judgment, and then follow up with the appropriate chain of command to remedy the situation.
Ahart: As elected officials, it is our duty to represent the patrons of our school district. The most important thing I can do is listen! As one of seven, I cannot make decisions or give direction on the spot. Next, it is important to take that detailed information to the rest of the board and the district leadership team for discussion and determine the next steps. The last step in the process is to ensure the patron receives the appropriate response in a timely manner.
Beers: I am a good listener. I would take the time to listen and discuss the complaint. I would consider any issue, research it and come to the board with as many facts and research as possible. Everyone has valid viewpoints and concerns, and everyone deserves to be treated with respect and to be actively listened to. I am approachable, and plan to continue to be accessible to address concerns before, during and after the initial complaint.