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Raytown voters have a lot of options April 4 as they select three candidates for a three-year term on the Raytown Quality Schools Board of Education.
Seven candidates will appear on the ballot: Shaun Bryant, Madelyne Douglas, Jules Sneddon, Michael Watson Jr., Torrence Kelley, Nodie Newton III and Rick Moore.
The Kansas City Beacon hosted a forum March 9 to gauge candidates’ views on issues affecting the district. All seven candidates were invited, and six participated.
You can find the full video on our Facebook page, and a transcript is below.
The transcript has been edited for length, clarity and AP style.
Use these links to jump to a question:
- Opening statements
- If elected to the Raytown school board, what areas would you prioritize to improve Annual Performance Report scores?
- In light of ongoing action at the national, state and local level against Black history, LGBTQ and DEI resources, where do you stand on these issues and what specific policies do you plan to advocate for?
- As a Raytown school board member, what would you do to help improve retention of teachers and staff in Raytown schools?
- What makes you uniquely qualified for this position on the Raytown school board and what is your positive vision for the district?
- Closing statements
Gary Enrique Bradley-Lopez: Welcome! I am the community engagement bureau manager here at The Kansas City Beacon. I will be your moderator tonight. Joining us on our panel are Maria Benevento, The Beacon’s education reporter, and Ryan Sorrell, The Kansas City Defender’s founder and executive editor. Shaun Bryant, Madelyne Douglas, Jules Sneddon, Rick Moore, Nodie Newton III and Michael Watson Jr. are with us tonight.
Nodie Newton: I want to join the Raytown school board because I feel like I can help the community. I want to serve in order to help the children and bring some stability to what already is a great school district. I want to help the homeless network because we just got over COVID and there’s a lot of people that are still suffering. I want to do some wraparound services to help those people to get stable. I also wanted to run big on trying to get things reestablished with children in the community as far as having to go outside to different communities to try to get resources. I want to bring those resources back. I’ve been working for Jackson County for about 23 years, so I’ve seen a lot of things that go on and I’ve been dealing with a lot of different situations in the home as well as in the school buildings. I take care of a lot of families so I know a lot that goes on inside the home and school. So I wanted to step in and do more.
Shaun Bryant: I believe I’m the only candidate that has been endorsed by MOEEP, the Missouri Equity Education Partnership. Stephen Covey, leadership expert, says in life we detect rather than invent our missions. My mission became abundantly clear last August when I went to my first Raytown school board meeting. I realized that I have skills, experience, a lot of education, a passion for kids and creative capacity to really help this board become more effective than it’s ever been. I think we can get this district to a place that it hasn’t been in a couple of decades. I hope that by the end of these three consecutive Thursday night forums that we have that I’ve proven to everybody that Shaun Bryant is the perfect candidate for the Raytown school board.
Rick Moore: I’ve served for 18 years, six terms, on the Raytown school board. I’m a Raytown High School graduate, 1981, and we have three children who have gone through Raytown schools. My oldest son graduated from Raytown South (High School) in 2014. My daughter graduated from Raytown in 2017 and my son graduated in 2020 from Raytown South. He finished up that 2020 year, which was a COVID year, and went through some difficult times, but I’m proud of the education that they received in the district. They received a well-rounded education, had great teachers, had the great opportunity of going to school with lots of kids who are different from themselves, learning to build alliances and get along with all different kinds of people, and I’m very proud of that. And so I decided to run one more time.
Jules Sneddon: I am a mother of five grown children and 13 adopted grandchildren. I have my bachelor’s in finance and economics, my master’s in education and communication and I’m a doctoral candidate for my Ed.D. in higher ed. I worked in higher ed for the last seven years. Part of my job is going into the school districts, all of the schools, and so as a very proud Raytonian, I feel like there are some opportunities where someone with my talents and my time could give back to my community. There are some things that we could address, such as attendance and homelessness, and I believe that I’m somebody who is a champion of ideas. I understand that I would only be one person on a board.
Madelyne Douglas: I’m running for the Raytown school board because simply I saw a need. I am a retired director of residential services for Niles Home for Children here in Kansas City. I tried to rest and was driving down the street too many days in Raytown and saw too many groups of young people out of school, only to find out that the way that the management is being done is through suspension. At Niles Home for Children, not only was I one of the directors, I was the behavior management specialist trainer, and some of those children I was looking at I knew needed me to get out of retirement and come on back so that I can help. My core thing is to give some of my expertise as it comes to training, sharing how to manage some of those behaviors that I know have probably unsettled some of these teachers and unsettled our community. So I’m back.
Michael Watson Jr.: I am the executive director of the Raytown Emergency Assistance Program. We’re a partner with the school district to help families with utility assistance, rental assistance and food pantry assistance. I’ve been the ED for six years. I’ve had two daughters graduate from Raytown High School and I currently have a fifth grader in the school district. I’m running because I think Raytown has great leadership and great potential and I want to be a part of the solution. One of the things that I’m passionate about is wraparound services for our kids and for our families. I think since I work in the field with social welfare, food disparity and food insecurity, I know that if a kid is hungry, he’s not able to focus. That’s one of the reasons that I’m running.
Maria Benevento: The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released performance scores for districts this week. Raytown got a bit more than 65% of the possible points, which places it in approximately the bottom 10% of all the districts and charter schools in Missouri. If elected to the Raytown school board, what areas would you prioritize to improve those scores and the district’s performance?
Bryant: Some people might not like this answer, but academics are the dependent variable. It’s the thing that happens naturally if we do all the other things that we need to do. First, to respond to Jules talking about attendance, attendance can improve if students have ownership of their school. When they’re attending more, they’re going to learn more, they’re going to have more success. But what’s going to make them have ownership of their school? We have to increase the culture and climate, and we also have to give them leadership roles. A lot of people think well, kids have to earn the leadership roles before they get it. I’m about to finish a doctorate in organizational leadership and development, a doctorate in education, and the research I’ve been doing for years says that we have to give a student a leadership role, whether they’re in elementary and their leadership role is in the classroom, or middle school and the role is somewhere in the school, or maybe in high school it’s somewhere in the community. When we give them those leadership roles, they will learn leadership skills, and when we see those students applying those skills outside of that role, then we know they have ownership of that school and of those skills. Then they’ll start attending more, and the culture is going to improve as well. There was a perception survey that over 1,000 parents from the district completed comparing last year and the year before. One of the questions was: Do you think these groups of students are treated unfairly at school? When it came to sexual orientation only 19% of parents thought so, but 68% of students think that people are treated poorly because of that. It seems like perceptions are accurate across the board when it comes to race and ethnicity, but regarding gender and disability we really need to make our schools safe so that students want to come and so that yes, they feel safe enough to learn.
Moore: Certainly those scores that you mentioned are not acceptable, and we want to do everything we can to increase their scores. But there are a lot of complex things that go into those scores. The main thing the school board can do to help increase those scores is to hire excellent people, and the one employee that the school board hires is the superintendent. I’m so excited about our brand new superintendent, Dr. (Penelope) Martin-Knox, and excited that I was involved in that process of hiring her. She’s the first Black superintendent in our district. She’s the first female superintendent. But I didn’t vote for her for those reasons. I voted for her because she was the best candidate. She’s doing a great job, and we’ve got some excellent new curriculum leaders in the administration. Those are the people who are doing the day-to-day work, encouraging our staff, encouraging our students, giving them the belief that they can achieve and putting programs into place that we believe will bring our students up to where they need to be. COVID hit us hard. I think it hit us harder than we even realized. Kids being out of school was difficult. We knew we had some good virtual programs where we had a lot of kids who just were not participating at all. So we know we have a lot of work to do recovering from that, and we have good people in place who are working on that right now.
Sneddon: I appreciate what Shaun and Rick had to say. What I have found is that we need to retain the teachers that we have that are doing well. We have a 17% attrition rate, which is twice the national average. That means we need to have a living wage for our teachers, and we need to attract new teachers. Part of being able to do that has to do with our parents taking responsibility for the attendance of their students. We have a 69.5% attendance rate overall, which means that, from the numbers that I got, we’re receiving about $12 million less a year than what we could be getting as a school district, which we could then apply into programs where we are working with students that are struggling and that are hurting. The biggest thing that I have heard from parents is that they would like to see webinars and they would like to see classes for them because a lot of them really don’t understand the schoolwork themselves. So when they’re getting their students home from school, they really need some help themselves. I don’t see any reason why we couldn’t do webinars over the summer or do a once-a-month meeting with our parents so that we can help them with that. I don’t think that academics is brain surgery. There are school districts across the nation that we can emulate, we can study. We can figure out what they’re doing, and then we can turn around and implement those things in our school district. Homelessness and the students that are insecure about their food, their clothing and their heat are big issues. We have over 300 students that are homeless or transitional. All of those things are affecting our school district right now and I think that we have an opportunity to do better.
Douglas: Those scores are so troubling to me. When I was a kid, they started at home with us. They started with parents, and they got our parents involved. And as our sister just said here, our parents feel hopeless and helpless in a lot of ways, and we’re going to have to help parents with training for advocacy for their children. What do we do and how do we have some more community connection? I think that we got to get the village back involved in this. The whole village has got to get back involved, and then we’ve got to get the school. We’ve got to look at: Everybody’s got to get an IEP (individualized education program). I think that we assumed that kids are on one level because there was No Child Left Behind. And you don’t know if their education was left behind. So we’ve got to get every kid an IEP to see where they are functioning at so that we can get them in the right level and get them the right amount of help. I’m concerned about the mental health awareness in our community. A lot of kids that come to school have so much going on with them. When you start talking about mental health, everybody backs up. It doesn’t mean you’re crazy. I am a counselor by profession and we’ve got to get some counseling in the schools because COVID brought a lot of depression, a lot of homelessness, a lot of things to the forefront, and it landed in the lap of some of our children. When they get to school they can’t think right. They can’t concentrate long enough. So we’ve got to get back down to seeing exactly where they are and making sure that we’re giving them the right tools to get on the right grades to keep up with and excel in their grades to get those test scores up, because they’re going to need it. I believe that we can do that. I believe that the village should not only just be parents, neighbors, neighborhood associations, the church, the local stores. You know, when we were kids, y’all know what the village looked like. The local stores, police, everybody’s got to get involved because if the school district goes down, it’s a great sign of what the community will do next.
Newton: These numbers are very troubling. We deal with this a lot, and I just feel like it’s hard for a kid to kind of concentrate if they’re hungry, and it’s hard for a teacher to teach a kid. I think the first thing we do is address the teachers and ask if there’s anything that we can do to help them, if there’s anything we could do to make their job a lot easier and to help raise test scores. And then I feel like we need to ask our children, because I don’t think anyone gives them the opportunity to see what we can do to help them. To build the village it also takes asking the parents. These test scores went so bad because the communication has broken down amongst people. COVID had a lot to do with this. Cell phones had a lot to do with this. This lack of communication all the way around had a lot to do with this. It’s so many different things to blame, but it’s our job to put it back together. That’s why I wanted to be a part of this. So the test scores highlight everything, it just magnifies this whole thing. Because that’s why we look at the test scores. I feel like what we need to do is just address all these little issues, because a child can’t learn if they don’t know where they’re going to eat. So they’re probably thinking about what I’m going to do when I go home. So you’re not concentrating on that test, you concentrate on what you’re gonna do when you go home. And then it’s hard for a teacher to teach a child that’s thinking about those things. So we need to address each child as an individual instead of a whole. When you put that number together, you’re addressing it as a whole instead of an individual.
Watson: I appreciate the question and the responses. I think they’re well thought out and they’re passionate. My standpoint is a lot like Mr. Newton’s, teaching these kids and reaching them where they are. The test scores are a symptom of a deeper issue within the community that can’t be accounted for by numbers. And like Mr. Newton kind of alluded to, these kids are hungry. Some of them are houseless. Some of them are from homes where they are the parents. Some of these kids have to get their younger siblings off to school before they go to school, get them off the bus when they get home. That’s why I started with the point of having the need for wraparound services. We have to be innovative in our approach. Numbers are numbers and people say “numbers don’t lie.” But numbers don’t tell the entire story either. We have to be mindful that when we’re talking about the solutions to our stakeholders, our children, our parents, are our parents equipped enough to be able to advocate for their students whether they need an IEP or not? My oldest daughter graduated from Raytown. She had an IEP and so I was able to walk through those things since the fourth grade and help her become successful. So that’s why wraparound services are important. The need for more postsecondary education options. Everyone’s not going to go to college. Everyone doesn’t want to go to college. That’s why I love what the Herndon Career Center does. It gives our kids another opportunity to say: I can go out and use my hands and work and do all kinds of things I want to do. So it’s all about being innovative in our approach. Last, let’s talk about athletics and activities. A lot of our kids don’t go to school for school; they go to school to socialize. So let’s teach them through those methods of helping them, OK, you want to socialize, let’s do this. You may be good at marketing. You may be good in fashion. You may be good at reporting, journalism, things of that nature. So, be intentional and be innovative in our approach even with our curriculum.
Ryan Sorrell: It’s very heartening to hear everyone’s optimism and the solutions that people are willing to bring. My question is: In light of the ongoing attacks at the national, state and local level against Black history, LGBTQ and DEI resources, I would like for you all to talk about where you stand on these issues and what specific policies you plan to advocate for.
Moore: I don’t have a specific policy that I’m going to spell out that we need to implement. I think the issues you’re talking about are something we’ve been dealing with and addressing in our district for many years before they’ve even become popular topics in the media. We’ve seen a change in demographics in our district over the years, and I think we realize that and we know that we need to find new and different ways to teach all kids, because all kids are in different places, different environments, have different things they’re dealing with, just like the issues that were mentioned before, hunger, homelessness, lots of different things. Our new superintendent, Dr. Martin-Knox, is a great example. She’s been a great cheerleader. Kids are already seeing her, looking up to her. That is a bigger example. The smaller thing we’re trying to do, we do actively work to try and recruit more minority teachers. We always want to hire the best, but we do agree that more minority teachers in our district would help students have more examples of people who are like them, have examples that they can look up to, learn from. I think it’s beneficial. So we always have a big push in that area. In general, there’s a shortage of teachers. There’s also a shortage of minority teachers. So we’ve done things like start “grow your own” programs so we can try to encourage more of our own students to get education degrees. We help with that funding, and then they come back to us and become our teachers. We’re doing a lot of those things, other things like TraumaSmart to work with kids where they are and different ways of dealing with discipline.
Sneddon: I am the daughter of an LGBTQ family. I’m also part of a biracial family. So those are things that I take very seriously. As far as Black history, I think that if that’s something that is being fought against, that’s ridiculous. I’m on a diversity, equity and inclusion board for real estate, to make sure that we are including and bringing minorities on. As a minority woman owner of a business myself, I think that having that in our school districts is extremely important. At the same time, part of my concern is that those things have to be included in and cannot overtake our ability when it comes to focusing on the academic portions of their lives. I had a child that came up to me the first day at our church in September. I was so blown away. She said, “Are you a mixed church? Is this a mixed church?” Well, I’m from San Diego where there’s 150 different countries represented. I’ve never heard of something like that. I didn’t even know how to answer this child. And I said, “Absolutely. We want everyone to be involved in our church.” And I feel like that the same thing goes for our kids. I had a child at one of the schools tell me that she didn’t think that her brain was the same as her white teacher’s brain. Those are things that are crazy to me, that that’s even something that a child would think here in Raytown, but it is. And so I do think that those are things that need to be addressed, but they need to be addressed carefully.
Douglas: I am very very saddened by the fact that people don’t believe that Black history should be taught at certain schools. I don’t get it. I think that if we teach history about every other culture, I think that the African American story is a great and wonderful story. Some people think that to teach it will bring about division or some type of hurt, anger. It’s already out here what we’ve gone through, the pain that African Americans in history have gone through. I think it’ll bring about healing. I looked at the current vision of the district that said when it comes to cultural backgrounds that they want to work toward people of diverse backgrounds working together, understanding and respecting each other’s differences. I want to get into what the district says they want to do and be a wonderful part of helping to do that. We’ve got to look around us and see that the demographics have changed. They’re not changing; they have drastically changed in Raytown, Missouri. So I would like to see us maybe do more training on cultural diversity and inclusiveness. Kids go through a lot, adults go through a lot when you reject who they are. I want to see every child, every adult, every teacher respected, everyone respected for who they are. I will push inclusion all the way around, that people will feel like they belong and are accepted.
Watson: I want to applaud Rick for mentioning what the district has been doing. I would be remiss to not talk about the good work that the board has done, being ahead of the curve in so many respects when it comes to items we’re discussing now, race and inclusion, whether it be LGBTQ, Black History Month or so on. I also want to highlight something that he said: Whenever you have to say that it’s the first that you’ve hired, then that means that there has been a problem. That means that we haven’t properly represented the demographic that Raytown is currently. But we’re making amends, and I think that’s what we have to start to change our perspective on. What are we doing to make these things better? What are we doing to be inclusive, whether that be talking more about LGBTQ issues that they may face, having safe spots in school, safe teachers for those students who may need them? I think Black history is American history, so you have to be able to teach that on the same level and be open to that. Lastly, we have to have straightforward conversations. I think one thing COVID told us is that it could be over at any point and so why not have those healthy, straightforward conversations about these issues, and get your biases out there. Everyone has their own biases from their own experiences, their own traumas. We have to be able to have those straightforward conversations in a respectful manner, no matter what the topic is, and not be afraid of that. We have a Black female superintendent now. We should highlight that; we should be proud of that. Yes, our board is more diverse now. We should highlight that. We should be proud of that. For me, it’s an opportunity to grow; it’s an opportunity for those conversations to finally be had without fear of repercussion or not having their voices heard.
Newton: First of all, I want to commend everyone for their comments, especially Mike and Rick. I just truly believe in diversity, equity and inclusion. We must respect everybody where they stand and what they stand on. I don’t think that it is really taught as much as it should be. I feel like inclusion is a huge word that’s mismanaged in school. Kids should really have those courses, and diversity should be taught. Black History Month should be highlighted more. History should be palpable because it occurred. I don’t feel like we should run from it because for one, social media exists, so it’s out there. Kids want to learn it. Everybody wants to learn it. We can’t run from the LGBTQ, we can’t run from none of it. I feel like respect needs to be given to everyone as a person. Choices are to be made by people and you meet people where they are. So it’s not a big deal to acknowledge anything by anybody and it’s not for us to judge anyone. We have to respect people for people. I think a lot of people are trying to run from these ideals. As far as the school board, I think they’ve done a tremendous job in doing this and now we have to grow as a people and really magnify the other things that are going on, like make a board for this where kids can come together and have these forums to where it’s not a big deal and not uncomfortable for them to talk about. I think we’re not doing that.
Bryant: We can have a full conversation all night about this topic. I remember when I was in middle school on my school bus, it was right after our French teacher taught us the word for small and that it has a feminine ending. So then they started calling me “petite”; it meant I was small and feminine. I’ll never forget that. That was way back in middle school. DESE just released this year a climate and culture survey, one that is geared towards the upper grades and one that’s geared towards the lower grades. In the school where I teach as a middle school instructional coach, we implemented that survey. There’s a very important question on there. It’s: I care about how others feel. It was one of the lowest rated things. We can force inclusion on people, we can force diversity for the sake of including and being diverse, but we need to teach people how to care about other people, and we need to build that empathy. In the hallway where I’m an instructional coach right now, we don’t shy away from Black history or anything like that. We have a whole bunch of things students have written along the board, and one thing that makes me very emotional every time I walk through the hallway is students pretending they were somebody who was killed by an officer like Breonna Taylor. It’s somebody pretending they were Breonna Taylor the day of her death, and it’s just so important to let people know about all of those things that can develop their empathy. I want to talk about critical race theory because people think it’s some new thing that we’re trying to share with kids. But the standards in Common Core that we’ve been dealing with for years, one of them for middle school U.S. history says: “explain connections between historical context and people’s — plural — perspectives of the time in American history.” I’m a little resentful that I still know the names of the three ships that Christopher Columbus sailed west on. I don’t think I need to know that. I want to know more about what was really relevant for that time. So we need to build the empathy that people have in other people, and then we’ll just be a lot more equitable.
Benevento: Many districts are facing shortages of teachers and other staff, such as bus drivers. So as a Raytown school board member, what would you do to help improve retention of teachers and staff in Raytown schools?
Sneddon: Shortages of teachers and certified and classified (staff) is something that I care very deeply about. I believe that bus drivers and food service and all of those things, they affect every aspect of our school lives for our kids, because if we don’t have enough bus drivers now we’ve got parents scrambling and we’ve got kids under stress and under pressure. If we don’t have enough food service folks, then maybe kids are eating the same thing week after week, or day after day, and then they won’t eat it and then they’re hungry and they’re going into the classroom and they’re not able to focus properly. One of the things that I have done is I’ve partnered with Metropolitan Community College, and I have put together a hiring event with all the local school districts with the Metropolitan Community College students. Because what I see is that we have this huge gap where we could be hiring our community college kids to fill in those positions, where if they have over 36 credits to 60 credits, they could be substitute teaching. They could be driving a school bus if they’re between 18 and 25, as long as they can pass (a driver test). We have this hiring event coming up at the end of April. I would do a survey to figure out exactly what it will take to retain our teachers, and I would compare ourselves with other school districts to make sure that we are paying a living wage, because without a living wage, we are not going to attract or keep our current teachers. I think that that’s something that needs to be looked at. I believe that if we can get our attendance up, we will have the finances to be able to put towards those teachers and getting new teachers to come in and then keeping them as well as having good benefits for them.
Douglas: I think one of the major problems with retaining teachers is the behaviors that happen in the classroom. Teachers have had it. This fighting, this cussing, they just can’t settle down, and the kids that want to learn can’t learn. In order to retain our teachers, I think we need a lot of training in behavior management. Because sometimes kids get out of control, then the teachers get out of control and the management goes crazy. I think that we need to focus a lot on training the whole school organization in trauma-informed care, what people are going through, what the behaviors that come out of that look like, from the school bus driver to the teachers. If they were trained in trauma-informed care, they would know that perhaps that child hasn’t even been asleep all night long, or that child slept in a car somewhere. That behavior piece is really big, and that trauma-informed care, because the teachers can become traumatized themselves if they don’t understand what trauma looks like. We would do well in making sure that they’re paid well and in addition to that, making sure that they have the training and the support that they need in the classroom when it comes to behavior management. I think that there needs to be teacher-parent training together so that when troubles come, they’ll be on the same page and these kids can’t play both ends against the middle. They’ve been trained to know what the behaviors are and to work together to solve that. I think that teacher retention will be a lot greater if we were looking at that.
Watson: I love hearing Ms. Douglas talk. It’s just the old school slant to it that I just love. So I appreciate your answers, and they’re very well informed. I think one of the things we have to do in teacher retention is identifying the teachers who we want to retain. I think so many times, we get into a situation where we feel like we may not have adequate teachers. We have to have quality teachers, and that’s going to come with increasing the pay scale for them, making competitive wages. I think Jules talked about that earlier, making sure we have competing wages for our teacher to feel successful, and then wraparound services not only for our students but for our teachers. To speak to Ms. Douglas’ point, for them to have their trauma-informed care training is so important, the ability to identify what’s going on before an accident happens and be able to kind of meet it off at the pass. I also think the support from the administrative level is so important. I know they’re getting that right now this first year with the new superintendent. Hey, what do you need, how can we help you with rewards and things for your classroom, extra items with clothes and things of that nature? Are those wraparound services that the teachers can afford to get for those students? And so it’s important that we look at it holistically, their support, their pay scale, the quality of teacher that we’re looking for. People need to diversify at the teacher level. It’s something powerful when a young person can look at a teacher and they look like them. No matter if that’s African American, Hispanic, Caucasian, Indian or Native. Doesn’t matter. Being able to look at a teacher who looks like you is so important. I think that we’re on the right path to doing that, but also know that there’s still work to be done.
Newton: These teachers need a quality of life when they get off work, and in order to do that, we really need to address the students and provide those students with some type of trauma-informed (support). Like Ms. Douglas said, you can tell when a kid hasn’t had sleep. I’ve been with the court for 23 years. I was going to the schools and I was really in the homes. We now do what’s called a diversion program. So I do trauma-informed and it’s a sight to see. These teachers deserve smaller classrooms. They deserve pay raises; they deserve to have a quality of life when they go home in order to retain the good teachers and really give them what they need. Like Ms. Jules said, we don’t want to have a junior college kid in there with 36 hours trying to teach our kids, and that’s what resulted in those tests. We hold the kids accountable for those test scores, but the reason why those test scores look like that is because we have a junior college kid in there teaching those kids. So in order for us to get the best teachers and holding on to those teachers and getting more teachers, we have to make sure that they get accommodated right, and making sure they’re not getting worn out by the three or four kids in there that really need wraparound services like Mr. Watson said. We must address it the right way and address those kids instead of running away from the problem. Just address the problem and make sure we got enough teachers and get them the services that they need.
Bryant: We need to empower the teachers. We need to develop them into people that can be the ones that give the professional development. How do you do the dance of discipline? Let them continue to grow so that they feel like they’re developing themselves while they’re helping develop the future of the nation. The research, by the way, on teachers that look like students shows that if you can relate to at least one of your teachers you’re much better off, so that’s really important for the middle school grades when you have a lot of teachers and also in high school. Through December of this year, there were 2,000 suspensions issued by our district, and we have less than 9,000 students, I believe. That’s a lot, but there’s a lot more to this than you didn’t do what I said, redirect, you didn’t do it again, safe seat, you didn’t do it again, buddy room, oh, you talked in the buddy room, now you get a disciplinary referral. I’ll never forget, in one of my last years teaching seventh grade math, there was a girl named Alyssa. She had two volumes: zero and 1,000. I didn’t write any referrals, but at a certain point in the year, I had to. What I didn’t know was all the other referrals teachers had written. The one I wrote got her expelled, and I don’t know what happened to her. At that moment, I realized I will never write a discipline referral again for something about disruptiveness or disrespect, something subjective like that, and it really changed my outlook. Discipline is a dance and we have to do it with dignity. About pay. I think we need to be able to let teachers cash out their PTO when they leave, if they have any left. I do think after three years of proven success, there needs to be a very aggressive pay scale. Because after three years, it shows that you’re going to stay with the district. I think that we just need to empower teachers as much as we can.
Moore: I’m going to address this issue from the financial aspects but I would like to say Madelyne made some good points here. COVID hit teachers just as hard or harder than it hit our students and yes, there’s a lot of issues in the classroom going on that do affect teachers and our ability to retain them. When it comes right down to it, teachers want to be paid. They’re like all of us; money is important. Benefits are important. It’s not just money; it’s health benefits. We have a $150 million budget in Raytown, a lot of money. It’s a shame that only 26 people are paying attention to this tonight when $150 million is on the line — 80% of that goes to staff pay. So we can’t just say “let’s pay teachers more money” and do that and think we’re going to be able to draw money out of thin air. I’m proud of the fact that last year we gave a big 5% increase to our teachers. Unfortunately, that didn’t match the inflation rate. One thing that happens is because of our teachers, the experience they’ve had in our district, a lot of the training that we do give them, other districts try to steal our teachers to take shortcuts to get them to where they need to be dealing with diversity, equity and those different things. They steal our good teachers. So we do have to concentrate on pay and benefits. We have to provide things like the Wellness Center, which has allowed teachers to go free to one of the best wellness centers in the whole metropolitan area. They have medical benefits there that help save them a lot of money. Those are the benefits we need to continue working on., and I’m proud of the fact that even though we don’t always agree on how to get it done, the teachers know I support them. I’ve been endorsed by the Raytown NEA (National Education Association) because they know I’m going to support them no matter what.
Sorrell: Everyone’s pretty much had an opportunity now to hear all the candidates’ perspectives and ideas and experiences. So I have a two-part question. The first part is: Now that you’ve heard other candidates, what makes you uniquely qualified for this position on the Raytown school board? And the second portion of the question is: What’s your positive vision if all things work out in the district? I know we kind of get caught up a lot on the problems that are going on and the issues.
Douglas: I think I started this conversation by saying that I’m one of the former directors at Niles Home for Children. Twenty-one years of experience working with young people who were battered, abused, had mental health issues. We met the challenge of getting kids through school, getting them graduated when people were saying “don’t send them over here.” We worked with behavior management. I have worked on several boards before, and I currently work on another board. One board I’m really proud of having some history with is Habitat for Humanity. I sat on the board for Habitat for Humanity-Kansas City for five years and chaired the family selection committee. It gave me the experience of knowing how to work with a board, finances, budgets, all of that, and a position that helped me to know how to work in the community with families, getting to see what the needs were. I am a mother of two. I am the grandmother of six, two of whom are currently in the Raytown school district. I am a faith-based community leader, bringing people together, bringing churches together, doing a lot of stuff out here in the community. I’m also a trainer; I’ve also been trained in trauma-informed care. I’m a counselor. I teach at a college. I’m a professor teaching crisis counseling one and two. I understand what a crisis looks like for a human being and how to help them through the process. So I come with a lot of background, experience and expertise in knowing how to work with a board, knowing how to work with administration, the students, the parents and the community and training needs for the Raytown school district.
Watson: I’m impressed with this group. I think that when you apply for a position like this, it’s because you care. That’s what I’ve been hearing a lot of tonight, people who actually care and people who are well-informed enough and researched enough like Shaun to kind of know what it looks like through the numbers. For me, I think what will set me apart is of course I’m a parent of a district student and two graduates. Being the director of REAP, I see every school in the district and every parent no matter if they’re working or not working. We have a lot of parents who are working who still need our assistance and services. So I’m getting a chance to see at the root of a lot of the issues of what’s going on, stress and anxiety, that need for help. It’s important to be able to offer that from my position. I’m experienced in so many areas but I’m also open to listening, learning, adapting and adjusting. You have to be that if you’re going to be a leader. You’ve got to be able to listen as well as you teach. I also think that a great look would be increased enrollment, more opportunities for clubs, athletics and activities throughout the district, a winning attitude in our district. You don’t know how much it helps the whole morale of the district when you have championship teams or are competing at championship levels. Also, it’s important that we have more buy-in from the parents, and that would look like a parent power lab or increased enrollment for our PTAs throughout the district and having better opportunities for them to help serve the students and the teachers at the same time. I’m excited about the opportunity. I think that this group of people here who are on the call are all worthy candidates.
Newton: I think one of the things that makes me uniquely different is that I’ve been in the schools and in the homes. Right now my job consists of me helping kids get jobs, graduate, go to the pantry. I actually deal with Mr. Watson; he helps my children out a lot. He does things for them. I actually used to coach Mike. I’ve been in the community. I’ve done a lot to help a lot of people out, and I know both sides of it. I’ve always been a community person and dealing with the school board that we have now, with the new superintendent — who’s a great person I’ve talked to. I’m also supported by the RNEA (Raytown National Education Association), and I’ve talked to those teachers. I’ve got three kids who graduated from Raytown as well, in 2011, 2010 and 2008. So I’ve been a part of this community. I just helped open up a building. I’m assistant (basketball) head coach at North Kansas City but I opened up a building for a bunch of kids in the Raytown community up in North Kansas City. They don’t have a gym to practice in Raytown, so they come down to North Kansas City. It’s a shame they have come all the way to North Kansas City to practice, and I opened up my gym so they can practice there. I want to talk to Richard Fernandez who runs Raytown (youth football) league. I do a lot of stuff for kids in our community to make sure that they can have opportunities to still play basketball or football or baseball. So I think it’s going to be a huge success if we can get this done with this superintendent.
Bryant: I’m a math teacher, math interventionist. So one more statistic I have for you is that over one-third of the teachers think that the district doesn’t offer enough extracurricular activities. That supports what a lot of people have said and it reflects what I was saying earlier about needing students to have ownership over their district and over their school and over whatever they’re doing. Because they’re forced to be in school, right? They didn’t apply for a job like we did. So my vision is that everyone has leadership roles and everybody is so busy in their life. I did a survey a couple of years ago of students. I looked at all of the students who were in the trifecta, meaning that they were part of an internship, part of a sport and part of a club. Eighty-seven percent of their grades were A’s. Because being so involved teaches you important time management skills and then it just goes from there. What makes me unique, I am a level three certified “Leader in Me” coach, which means I train the seven habits of highly effective people from Stephen Covey to adults, and then I implement the “Leader in Me” program which is in over 6,000 schools in the world. Part of that is also empathic listening and thinking win-win and the teamwork element. Leader in Me is endorsed by CASTLE, which is an association for social-emotional well-being. In addition to the doctorate of education and organizational leadership and development, I also have a master’s in education, in curriculum and instruction. I wrote a whole curriculum, in fact. Check the website if you’d like to see my transcript so that you can see all the courses that I’ve been doing over the years. Finally, I’m in a place where I have the exact skills and education, and I have always had the passion for kids to really help this board be more effective than ever.
Moore: A couple of things that give me a little bit of a different perspective. One of them was that I served as board president during the two COVID years. If you want an experience where every time you make a decision, exactly half of the people hate you and half of the people love you, that’s the time to do it. It was a difficult time, but it was a time that you really had to work hard to do the best you could and make decisions that you thought were in the best interests of the students and teachers because no matter what you did, it was going to make a lot of people mad. I think we’ve come through that and we’re in a good place right now. Another unique thing about me: I did work for the U.S. Department of Education for 25 years, worked with colleges and postsecondary schools. So that gives me another unique perspective on the federal aspect of how things function and what we need to do at our level to help prepare kids for that next level of schooling, whether it’s a college, four-year, two-year or some kind of vocational program. Another thing that I think is a great opportunity and is going to be positive is when this bond issue passes. It’s also on the April ballot. It’s very important that we maintain our facilities, not just maintain them but create new, great facilities like we’ve done with our athletic fields because all the activities that we’ve been talking about, we’ve got to have a place for the kids to because we don’t want our kids to think that they have less because they’re in this district. They don’t have less. They have excellent facilities. I want to be part of that construction of a great new performing arts center at Raytown South, brand new gymnasium at Raytown, some things that are desperately needed, and I think it will really add a lot of pride for the students and the community when we pass that next bond issue.
Sneddon: What I think makes me uniquely qualified for this position is that I have a lot of background in business, finance, but also education. So I’m kind of well-rounded in that way, and I’m a doer. So when I see that there are problems I get involved and I start figuring out how we’re going to fix that problem. Not just talking about it, but fixing it. I got involved with Caring for Kids KC; I’ve worked with homeless and transitional families for over 15 years as a pastor. When I started to see that we had shortages of teachers, where we have a principal that has 11 teachers missing and only one substitute and they’re scrambling to figure out what they’re going to do, I see that there is an opportunity there where we can have paraprofessionals and instructional aides present in those classrooms instead of splitting those classrooms and almost doubling what the another teacher is having. We have solutions that we need to come up with, and we need to do what we need to make those things happen. I think that that’s one of the things about me that you’ll find is that I am a doer. I am a force to be reckoned with. That’s what all my family and friends would tell you, and it’s because I am passionate. I really love kids. I believe in them. I didn’t graduate high school and neither did my husband, at first. We both dealt with homelessness, food insecurity. So we come from a unique point of view, because we’ve dealt with that ourselves. What I care about is, who is best for the position for these kids, and how can we take care of them as our stakeholders? I think in a positive vision, for everything to start working out, I would love to start seeing our test scores going up. I don’t think that test scores equals exactly where kids are; I think that everybody’s unique. But I also think that an attendance and truancy intervention program would be very helpful and would make a big difference.
Watson: I appreciate the opportunity to talk about our passion, talk about how we want to implement change, and how we want to partner with the district. I think one thing from a board role, having served on boards, is you’ve got to figure out where you best fit in and figure out what you can champion. I think for myself that is talking about those wraparound services, talking about increasing athletics and activities. Being a former professional athlete, athletics and activities are so important in helping you shape the rest of your life. I think that what the district is doing, I think we’re on the right road and the trajectory is up. I think it’s an opportunity for growth, and I think that if we continue to put the children first and remember that they are the prize, I think we’ll be better for it.
Newton: I want to say my main objective is to help these children and most definitely support the teachers and meet them where they’re at. Make sure that we give them everything that they possibly need to be successful as a human. I want to thank everybody for having me and I hope to see all you guys whoever are nominated to champion this thing; you have my full support, hopefully I’ll be in there. I’m big on wraparound services for everybody and making sure these kids have the best circle around them to be successful, and getting everything that we can to provide them the best opportunities to be successful way past getting out from Raytown School District to be successful human beings later on in life.
Bryant: I’ve worked in schools where the household income is $40,000 per year, so it’s not just the school that’s important, but the school needs to be kind of like a community center, and give all of these different services. I feel like the skills that I have aren’t meant for just any board, but the Raytown school board. This year, for instance, the teachers started learning TraumaSmart, which is a really great way to deescalate a student, and I’m already fully certified in that. The district this year started implementing the NWEA progress monitoring assessment, and I’ve already implemented that before. So I feel like I’m meant for this. It’s important to note that I will not run again next year because the three people whose terms expire this year are white people. If I run next year, then I might be taking the place of somebody who was very different than me. Going back to a Stephen Covey quote, he says: Anytime there are two of the same opinion, one is unnecessary. I don’t want to be unnecessary, so I have to be on this board.
Moore: I’ll just end up by mentioning something I mentioned at the very beginning. My kids went to school here and all graduated from here and I’m very proud of that. They’re very proud of that. Even at times where we had some people saying, “Why do you still live there? Why are your kids going to school in Raytown?” Well, they got a great education here. They made friends and learned to get along with people who are different than they are, and they learned it naturally. They didn’t learn it by being forced in some kind of program to learn it. They’re very happy and they’re very successful now because of the education they got here in Raytown, and I would put our education up against any district in the metropolitan area. I wouldn’t leave my kids in a place where they couldn’t have the opportunity to excel. On that open enrollment issue: Let’s make our district the best district that it can be so if there is an open enrollment people will want to send their kids to our district.
Sneddon: I want to say how much I appreciate this opportunity, how much I appreciate Dr. Penelope and our board. I know that they work hard and they go over and above the call of duty. I’m a proud Raytonian. I love our students. I want to give back with my time and my treasure to our school board. I believe that we have the unique opportunity when it comes to academic excellence, and I want our kids to have the same opportunities as kids of other school districts. I believe that they deserve that and that putting them first in our decisions as well as being fiscally responsible is really what our job as a board is. We have to remember that we are just one person in a group, and so we have to be winsome. That’s what I intend to do and I look forward to the next opportunity.
Douglas: I know it sounds crazy, but I’m excited about this group. I wish all of us could go, because the passion that is in this group makes me feel good. I think the teachers, the kids and the parents would be excited to know that they have a group of candidates who see them, believe in them and support them. And I’m going to really be praying that God will put those in place that need to be in there for our children because there’s work to be done. This is not a position or title for us to sit on a throne somewhere and do a whole lot of nothing. This is really an opportunity to help change a community, be a blessing to our students, enrollment, retention, graduation, all the things that this district is in need of.