In the race to serve on the Kansas City Public Schools Board of Education, only two candidates made it onto the ballot for three seats.
Here’s what that means for the April 4 election: Voters won’t weigh in on the at-large and Subdistrict 2 races. Instead, the lone candidates who successfully filed and gathered signatures for each slot have automatically earned spots on the board.
But the Subdistrict 4 race is more complicated, and voters will get a say.
Since no one met the requirements to land on the ballot, a write-in candidate will win the race.
Two candidates, Monica Curls and Jay Gray, have declared as write-in candidates, according to the Kansas City Board of Election Commissioners.
If they prefer, voters can also write in a different name of their choosing.
You’ll see the race on the ballot, with no names listed, if you live in the 4th Subdistrict of Kansas City Public Schools. The irregularly-shaped subdistrict covers the east-central region of KCPS.
Curls is the manager of government compliance for Terracon, an Olathe-based engineering company. Her other experience includes work in Afghanistan for both the Black & Veatch engineering company and BearingPoint Inc.
Gray works as an independent college and career access and success coach, as well as in university admissions as a college application reader. She has experience as an educator and volunteer in local schools.
We asked the two declared write-in candidates about their qualifications and plans for KCPS.
Click the links to jump to a question:
- What background and experiences make you best qualified to serve on the 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 your school district 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 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?
Monica Curls: I was born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri, the daughter to former Missouri State Senator Phil Curls and former Councilwoman Melba Curls. I grew up around politics and was raised to believe that I had a responsibility to the community to help make it better. I have worked on elections since I was old enough to walk, and that campaign experience will be invaluable as the district pursues a general obligation bond to help fund KCPS. I am well-connected throughout the city and can help bring together the corporate, civic and nonprofit community to rally around our district and to help focus stakeholders on achieving successful educational outcomes for our students.
I am an experienced leader with almost 25 years of experience working in policy and government settings. I have been responsible for the financial management of projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars. I have worked in the intense, high-stress environment of Afghanistan, so I am accustomed to performing and making tough decisions under pressure. KCPS needs strong, authentic leadership to continue on its positive trajectory, and I feel compelled to run to guarantee the continued progression and development of this district in serving its students and families.
Jay Gray: My life experience as both a student and staff member in KCPS make me uniquely qualified. As a Kansas City native and fourth-generation KCPS attendee, my desire for KCPS success runs deep. My passion for equitable education led me to earn a master’s degree in higher and postsecondary education from the first graduate school of education in the nation, Teachers College Columbia University. Here my research centered around minority student post-secondary success. I received my bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where my final research focused on the impacts of de facto segregation on Kansas City Public Schools.
My deep connections to the KC community provide me with a direct link with the most important stakeholders. As a board member, interaction with families and communities is vital to ensure their voices are heard.
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?
Curls: This board has the opportunity to really focus on community and stakeholder engagement. The district started that process with the reassessment of Blueprint 2030, but the board must also engage with the community to continue building back the trust it lost in years past. This board must dispel the narrative that this is a failing district to bring the city together in supporting KCPS and help secure the necessary resources that will allow it to provide quality education to all of its students.
Gray: I would like to see the board do more engagement with the community. It is important that board members connect and create as many relationships with students, staff and families as possible.The board must also provide the community with platforms for open and honest communication.
Work that the board has started that I would like to see continued are the charter school collaboration conversations. Educating KC students is not a competition; it’s time to work together to increase the quality of education received by all students.
What are the top three challenges your school district is facing?
- Securing additional resources to help the district continue to serve its students and their families, especially by passing a general obligation bond.
- Effectively engaging with the community to build trust and support among stakeholders.
- Raising academic performance scores, especially among students who are still testing below basic on the latest Missouri School Improvement Program’s Annual Performance Report.
Gray: Unfortunately, there are a few challenges for KCPS to overcome. Currently the limited financial resources available to the district is the largest challenge. The financial issue leads directly to challenges like low enrollment and school closings.
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?
Curls: Board members will need to be ambassadors throughout the community in getting support for the passage of a general obligation bond. We will need to be engaging with all stakeholders to pass the first school bond in over 50 years. We have to change the narrative away from the failures of the past and help everyone to focus on the potential of the future for our students and families. The board will have a huge role to play in this campaign — we will not be able to pass this bond without full board engagement.
Gray: KCPS is planning to put forth a bond plan to increase financial capital. A bond plan must be voted on by residents and KCPS has not had one pass in over 50 years. The best way to make positive change is for the board to include the community and KCPS stakeholders in the bond planning process. When elected I will encourage every school board member to interact with their subdistrict communities and schools consistently to discuss with the KCPS community as a whole the problem and how the bond can be a solution. Transparency around price point, cost for residents and the district’s plan for student improvement is critical. It is important that not only is the community involved, but that they get the opportunity to understand the bond measure so that they can help promote it to others. To pass the bond we must involve not only KCPS stakeholders, but also showcase the importance of investing in KCPS to all non-district voters and business owners throughout the city.
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?
Curls: I would thank the person for sharing their concerns, and I would explain that I will help them to relay their concerns to the appropriate individual within the administration. I would let them know that I am willing to walk them through the process of engaging with the administration and would offer to follow up regarding possible resolutions to their concern. As a governance board member, I do not have the authority to fix the problem for them or instruct anyone at the district on how the problem should be resolved. I can only make sure that the issue gets to the correct individual and work with the superintendent to make sure that she has a process in place to address those types of concerns.
Gray: As advocates for the community, it is important that board members make themselves accessible to listen to the criticisms and concerns of district stakeholders. I would first acknowledge their feedback and make sure they feel their concerns are heard. To be sure their concerns are properly addressed, I would then encourage this individual to follow the appropriate procedures to communicate these concerns with the entirety of the board and/or the administration staff. Follow-up conversations with the parent or teacher are essential. This will help determine the efficiency of the district’s concern process and provide the opportunity to make adjustments to the policy if necessary.
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