Updated Nov. 2, 2023, to add responses from Patrick Hurley, who submitted his final responses to the questionnaire after the other candidate’s responses had been published.
Candidates in the Blue Valley School District have aligned themselves into two slates with competing visions for the district.
Calling themselves the A+ Team, newcomer Clay Norkey and incumbents Jan Kessinger, Patrick Hurley and Jodie Dietz emphasize the district’s achievements, such as high rankings as an employer and school district and test scores above the state average.
They emphasize an interpretation of test scores that shows most students on track for success and say they’re more committed than their opponents to maintaining a well-rounded curriculum, keeping counselors and social workers in schools and supporting anti-bullying and inclusion efforts.
The A+ Team website lists endorsements from all Blue Valley superintendents from 1993 to 2020, 16 current and former Blue Valley school board members, a handful of “community leaders” such as former elected officials and groups including Moms Demand Action, Stand Up Blue Valley and Game On for Kansas Schools. Norkey and Dietz are also included in a Johnson County Democrats voter guide that lists Democrats running for office.
Newcomers Christine Vasquez, Trisha Hamilton, Rachel Faagutu and Michael Huebner call themselves Blue Valley Excellence. They emphasize concerns about what they say is the district’s falling academic achievement and want it to focus on core subjects while excluding “divisive topics” related to race and gender.
They also list as priorities competitive teacher pay, high standards for student behavior, proactive communication with parents and placing a school resource officer in each elementary school.
All four of the Blue Valley Excellence candidates are listed in a Johnson County Republican Party voter guide.
A ninth candidate, Amie Callahan, said in an email that she has not been actively campaigning after realizing there was another Republican running in her area.
Kessinger was the only candidate to complete responses to a Beacon questionnaire by the time of publication. Hurley’s responses were added Nov. 2.
Meet the candidates
Christine Vasquez, a parent who runs her own design and renovation business, did not respond to the questionnaire. According to her campaign website, she has five children including a Blue Valley graduate and four current students. She has worked as a college admissions representative, was a part-time private school teacher and homeschooled her own children before moving to Leawood five years ago. Vasquez is also involved with her church and has volunteered with foster children and youth sports.
She wants the district to focus on core academic disciplines, retain and attract quality teachers through competitive pay and high expectations for students, and communicate proactively with parents.
Occupation: Currently serve on Blue Valley Board of Education
Background and qualifications: Former state legislator, project manager for Kansas Commerce Department and 39 years in the Blue Valley School District. Three of his daughters are BVSD grads, one grandchild is a Blue Valley grad and another grandson is a junior in Blue Valley.
Favorite school event: Graduation
Favorite subject in school: English
Favorite school event: Cross country
Favorite subject in school: Math
Trisha Hamilton, director of business administration for her church, did not respond to the questionnaire. According to her campaign website, she is the parent of three children, including a Blue Valley graduate and two current students. Hamilton has been involved with volunteering as a Sunday school teacher and on mission trips.
Hamilton wants the district to focus on core subjects and critical thinking in academics, and says she will advocate for more limited electronic device use in elementary schools. She also wants to raise behavior standards in schools, pay teachers competitive salaries, uphold parents’ rights and give them opportunities to express concerns, and keep politics out of the classroom.
Amie Callahan is not actively campaigning after she realized there was another Republican running in her district, but said in an email that she would be happy to serve if elected.
Jodie Dietz, the current school board president, did not respond to the questionnaire. Her page on the A+ Team website says she has three children, including two Blue Valley graduates and a current student. She is the coordinator for the Collaboration Center at Johnson County Community College and is a member of the Friends of the Library Board and the FrameworkOP advisory team. She has also worked as a Johnson County probation officer.
Dietz advocates for continued mental health support for students and staff to promote safety and an environment where students can learn. She also praised the district’s record on academics and wants it to continue progress on its current path.
Rachel Faagutu, a small-business owner, did not respond to the questionnaire. On her campaign website, she says she is the parent of a Blue Valley graduate and younger children in the district. She holds a bachelor’s degree in bioresource and agricultural engineering and a master’s degree in national security.
Faagutu’s policy priorities mirror those on the Blue Valley Excellence website, including focusing on core subjects over “political and non-academic influences,” supporting competitive pay for teachers, adding school resource officers to elementary schools, spending money wisely and supporting legislative efforts to fund special education costs.
Member 7 at large
Clay Norkey, an attorney in private practice, did not respond to the questionnaire. His page on the A+ Team website says Norkey has nine children who all attended Blue Valley schools. He serves as chair of the Blue Valley Recreation Commission and Blue Valley West Fathers Club. He has also served as a coach and been involved in school and church activities.
Norkey wants to build on the existing “tradition of educational excellence” in Blue Valley and to continuously improve the district. He believes in a holistic approach to education, including mental health resources, to improve children’s well-being and ensure they are ready to learn. He praised students’ academic achievements and believes families move to Blue Valley because they want more than a basic education.
Michael Huebner, who did not respond to the questionnaire, works in accounting and finance. On his campaign website, he said he is the parent of three daughters, including two current Blue Valley students, and moved to the district a decade ago. He is involved with coaching, nonprofits such as Sleep in Heavenly Peace, the Wilshire Farms Homeowners Association board and Grace Church.
Huebner believes achievement is falling in the district and wants it to go “back to basics,” remove politics from schools and stop focusing on social-emotional learning. He also wants to improve financial management in the district to increase enrollment. Huebner says elementary schools that lack school resource officers and “policies that allow boys to use the same bathrooms” as girls are safety concerns.
Multiple choice questions
School funding in Blue Valley
Kessinger: While we are constitutionally funding (which I helped to pass in the Legislature), we are woefully short on funding special education. Those funds come at the expense of the general fund, which is not as the law requires. The state and feds need to obey the law.
School board member compensation
Kessinger: Our job is public service and should be regarded as such.
Book removals in Blue Valley
Kessinger: Actually, our process for reviewing books is perfect. Can’t believe that was an option.
Including LGBTQ students
Kessinger: The goal is to provide a welcoming learning experience. Focus on the child to create a learning environment, not whatever fear-mongering issue is of the day.
If elected to the Blue Valley school board, what would you do to improve outcomes for students in your district?
Kessinger: Support the current administration, ranked #1 in Kansas, top 1% nationally. Keep doing what we are doing.
Hurley: Smaller class sizes
What is your biggest concern about the Blue Valley school board’s recent decisions or actions?
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