Four candidaates – two of them incumbents – are competing for three seats to be filled on the Lee’s Summit Board of Education April 8.
Mark Ousnamer is a small business owner and has lived in Lee’s Summit since 2000. His engineering firm has been heavily involved in organizational assessments and evaluations as an area of focus for about 15 years.
Ousnamer and his wife have three children enrolled in the LS district. He believes he can bring a great deal of practical knowledge to improving the effectiveness of the district.
Incumbent Teri Harmon has been serving the school board since April 2011. She also has been involved in a variety of organizations, ranging from Girl Scouts to the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce Centurions Leadership Program. In addition, she is the Chief Operating Officer of the Arts Council of Metropolitan Kansas City.
Harmon says she moved to Lee’s Summit specifically for the schools, and serving on the board the past three years is the most meaningful way she can think of giving back to the school district for what all they do for the Lee’s Summit students.
Bill Baird owns a real estate business and has also owned several others over the last 14 years. He has previously been on the LS Educational Foundation Board for eight years and as a developement chair for six years. Baird has also volunteered much of his time to the Lee’s Summit Chamber of Commerce, downtown Lee’s Summit and other youth organizations. Plus he said he has volunteered hundreds of hours each year in student activities, such as athletics, booster clubs and Partners in Education. He has two children enrolled in the district.
Incumbent Chris Storms has been with the Lee’s Summit School Board since 2011. He is also involved in numerous community and scholarly organizations, such as: LS Citizen’s Advisory Committee, Rotary Club of Lee’s Summit and chairman of the Lee’s Summit Coalition for Excellence in Education. Storms believes his involvement with the district the past 11 and a half years has given him the knowledge to lead the school district at the Board of Education level.
1. Do you believe current accreditation requirements, such as the MSIP 5 standards, are fair and realistic for districts?
OUSNAMER: Absolutely. I think the MSIP 5 standards are a reasonable extension of the stepping blocks implemented to the point. As the standards have been designed to identify areas needing improvements without burdening statewide districts with an “all at once” implementation but instead spread over several years, the MSIP 5 are logical, fair and realistic. Continuous improvement should be systemic within the system regardless of MSIP 5 and beyond standards.
HARMON: Missouri has rigorous accreditation requirements and the LS school district has consistently met or exceeded those standards. Some districts may consider them unfair or unrealistic because of their rigor, but our district has done an excellent job of planning for and adapting to changes in state standards to allow our students continue a tradition of strong academic performance.
BAIRD: Each school will have a different perspective on the fairness of the standards, but it is a benchmark that we can use to fairly evaluate a school. The next step is the important with regard to fairness. What should happen when a school is struggling? The school districts need more help and guidance along the way from the state. When schools have low accreditation scores, the state needs to offer assistance to help the school district. This proactive approach only makes sense, and it seems the state is trying to move in that direction.
STORMS: Much of the increased rigor provided in MSIP 5, that is concerning for some districts has already been implemented in Lee’s Summit. New processes, such as balanced assessment and structured teacher collaboration-which began in 2012-have only helped the district to better assess and educate each of our students.
2. What’s your personal take on the state adopting and implementing Common Core learning objectives into the Missouri Learning Standards?
OUSNAMER: I think it is a great idea as long as its approached logically and carefully with emphasis on learning. If one looks at Missouri’s rankings nationally and the three R-7 high school rankings within the state, there is a tremendous amount of room for improvement. CC objectives look good on paper, but as with all things, adopting them carte blanche could have unintended consequences of overwhelming our teaching staffs and students. I believe local control of our schools is paramount.
HARMON: I support the incorporation of CC into the Missouri Learning Standards. R-7 has worked hard in recent years to revise and update our curriculum and grade level learning targets to align with this rigorous set of standards. This helps set clear expectations for students, their families and educators alike. Because Missouri’s academic standards have always been among the most rigorous in the nation, the CC will also bring academic standards in other states up to the level we have traditionally expected in Missouri.
BAIRD: I believe there should be some commonality in all the states, so that when students move from state to state there will be enough consistency that the student can make the transition more smoothly. I also believe that if students are to be compared nationally then there should be a commonality of curriculum so that these comparisons have validity.
STORMS: I believe the premise behind CC is good. However, I believe the implementation by the state does not provide the best learning targets for all students, and the ability to reach these targets.
3. How will you maintain the district’s tradition of excellence?
OUSNAMER: I think we should redefine “tradition of excellence” to place us on a national stage and hopefully on internationally footing at some point in the future. Our high schools rank in the top 20 Missouri high schools. Unfortunately, Missouri is not in the top 20 of the states as far as national ranking.
HARMON: I have and will continue to support the district’s focus on our students and providing them with the highest quality educational opportunities by promoting strong fiscal management, investing in our teachers, staff and facilities by continuously improving our curriculum and program offerings.
BAIRD: We (the LS district) have the best teachers and administration in Missouri and I want to ensure that they are given the tools, training and support they need to provide the finest education in the state.
I would advocate for technology in the classroom to help enhance the learning process. The district made monumental steps last years towards putting technology in the hands of students. I would like to see the path towards integrating new technology in the classroom continue.
I would support extracurricular opportunities for our students to help them develop and grow as individuals because strong activities and program are a way to generate school pride and a sense of community.
STORMS: Retention of our most successful employees, from teachers to Superintendent. Work with administration to continue and find new ways of providing financial resources for the district. Work with the Missouri Legislature to fix the problems we are encountering that will only be able to be fixed in a legislative manner.
4. What are some challenges the district faces and what do you propose to resolve them?
OUSNAMER: Funding is always mentioned as a district challenge and I think creating a true, responsible budget is a first step to addressing those issues. Using a non-standard modified cash basis for a $200 million budget is ridiculous. Not tracking hard assets and doing proper accounting for long-term is not responsible stewardship of the patron’s money. This doesn’t include the $600,000 plus the district spent on land for the gas company to put a fast-fill “service station” on. How many new teachers could that have financed?
Another challenge I hear about on a regular basis from district teachers is the increased work load and difficulty meeting teaching demands, including IEPs. In the current economy, we should be looking at the learning needs of the individual students and teachers as part of the whole district budget without compartmentalization and isolation.
HARMON: I support the thoughtful and thorough long range planning used by the R-7 district to help minimize the impact that any challenges might have on our students. Those challengers include the student transfer issue, state funding and legislative threats, such as open enrollment and school vouchers. These challenges need to be met with consisten advocacy efforts to ensure we are protected the quality of our public education system for all students.
BAIRD: With the amount of money we receive from the state each year always in question, it makes it difficult to budget appropriately. We need continued support from our community to let our representatives know that we want our schools fully funded.
Previous to this year, I was concerned about technology and infrastructure, but great strides have been made in the last year. I believe our next hurdble is to get back on a schedule for maintaining technology in the classroom for the students and for the teachers. Many businesses budget to cycle their computer and other items every 3-4 years because advancements have been coming so quickly.
STORMS: Transfers from unaccredited districts and full funding of the Foundation Formula are two critical issues for all districts. We need to work with the Missouri Legislature to fix these issues. To fix the transfer issue, I believe the proposal presented by a collaboration of several groups titled “A New Path to Excellence” provides the most comprehensive solution for the issue.
5. What qualities or strengths do you believe you will bring to the school board?
OUSNAMER: First and foremost is honesty. I believe in uniform and consistent enforcement of board policies throughout the district applied to all individuals, including board members. I have a tremendous amount of business experience achieving difficult goals against apparently insurmountable obstacles. If the district funding formula isn’t fully funded because there isn’t any money, I think the answers lie within the district and collective creativity of our employees.
HARMON: I have extensive business and non-profit experience that I use as a school board member to help provide transparency and consistency in the board goverance of the district. I am also a parent of school-aged children and a small business owner, which helps me offer important perspective to our work as a school board.
BAIRD: I have been striving to make a difference in education for the Lee’s Summit School District in many ways. I have been on the LS Educational Foundation Board, chaired the Taste of Lee’s Summit and helped raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the schools for technology, such as Chromebooks and audio enhancements, as well as PEAK Grants for the teachers. I am so passionate about education that I even put my two left feet on display for the “Dancing with the Chamber Stars” event to raise tens of thousands of dollars for scholarships for Lee’s Summit students.
STORMS: I have been involved with the LS R-7 School District as a volunteer at both the school and district level since my oldest son started school in 2002. This school district will continue to face many challenges in the coming years and my knowledge of school issues, as well as my business acumen, makes me the right choice to continue service as a Board of Education member.