Four people are competing for three open seats on the Grain Valley Board of Education, and three of the candidates are incumbents. The election is April 8.
Incumbent Jan Reding moved to Grain Valley from Independence in 1977. Her son graduated from Grain Valley High School in 1990. Before retiring in 1994, Reding was the manager of the Power & Light Building in Kansas City for 37 years.
She serves on the Grain Valley school board, and is director and vice-president of the Foundational Board of University of Central Missouri. She has been a member of the Board of Directors for the Grain Valley Assistance Council since 1998.
Phil Hutchinson has been a resident of Grain Valley since 1989, and has two children who graduated from Grain Valley High School. He has been involved with the district for more than 20 years in organizations such as the Band Parents Association and Citizens Advisory Committee. The Certified Public Accountant and U.S. Army verteran believes he has the experience and knowledge to continue to be of service.
Tisha Vogel is running for the school board because she believes parents should be better informed on the various programs the district offers. The billing administrator has been president of the Grain Valley Lions Club and her children attend school in the district.
Incumbent Jeff Coleman has five children attending Grain Valley schools. He says his first term he learned about the district’s priorities and there is still more work to be done. The financial adviser says he knows the needs of Grain Valley students and has connections with many community members.
1. Do you believe current accreditation requirements, such as the state’s recent implementation of the MSIP 5 standards, are fair and realistic for school districts?
REDING: Yes, I do. Our district’s administration and professional staff have worked together to successfully meet these standards and achieve Distinction in Performance.
HUTCHINSON: This is the fifth cycle of the Missouri School Improvement Program so there has been an evolution of higher standards over the years. I had many concerns when the new standards were released with little input from local districts. However, I think the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has realized that they have to work with districts. Many of the concerns, such as the increase in testing, have been addressed. I am still concerned that our district is evaluated on some issues over which we have little control, but I am hopeful that additional changes can be made.
VOGEL: I think the MSIP 5 standards are overall good. I am glad to see that the testing decreased. There are a few things I would like to see changed, the attendance, for example. It is now based on the individual students instead of the district. I think that kind of criteria isn’t always in our control.
COLEMAN: I think it makes it tough on districts, especially in the position that Grain Valley is in. We’re in an unique situation. Local districts should have a little more control on how things operate. There is too much state government involvement, and it takes away from what districts are doing. Each student has their own unique way of learning, and MSIP 5 is all about getting kids ready for college. The truth is not all kids are wanting to go to a two- or four-year college. I think that you have to teach to each child’s interests and strengths.
2. What’s your personal take on the state adopting and implementing Common Core learning objectives into the Missouri Learning Standards?
REDING: To prepare not only our students, but also students throughout the United States for the challenges they will face in college, in the workplace and in life as well, it is necessary that they are all on the same page. With the CC curriculum being implemented in 44 of the states, all students will be receiving the same type of instruction on the same materials and be assessed in the same manner. Communication is the key, and it is important for parents to become just as involved as the students in researching and learning these new standards.
HUTCHINSON: When I consider the opposition to CC standards, I find that there are basically two positions. One is that CC is a federal mandate of curriculum. This is not true. CC was developed by participating states. Districts have been aligning curricula to the standards over the past 4 or 5 years. The content of curriculum is decided on the local level.
The second issue is the assessment of the standards. I have concerns on this issue. I think it is unfair to judge our district or our faculty based on one test. There are also many problems in some districts since the new assessments will be computer-based. I remain skeptical about the assessments.
VOGEL: I am not a big supporter of the Common Core learning objectives yet. I think it is teaching to a test and not lifelong learning. I don’t think it takes into effect where kids are coming from. Each child is different, they learn different. I think that kind of criteria isn’t always in our control.
COLEMAN: Each student learns differently. I believe we should help students prepare for their long lives rather than just being college-ready. It is important to encourage everyone to attend a post-secondary education, but only to a certain point. What if a student wants to become a firefighter or paramedic? Is college necessary? Those fields do not require a four-year degree yet. I am not for this type of “cookie-cutter education” that doesn’t pertain to what a child wants to do later in life.
Plus I think going away from standards, such as cursive writing is wrong. CC considers the form of writing as optional rather than being required.
3. In your opinion, what’s the best and most cost-effective way your district should address its growing student population?
REDING: Grain Valley is indeed a growing district. Adding new facilities, classrooms, personnel and technology continues to be our major financial budget items. We have been blessed by our community’s overwhelming support of our bond issues. Our board has been very diligent in implementing effective short and long-term goals to address this growth and has developed a very effective planning team to design, construct and equip our facilities in a most cost-effective manner.
HUTCHINSON: The Grain Valley School District is financially sound. We have weathered the recession storm well. The district’s levy rate is below the 2004 approved rate. We also have to thank the support of our patrons (for being) able to continue to add or expand facilities to meet growth. We are limited in our ability to bond and therefore have to use multiple phases to complete our construction projects. This is not a cost-effective way to handle construction. That being said, legislation to let voters decide whether bonding capacity should be increased has become a political issue in Jefferson City. We can only advocate with our legislators as we have done for the past eight years.
VOGEL: Our district is expanding at a rapid pace and my main concern is the student-to-teacher ratio. I would like to see the district maintain a low student classroom for optimal learning experience.
I was pleased that the latest bond issue passed for expansion. Grain Valley has dedicated residents that realize the importance of expanding the high school and adding security features in all schools.
COLEMAN: We are growing without a doubt. It is puts a burden on our residents. I think we can do a better job on property purchases by actually asking questions like if we are getting the best deals on properties. We need to build relationships with Grain Valley’s business community and other residents.
4. What are some challenges the district faces and how do you propose to resolve them?
REDING: Our district’s main challenge is providing safe and efficient facilities for our growing student population, and we are currently and constantly addressing this endeavor. Additionally, we know we must increase our capacity in technology, and this process is also taking place.
HUTCHINSON: In addition to bonding capacity, we need to find a way to provide a program for children who are not ready for kindergarten. I am not a proponent of universal early childhood education, but do see a need for a targeted program for students we can identify as needing the service to prepare them for school. In addition, there are several positions in health care and counseling that we have been unable to fulfill due to funding. Full funding of the state (education) formula would make some of these programs available. In addition, funding for Parents as Teachers has been reduced a level where services are very limitied. We need less politics and more action in Jefferson City.
VOGEL: Some challenges are our growth. With the bond issue that passed in February we are adding more classrooms at the high school which will help a lot.
COLEMAN: Again, our biggest problem is growth. As a current board member, we put together a long term plan that includes the addition of a second high school in the future. The current high school was initially built for 850 students. Currently we have just over 1,000 students. I think within three years it will reach to 1,200. Although we are adding extra classrooms at the high school, a second high school is needed.
Plus our bond capacity is not at the degree in where it needs to be. However, I am not in favor in raising any more levies. I just think people need to think outside the box in terms of how finance additional sites or other programs. We have a big job to accommodate our growth.
5. What qualities or strengths do you believe you will bring to the school board?
REDING: I have been on the Board of Education for 15 years, and, thus, have been privileged to work and serve with all of the members of our school district family. I have served three terms as president of the board, one as vice-president and three as secretary. I also hold a Master’s Certification from the Missouri School Board’s Association.
HUTCHINSON: I am a Certified Public Accountant, so my financial background is helpful in discussion of funding and budgets. I also hold a Master Certification in the MSBA Certified Board Member program. I am currently serving as President of the Missouri School Boards’ Association, which provides me with a statewide perspective of education issues. I think I have the reputation of listening to all sides of an issue and seeking alternative solutions to problems. I firmly believe in continuous improvement both in myself and our district.
VOGEL: I will bring modern ideas with a different perspective as a parent with kids currently in the school district. We (the school board) should be encouraging parents to attend the school board meeting to be involved in the “behind the scenes” of how the district is run. They should feel comfortable voicing their concerns and making suggestions for improvements. Parents are the backbone to this community.
COLEMAN: I think the education I received the last three years on the board is my asset. I also think my biggest quality is my connection to the community. I am president of the Grain Valley Chamber of Commerce and Grain Valley EDC. This allows me a lot of interaction with community members. Plus reaching out to parents with my kids’ extracurricular activities. I get the opportunity to talk to receive input from parents.