Four candidates are vying for two open seats on the Blue Springs School District Board of Education, as Kent Bradford and Eric Groves are not running for re-election.
The four candidates are Kurt Swanson, a former teacher and current real estate agent; Jeff Siems, owner of Blue Springs Marine and president of the Marine Retailers Association of America's educational foundation board; Antoine Jennings, local director of a financial services non-profit and a member of the Blue Springs Human Relations Commission who has run previously; and Bryan Dennie, bank vice president and a district graduate.
The Examiner posed questions to each candidate, and below are their responses to those questions (edited in part).
Question: What made you decide to run for the school board?
Kurt Swanson: I am a former teacher. I spent about 10 years in the classroom inspiring students to learn and achieve their best. After leaving the classroom, I've spent the next part of my career as an advocate for teachers and great public schools.
I'm running because I believe every child, regardless of the zip code they live in, deserves a great teacher and a great public school. When you become a teacher or work in education, you don't do it for wealth, fame or because it's easy. You do it because it's a calling, because you believe in our students and all they can achieve. I have two children who graduated from Blue Springs High School. They continue to grow and build successful careers all because of what they learned here in Blue Springs. It's important we preserve that opportunity for every student.
Jeff Siems: Currently there are not enough members of the Blue Springs School Board with a child attending school in the district. This not only creates a disconnect between what’s implemented by the school board and its ramifications in the classroom, but also lack of personal investment in the success of the district.
As a parent of a child currently attending school in the district, I have a vested interest in the success of the district. As a local business owner in Blue Springs, I feel I can offer a unique well-rounded skill set beneficial to the board of education. I believe the success of a community and a school district are interdependent upon each other, and I want to help our community thrive.
Antoine Jennings: The reason I am running is two-fold. 1. We currently don't have any parent representation on our board and 2. I am not happy with some of the decisions the board has made in recent months. So, instead of complaining, I threw my hat in the race to become an advocate for change and for our students as well as our teachers.
Bryan Dennie: Being a product of the district has instilled a level of commitment within me. There are other children within the school district who have a similar make-up or background as I do. Being able to be apart of a rich tradition and seeing our school district stretched to newer heights excites me, and I always want to be a part of it.
Q: What is going well with the district that you want to make sure continues to progress?
KS: The district scores very high on the Annual Performance Report. In 2017 the district score was 99.6 percent. It is important to continue performing well on our APR as well as all other state assessments. Our students score above the state average ACT, with about half our students scoring above the national average. Our students' performance is a reflection of the dedication of our teachers to deliver quality instruction.
Our district is currently financially stable. Maintaining our ability to financially operate the district going forward is vital to all of our programs. The commitment from the state to fully fund our basic formula and transportation is uncertain. Ensuring that we prioritize our financial resources to our operating funds must be a priority when establishing our district levy.
JS: The district has been able to recover from funding shortages from the past years, and now has their reserve funds close to proper levels. They have been able to pay down their bond debt, providing more options as they move forward. I want to see continuation of smart financial management to protect the district from future funding changes at the state and local level.
The culture within the teachers and staff of the district make it one of the best places to teach in the Kansas City metro area. The success of our district is highly dependent on proper financial management, giving our district the resources to hire and retain the best teachers and give them the necessary tools in the classroom. I want to focus on continued teacher satisfaction, which has a direct correlation to the success of students in the classroom.
School safety has been a major topic over the past years. Blue Springs School District has been very proactive in this area and is currently only one of five schools in the state that have resource officers in every building as well as single access points for the public. I want to maintain and continue to improve safety for our students, allowing them to focus on learning.
AJ: Even though there is always room for improvement if you are under 100 percent, our graduation rate in Blue Springs is something I am proud of and want to see progress.
BD: As a board member, we must communicate with the community leaders, patrons and citizens. It’s very important for our students to be heard, understood and protected. Our community and school system has created such such a following over the decades, and I feel that is because of the community as a whole, the school district’s staff and student body.
Are there areas you think could stand to see some change or improvement, or present big challenges moving forward? If so, what?
KS: As a district, we send our students, and pay tuition, to other districts for technical and vocational opportunities. Not every student will pursue a four-year college degree. With the cost of higher education increasing, pursuit of a four-year degree is out of reach for many of our students. There are many excellent and great careers in skilled trades and technical vocations. As a district we would do our students and our community well by establishing a technical/vocational center where our students have the opportunity to graduate with real-world skills ready to work and thrive.
In an ever-changing world, we need to prepare our students, not only for the careers and challenges of the future, but also so they can lead. Another challenge moving forward is the ability to provide and maintain one-to-one technology devices for our students. Students will be able to enhance their educational experience by having access to technology.
JS: As I mentioned earlier, the success of a city and a school district are interdependent upon each other. It is imperative these two entities work together. Blue Springs School District receives 55-60 percent of its funding from local tax revenues. If cities do not maintain a balance in the price range of housing and commercial properties approved, tax income imbalances occur, resulting in school district funding shortages. Working together will unite goals for the betterment of our communities. Additionally, increased funds will allow the district to recruit teachers through competitive compensation, provide more opportunities for its students and remain a top contending school district in the Kansas City area.
AJ: This district continues to lose quality teachers to surrounding districts, specifically Lee’s Summit. We must find more creative ways to become more competitive with our teachers' salaries. Diversity in our hiring practices is also an area of concern; our student population is a diverse group but not so much when it comes to faculty and staff. We must do better.
With the increase of mental health, peer pressure and bullying in our schools, it is pertinent that our students feel comfortable and secure knowing they can come to school every day and feel safe.
BD: I believe it’s important to ensure we continue to build on our rich culture. Find ways to continue to stay ahead of the curve and not allow the corruptions or negative influence within our world to change who we are as a community. In addition, we must be prepared to help our staff and students learn how to adapt and not be afraid of ambiguities.