Three candidates are running for two open spots on the Blue Springs Board of Education in the April 2 election, including both incumbents.
Bobby Hawk, who was appointed last year to finish an unexpired term, and Rhonda Gilstrap, who was first elected in 2004, are joined on the ballot by challenger Carl Tharp. Blue Springs school board members serve three-year terms.
The Examiner posed a pair of questions to all candidates.
Tell people a little about yourself and why you are running for (re)election to the school board?
Rhonda Gilstrap: From the moment our first child entered elementary school, it has always been my desire to volunteer and assist in any way to simply make a difference in the Blue Springs School District. I found that opportunity by volunteering time in classrooms to assist teachers, involving myself in PTA and serving on various district committees.
Since I was elected to the board, I have worked diligently to invest in furthering my own knowledge as a BSSD board member on a local level. I have also made it a priority to educate myself on issues that may benefit our district on a state level. I have earned all levels of certification that our state requires and offers for board members: essential, advanced, masters and distinguished. In addition, I am involved at the state level, and currently serve as president elect of the Missouri School Boards Association. In June, if re-elected to our board, I will move into the role of president of MSBA. My involvement at the state level has enhanced my experience with legislative issues, has allowed others throughout the state to get a glimpse of BSSD’s excellence and has given me an opportunity to communicate critical information that may have an impact on our district.
The opportunity to serve our students, staff and community, has, and will, continue to be one of my greatest passions.
Bobby Hawk: I am only a current member of the board of education but also a parent and community partner. I serve as the executive director of EPIC KC and also as the lead pastor of EPIC Church, which provides school supplies for the kindergarten students and the Liggett Trail special education students. I’m a Blue Springs School District alum, a respected community leader with strong values that influence the way I lead, and I’m beginning work on masters degree in organizational leadership. As one of only two board members with a child in the district my insight as a parent is also very helpful.
I want to continue to serve the students, teachers, staff and administration of BSSD. As a board member, my purpose is to help students fulfill theirs. In addition to the governing functions of a school board member, I also feel responsible to help guard the values and culture that make BSSD unique. I think our current and past experiences, both professionally and personally, help me to fulfill my role and execute my responsibilities. I also believe I will continue to benefit BSSD as a school board member because I am passionate about education and dedicated to the end result of student achievement. Last but not least, I value the teachers in the district because I am a direct product of their dedication and instruction.
Carl Tharp: I've been a resident in the Blue Springs School District for seven years. I am a father of three students currently in the district.
In my professional life I'm a Union Sheet Metal worker and have been now for 15 years. As a foreman for my current employer I oversee work on the jobsite.
I am currently an Executive Board member for the Sheet Metal Workers Local 2. Part of my responsibilities is to collaborate with other board members and business representatives on the issues affecting our union in the Kansas City area.
In this role, I help problem solve issues that may arise with signatory contractors and/or our members. I also interview prospective candidates for the apprenticeship program.
What are three of the biggest challenges or priorities the district faces going forward, and how do you hope the district can address them?
Gilstrap: First and foremost, we must always keep the safety of our students and staff at the forefront of our priorities. We need to continue to research and acquire tools for not only their physical well-being, but we are also tasked to support the safety of the mental and emotional health of our students as well.
I believe another one of our greatest challenges is to secure more funding for our schools. There are countless state and federally created mandates that have been placed on our district, and our patrons are forced to pay for these through their local taxes. These mandates should be paid by state and federal dollars. We have one of the lowest tax levies and lowest per pupil cost in the area, yet we have the best outcomes. Our district provides an exemplary education for our students, and we are one of only two districts in the area with a 100 percent Annual Performance Report score.
Another critical challenge we face is to continue to hire the most qualified staff. In every area, from drivers to teachers, food service, para professionals and administration among others, we are always challenged with finding the best and maintain the high standards we expect for our students. We have always excelled in recruiting retaining the “cream of the crop” in educators. Our reputation and supportive community have made this a great place to have a career and a family. Yet, as we see across our nation, there is a shortage of young adults who are choosing to enter the field of education. While the entire country is experiencing the same struggle, we are seeing these signs more locally. We are charged with continuing to search for the very best individuals to educate our students, including growing our own.
Hawk: 1. Budget and funding, including teacher compensation and student environments as a priority.
2. Student and staff safety – continuing to make sure we focus on all safety issues.
3. Class size and behavior dynamics – addressing the continued concerns for education of all students.
Tharp: 1. The bullying in our schools today. Progress has been made on this issue, but we need to build on the foundation that has been started. Unfortunately bullying is still a problem in our district. The bullying policy needs to be re-evaluated. This is a serious matter that cannot be taken lightly.
2. Enhancing the special needs programs. Just as other school districts have begun to do around the country, our district needs to create work programs in our district for our special education students after they graduate. Also, just as my family did, people are moving to the district primarily for the BSSD special education programs. We need to keep up with the demand and need to bring in more special education staff.
3. The vaping in our schools is out of control and needs to be dealt with. I know some measures have been taken on this issue, but vaping continues to be a significant problem throughout the district. I've done some research on this matter, and there is technology that exists that can detect the use of vaping. It is similar to that of a smoke detector. This is something that should be explored to help the problem. In the meantime we need to be educating our students on the health issues related to vaping.
As a school board member, my No. 1 priority would be to the students, teachers, and taxpayers. We need to continue to maintain our 100 percent rating while ensuring the safety of students and staff, along with the mental and physical health of everyone in the district.