Four candidates, including a pair of incumbents, will be on the April 7 ballot for the three open seats on the Blue Springs School District Board of Education.
Board President Dale Walkup, who has been on the board for 27 years, and eight-year member Kay Coen are running for re-election. Steve Westerman, the retired longtime chief of the Central Jackson County Fire Protection District who now serves on that district board, and Jeff Siems, owner of Blue Springs Marine, are also on the ballot. One board seat has been open since Dale Falck retired in the fall.
The four candidates shared their varied experiences and views on the most pressing issues the school district faces in the near future at a forum Thursday in Blue Springs.
Walkup, who has grandchildren in the district, noted his experience working in big business and touted the district's success with its teacher mentoring program. Coen, who followed her husband onto the board, said her top priority is “making sure everything is right for our district and our staff.
“Without that,” she said, “we don't have a district we're proud of.”
Westerman said he remembers moving to the city in the 1960s when it had just a couple school buildings and one stoplight and cited his desire to continue serving the community in retirement. Siems said he credits his business success in part to those who educated him and wants to provide a little of that help for the next generation.
Also, he said, with a son in the district, “A parent has a better perspective than some others about what the district needs.”
Walkup said the district's most pressing issue is converting the current Freshman Center into a career center building, knowing the district will be preparing students for future jobs that in some cases don't yet exist. At the same time, he said, the district needs to have the right teachers in place for that and adequately replace a large group of teachers nearing retirement.
Coen cited the immediate need to be prepared for health hazards, and later adding a freshman wing to Blue Springs High School so the Freshman Center can be converted as well as boosting the district's pre-K program.
Siems agreed with Walkup and said his business experience allows him to see how technology is used in the current workforce. He said the district needs to make sure it meets areas of growth with more than band-aids, in order to maintain optimal class sizes.
Westerman said he wants to “Maintain what we have going, and keep us on that same innovative track.” With his experience interviewing applicants, he said, he knows what traits the future job force needs to have for employers.
All generally agreed that having a strong variety of options for students to choose from educationally will best prepare them for future jobs.
All four also don't advocate for term limits, as citizens can run and vote to naturally limit terms. Walkup and Coen both noted how experiences can be beneficial.
“Unless you know the game,” Coen said, referring to how the education system generally works, “it's a long learning curve.”
“Leadership and longevity is good,” Siems said, “but a fresh perspective is also good.”
Regarding mental health support for students and staff in the district, Walkup said the district has spent millions on related programs, but it also needs to reach out more with students who have been bullied to keep them on a good path. Coen said mental health support is needed not just in the school system but around the country, though the schools are a good place to have strong support. Westerman said the district should always be looking for more or better ways to help.
Siems agreed with that sentiment – “We can't stop with just one program; we have to stay on the cutting edge,” he said – but cautioned against burdening teachers too much in trying to help students. By doing so, he said, that could ultimately contribute to burnout.