Five running for two seats on Blue Springs school board

By Mike Genet
The Examiner

Five candidates, including two incumbents, are running for the two open seats in the April 6 election for the Blue Springs Board of Education.

Former teacher and current board Vice President Kurt Swanson and Banking Vice President and district alum Bryan Dennie are each running for a second three-year term. Valerie Eva Piercey and April Agate both have multiple children in the district and career backgrounds in education, currently at the university level, and Carl Tharp, a sheetmetal worker who has participated in district committees and has run for the school board before, has had two children graduate from the district and one still in high school.

Other than Dennie, the candidates participated in a virtual forum last month hosted by the Blue Springs Chamber of Commerce. In the forum, the candidates generally agreed the Blue Springs District has done a commendable job during the pandemic, given all the circumstances. Unlike several school districts in the metro area, Blue Springs offered either in-person or virtual for students but not a hybrid model.

“I don’t think any district out there found the perfect answer to the pandemic,” Swanson said, adding that the district’s task force over the summer was crucial for this current school year. “We were kind of building the aircraft while flying it. I believe giving parents that choice was the best decision we could make.”

“Nothing about educating students during the pandemic is easy, and I think Blue Springs did a great job,” Agate said. “The task force was important and did its best to come to an acceptable compromise.”

Tharp, who was part of the task force as a citizen and parent, said the district made the best decision it could at the time and that relying on input from educators is crucial to improving “because they’re the ones on the front line.”

Piercey said the district reacted quickly, and while the elementary schooling was challenging at first, the summer overhaul was good, and she appreciated the choice for families.

Going forward through and ultimately from the pandemic, mental health and relying on teacher input will be most important, candidates said.

Tharp said educators’ input will be “invaluable” to any changes related to COVID-19.

Piercey suggests having both informal and formal assessments to see where some learning gaps exist, as high schools and elementaries face different issues.

“We need to reach out to individual students with special strategies,” she said, adding that professional development and teacher retention will be important moving forward.

Agate and Swanson stressed having support for mental health, and Swanson added that the pandemic has also strained the district budget in places, so making sure reserves stay healthy will be important.

“Our teachers have worked extremely hard, probably the hardest they’ve ever worked in a school setting,” Swanson said. “We want them to burn on, not burn out, and for our students, just getting beyond this pandemic and finding some return to normalcy is important.”

The candidates agreed that continuing to expand career academies and vocational education is best for the district to prepare students for the future, knowing a college career path isn’t for everyone. Swanson said it’s been a point of focused discussion on the board, and the district is planning to convert the Freshman Center into a vocational training building.

“It’s also important to remember that they’re training students for some jobs that don’t exist yet,” Agate said, “so we need to remain on the cutting edge of things and teach skills on how to adapt and problem-solving.”

Swanson said every child in the district deserves a great teacher to inspire them, and after seeing two children graduate from the district and thrive in their careers, “it’s important that we maintain the same opportunity for every student in the district,” and also realize there’s room for growth.

Tharp said the district’s special education was a big reason his family moved to the district and said his professional background and past district involvement would make him an asset to the board.

Piercey noted her educator experience as well as the perspective of having children in three different stages in the district.

“I want to represent that voice in our community,” she said.

Likewise, Agate also said her educator background and having children in the district, including one in special education, would benefit the school board. Agate said she has three student teachers from Graceland University currently involved in the district.

“My experience and background and passion to do what’s best for everyone make me a great fit,” she said.