The eight USD 475 board of education candidates took questions in September at the new Junction City High School auditorium.

With Election Day just next week, the candidates for the USD 475 school board gave their responses and opinions on subjects pertaining to the school district and the current issues surrounding it.

How will you go about engaging parents and keeping open communication?

Bryan Bliss: “I’m a firm believer that parents have got the right to know what is going on with their students.” “It’s a matter of making sure you get plenty of information that you may not think is valuable at the time and go ahead and put it out there and let the parents decide what they are going to read and what they don’t want to read.”

Jason Butler: “The easiest way [for better communication] is by being part of the school district by going to different events and being willing and able to talk to people whenever you are around them.” “I try to respond to questions from people within 24 hours with good answers that provide adequate insight.”

Mark Hatcher: “One of the simple things I’d do is make sure all of our emails are on the website.” “We need to answer in a prompt way,… in less than 24 hours.”

Stephanie Holloway: “You can have communication with people, but if you’re not connecting with them, I think you lack those relationships that are necessary.” “I feel like giving the voters and the constituents opportunities to connect and communicate are vital to the success of the school district.”

Beth Hudson: “We used to do something called the patron committee and we would have representatives from all the schools and parents meet with us from time to time. I think that was helpful because you got to hear perspectives from across the district, so I think that’s one way we can do that.” “I’ve always been someone who’s built relationships with people so that we could have a good discussion about things.”

Krystle Koch: “Involving people in decisions makes them feel like they were part of it, their voices were heard before a decision was made, and I feel that’s integral in making the community feel like they are a part of this. I would like to see that be more open.”

Kelli McCallum: “I would like to see focus groups established where open conversation can be had between educators, parents and community members.”

Rina Neal: “We now have a parent and engagement newsletter. We are getting ready to implement parent university as well.” “In 2018, we implemented a live streaming of our board meetings.”

What are the budgeting concerns and how would you plan to help remedy those?

Bryan Bliss: “Staying on top of the maintenance with all the buildings and making sure that we aren’t losing ground with keeping them running efficiently is the main thing.” “We have a shortage of personnel right now. It would be nice to be able to keep the employees working for our district and keeping them happy so we can keep our students in a positive atmosphere.”

Jason Butler: “One thing that we need to make sure is in the budget are ways to adequately train our teachers.” “If we are having a hard time with retention and recruitment, we should be able to provide some kind of incentive.”

Mark Hatcher: "It seems our biggest challenge is where will the district allocates its resources. I know that they are developing a plan now. Teaching & Learning has 90 days, from what I understand, to develop a program plan outlining its facility needs across the district. That plan will enable David Wild (Operations) to help build a Master Plan for sustainment, repair and modernization of facilities. The next Board of Education will finalize the approval of final plans."

Stephanie Holloway: “As someone who works as a social emotional learning specialist and has over 20 years of experience with mental health, those are the priorities that I have campaigned on, and I believe whole-heartedly that these are areas that we need to focus on.” “Utilizing funding for those purposes is essential, as well as addressing the mental health issues with the pandemic and the loss that everyone has faced. We need to address the losses and help our students be able to successfully move forward from the experiences we have had over the last few years.”

Beth Hudson: “The main concern is the lack of stability with the fact that the military count changes things from year to year.” “We have the impact aid and the heavy impact aid. Those are all things that are never really certain. I think with the budget, you’ve come to realize you can’t depend on that for your main source.” “You build your budget knowing that you have that part of impact aid, but you can’t count on it.”

Krystle Koch: “If there was more of an active outreach to the military families and education and understandings for how we can qualify for funding and things like that, then it would set our district up in a much better position to have a better budget.”

Kelli McCallum: My major concern would be I don’t want to see an increase in the levy. We’ve worked hard as a community, city, county and school district to continue and not raise the levy, but to meet the needs of the students and staff within that budget.”

Rina Neal: “We need to understand where our money is coming from and how it is being utilized.” “We rely heavily upon federal funds and a lot of our funds come from the fact that we have over 50% of our student population from the military and their dependance. … I think it’s taken for granted the amount of economic leverage we receive from Fort Riley to sustain our school system.”

What is your opinion on mandatory masking?

Bryan Bliss: “Mask-wearing should be decided by the students’ parents and no one else. The parents should have final say on if their child wears a mask.”

Jason Butler: “I think the goal is to de-mask students, but I don’t think we are there yet.” “At this point, the goal is education and that is the only way to keep kids in school and reduce the kind of learning disparity [of going home to quarantine].”

Mark Hatcher: “Our mitigation efforts need to be measurable and need to be definable.” “[Masking] should be the choice of the parents. Who loves their kids more than the parents? No parent is going to willingly send their kids into danger.” “We want to be compassionate to those who may be more fearful or concerned because of valid reasons or not, sure we want to do that, but we can’t mandate mitigate forever.”

Stephanie Holloway: "We have six schools on Fort Riley and we receive funding and support from the government for those schools. It is a federal mandate to wear the mask on federal property. Our responsibility is to follow federal, state and local guidance on the masks. I also believe it is a topic to be revisited at monthly board of education meetings."

Beth Hudson: I think we could revisit [the policy] sooner rather than later. They made the decision to revisit it in April which is a long way off. I would say we revisit it often, based on what is going on in the community and the numbers in the community. But I’m going to support the school district’s decision.”

Krystle Koch: “I think that currently they’ve been proven to be affective, and it’s just something that needs to be reevaluated as the virus cases ebb and flow.” “Even if COVID isn’t a massive concern, it also helps keep down other transmittable and communicable viruses, so I think until cold and flu season is over, I don’t think it is a good idea to reevaluate it.”

Kelli McCallum: “We know that things are not going to be normal just yet, but any steps that we can take towards getting that for our students I think would be steps in the right direction.”

Rina Neal: “I believe [masking] is the simplest weapon to make sure we are providing a safe environment for our students and staff.” “Masking is something that we use when we don’t have other resources in place. Vaccines are only allowed for children 12 and over. There is not a vaccine for children under the age of 12, and the use of vaccines is a personal choice. … Masking is the only thing available to use to make sure that our schools remain open.”

What, if anything, would you change about the school curriculum?

Bryan Bliss: “I would like to bring in an organization called Relate 360. It’s a great organization that’s local to the region and they teach over 2,000 kids in public school systems, and they teach about good healthy relationships.” “I would also like to bring in a curriculum from Dave Ramsey. There are a lot of high school kids that are graduating that once they get out, they really don’t understand how to handle their finances very well, so I think this would be a great addition to the curriculum.”

Jason Butler: “We need to be making sure that when our students leave the school district, that they are ready for the next level, whether that be increasing college-level classes … or making sure students have the background knowledge for a trade.”

Mark Hatcher: “Our teachers are overwhelmed and overloaded.” “Don’t change it all the time and put more stuff on them.” “Let’s make sure they are unburdened so they can teach.” “I would like us to revisit our human health and sexuality curriculum.”

Stephanie Holloway: “More emphasis on the social emotional learning and mental health aspects.”

Beth Hudson: “Teacher’s plates are already full. Over the years, we’ve taken on more and more that should be things that were once taught at home. I don’t think I would add anything because I’m trying to keep teachers from doing one more thing or preparing one more thing.”

Krystle Koch: “I feel like the arts have been massively cut at a lot of the schools, and things like that I believe are imperative to student education, because it not only give them a break from the mundane of doing math, English and whatnot, but they also have been proven to engage both the left and right brain.”

Kelli McCallum: “Finance is always an issue people want taught, like household budget type information. … That may be an issue to explore.”

Rina Neal: “Reviewing our curriculum is important. I think we need more culturally aware and responsive curriculum. I think that our history curriculum should be reevaluated.” “I do think there are components of Critical Race Theory that we need to examine that applies to all public education systems. One of them, the inequities within our public education system as well as the need to review our history.”

How would you address the reports of increased discipline problems in the schools?

Bryan Bliss: “The teachers and administrators need to make sure those boundaries are known, and when a student does overstep those boundaries, I think there should be consequences to their actions.” “Parents need to be the first line of notification.”

Jason Butler: “Some of that is an inadequate amount of hall monitors.” “We need more staff and security to monitor that and take care of it. We should empower teachers to be leaders… and encourage policy that improves that [authority].”

Mark Hatcher: “We need to make sure that there is an alternative education path for those who want to disrupt.” “Our discipline policy is not well communicated … and I think it needs some serious revision and revisiting.”

Stephanie Holloway: “I believe that relationships are absolutely essential. When teachers and staff members build those relationships … the research shows that when you have those types of relationships, your behavior problems tend to decrease.” “I think focusing on relationships and bringing all of us to the table to have thoughtful, respectful discussions will improve so many things within the district.”

Beth Hudson: “I think it’s probably time to regroup. We’ve had some good curriculum. A good example of something we’ve had is ‘Safe and Civil Schools.’ … It’s probably time to have a consultant come back in again. That might be helpful, to have them come in and work with middle and high school folks and revisit ways we can help.”

Krystle Koch: “I know there is a zero-tolerance policy in place, but it is not followed, and I feel they need to be more strictly adhered to. … I feel like so many kids have been getting away with a lot of things that they wouldn’t at other places.” “If it was clear that you could not exhibit this type of behavior, it will not be tolerated. Then that type of behavior would be lessened because there were consequences – real world consequences.”

Kelli McCallum: “We need to be making sure that students and parents understand the expectations that are placed on the students so that they know what is and isn’t to be tolerated.”

Rina Neal: “There needs to be continued review and educational awareness about discipline. We need support systems for our staff in terms of discipline and social and emotional growth and support. So teachers do not have to focus on that, we need more social workers in our schools and more behavioral specialists within our schools. Discipline is also something that needs to be reviewed from an equity lens.”

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