Keith Diaz Moore grew up in a university community, enjoying visits to the on-campus arts museum, attending on-campus theatrical events and learning plenty from student teachers assisting in his off-campus classrooms.
“Those are lasting memories for me,” Diaz Moore said.
Such university-enhanced benefits of his childhood education in Madison, Wis., now are helping shape his political approach here in Lawrence, home to Kansas University and the district where Diaz Moore seeks election to the Lawrence school board.
The KU associate professor and associate dean of graduate studies in the School of Architecture, Design and Planning is looking to add to the Lawrence school district’s strong foundation — using materials, services and expertise found on Mount Oread and throughout the business community.
“Architects deal with complex problems where there’s not a single right solution,” Diaz Moore said. “What you need to be able to do is, very clearly, focus on the core of the problem and the shared aspirations you have for a solution.
“I see that design thinking as directly parallel to the challenges facing the school board right now. The issues are complex. There’s certainly not one clear answer. But we need to be clear about what our ambitions are and where we need to go.”
Among the goals and initiatives Diaz Moore would like to pursue:
• Establishing a long-term vision. Simply listing goals for the coming year isn’t enough, he said: “It’s, where do we want to be in five years, and move toward that end.” The approach should reach past buildings and capital investments and extend into curriculum and other aspects of district business.
• Forming a Budget Advisory Committee, one that could seek out the potential for money-saving options other than the usual closing of schools or slashing of programs. If everything’s going to be on the table, he figures, the community ought to be able to consider everything. “We have a lot of smart business people here in Lawrence,” Diaz Moore said. “This is a $137 million budget. When we look to save $1 million or $2 million, what we’re talking about is less than 2 percent of the budget. My gut tells me … that wouldn’t impact the core academic mission. We need to get that input.”
• Asking for help in addressing other difficult issues. That means appealing to the business community, the KU community, the teaching community and anyone else in the community with the expertise and enthusiasm to contribute, he said: “The board can’t do it on their own. … One of the things that sets Lawrence apart as a community in Kansas is our educated citizenry. We have to leverage that as much as we can.”
• Planning for full-day kindergarten in all district elementary schools, not just the eight of 15 that currently have it. While that may sound impossible at a time when administrators forecast the district having $3 million less to spend next year, Diaz Moore wants to explore other possibilities.
KU could have students seeking internship opportunities, he said, noting that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce cites early-education programs as the best investments a community can make.
Perhaps the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce could become a partner, he said.
“We have to start to be very creative with public-private partnerships,” Diaz Moore said. “We are a community that puts education first. In these times, when education is so challenged, we need to show that this is a community that will rise to the challenge.”
Diaz Moore and his wife, Laura, an attorney, have two children at Cordley School: Zoe, in third grade, and Oliver, in kindergarten. Diaz Moore has served on the school’s site council for the past two years, and has coached softball for 7- and 8-year-old girls.
Diaz Moore participated in the Save Our Neighborhood Schools campaign last year, which fought proposals that would have closed one or more elementary schools. He supported work of the Lawrence Elementary School Facility Vision Task Force, whose research and resulting criteria have given future board members the ability to make “informed” decisions down the road, he said.
He grew up in Madison, home to the University of Wisconsin, and went on to receive a bachelor’s degree in architecture at the University of Illinois, a master’s degree in architecture at the University of Minnesota and a doctoral degree in architecture from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.
Between school years, he worked at architecture firms in New York and Chicago before joining the faculty at Washington State University in Spokane, Wash.
The public schools system in Spokane didn’t meet the Diaz Moores’ standards, and when the opportunity to move to Lawrence arrived, they didn’t hesitate.
Now, six years later, Diaz Moore wants to help improve the Lawrence school district as a board member — drawing upon assistance from KU, the university and community he now calls home.