If Melissa Johnson, one of 18 candidates vying for the Lawrence school board seat vacated by Kristie Adair last month, doesn't end up winning the appointment, she may still end up on the board anyway. Johnson has filed to put her name on the ballot for the three school board seats up for election this fall.
Johnson, a teacher in the Kansas City, Kan. school district, told board members at their March 13 meeting that she was interested in retaining the seat if appointed. School board leaders Marcel Harmon and Shannon Kimball, the board’s respective president and vice president, have said recently that a candidate’s willingness to run for election — and remain on the board beyond the end of Adair’s term in January 2018 — would be an important factor in appointing the new board member.
There are three seats up for election this year on the school board — those currently filled by Harmon and longtime board member Vanessa Sanburn, and the one left vacant by Adair’s departure last month. All are four-year terms.
“The reason I am applying now is because I feel I am prepared mentally and physically for this job,” Johnson said during the board's recent public forum. “I’ve never started anything I don’t intend to finish, which is why I plan to run for a seat in the upcoming election.”
A former Marine and mother of three, Johnson moved to Lawrence with her children in 2005, earning a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of Kansas in 2007. Johnson said she spent two years teaching in the Lawrence district before taking a job in the Kansas City, Kan. school system. Now a second-grade teacher at Kansas City’s Whittier Elementary School, Johnson has said she’d prioritize equity issues as a school board candidate.
The school board has faced criticism in recent months for what some in the community, including students and parents of color, have perceived as an ineffective response to equity-related concerns. Johnson, who is African-American, is one of several people of color to apply for Adair’s seat amid calls for diversifying the all-white school board.
Johnson said she encounters equity challenges in her classroom, where many students are English language learners, including Sudanese and Nepalese refugee children. As a school board candidate, Johnson said one of her chief priorities will be “closing the opportunity gap and, as a result, closing the achievement gap” for underserved students.
“I’ve witnessed what building meaningful relationships can do for struggling students. I’ve witnessed (this) both developmentally and academically, and I know that I can use my skills and experiences from both my personal life and professional life to help the district move forward,” Johnson told board members at the March 13 meeting.
Johnson also added that although “my strength will be in equity-related issues,” she also felt she could “contribute effectively to budgeting and policy issues.”
The deadline to file for the school board is June 1. A primary election, if needed, will be held Aug. 1, and the general election is slated for Nov. 7.