Lawrence social worker, mother of two files for school board; community engagement among key issues

Kelly Jones

Kelly Jones has wanted to run for the Lawrence school board for a long time now. But commuting back and forth between her Lawrence home and her job in Kansas City, Jones says, simply didn’t allow much time for politics.

Now that she’s living and working in her adopted hometown of Lawrence full-time, the University of Kansas staffer says she’s finally “in an excellent position to serve the board.”

Jones, who serves as associate director of field education in the KU School of Social Welfare, remains hopeful about the future of the Lawrence schools that have served her own kids over the last decade.

“I am proud to live in a community that overwhelmingly supported the 2013 and 2017 bond issues,” says Jones, who says she worked as a volunteer on both campaigns, in addition to several years spent on the Cordley Elementary School site council and other parents’ groups.

Now, in her current campaign for school board, Jones hopes Lawrence’s widespread support of public education, as she sees it, will serve the district well as leaders address “the critical equity and inclusion issues” facing staff, students and their families.

Kelly Jones

Raised in small-town South Dakota, Jones eventually became the first person in her family to earn a college degree, graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2002 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology. That same year, Jones and her husband, KU chemistry professor Jon Tunge, moved to Lawrence, where their two daughters attend Liberty Memorial Central Middle School and Lawrence High School.

While in Lawrence, Jones attended KU, graduating in 2009 with a master’s degree in social work.

As a school board candidate, Jones hopes to put her 20 years of experience in the field toward addressing the district’s ongoing equity issues. Part of this, she says, is community engagement. That’s her main critique, she says, of the current school board and superintendent, Kyle Hayden, who will transfer to a new position as the district’s chief operations officer later this summer.

If elected to the school board, Jones says she’d push for a highly qualified superintendent with a commitment to public engagement, as well as a more “transparent” school board that continues to work toward raising the graduation rate and narrowing the achievement gaps in the district, among other issues.

“Like a lot of parents, I’m also interested in seeing second-language instruction expanded into the elementary schools,” Jones says. She’s aware of the “structural barriers” that have historically inhibited the implementation of such programs at the elementary level, she says, but as a candidate, she’d like to re-engage conversations with the City of Lawrence around the issue.

As a social service professional, Jones says, she’s spent countless hours working with under-served populations, ranging in age from newborn babies to centenarians. In recent years, Jones worked for the Alzheimer’s Association, often visiting the homes of senior citizens.

“There was no exception — the higher your education achievement, the higher your quality of life,” says Jones, who says she sees the same outcome with teens and young adults, too. “Education has the ability to positively touch our lives, and service to public education is where I want to focus my efforts and energy.”

As of press time Wednesday, Jones was one of seven candidates to have filed for the school board. The others are Jill Hayhurst, James Alan Hollinger, Ronald “G.R.” Gordon-Ross, Gretchen Lister, Steve Wallace and Melissa Johnson, who is currently serving on the board through January 2018.

Johnson was appointed to the school board after the resignation of Kris Adair in February. Hers is one of three seats up for election this year, along with those of school board president Marcel Harmon and longtime board member Vanessa Sanburn.

The deadline to file for the school board is Thursday. A primary election will be held Aug. 1 if at least 10 candidates file for the board. The general election is slated for Nov. 7.