Lawrence school board to appoint new member Monday; a look at the 18 candidates vying for the seat
On Monday, the Lawrence school board will discuss the 18 applicants vying for the seat vacated by Kristie Adair last month, ultimately appointing the new board member at that meeting. The meeting, slated for 6 p.m, will be held at the district offices, 110 McDonald Drive.
The newly appointed board member will serve the remainder of Adair’s term, which ends in January 2018. In the meantime, here’s a look at the 18 candidates.
Jesse Brinson, a youth minister with Called to Greatness Ministries, said he has spent much of the last 12 years mentoring students in the Lawrence school district. Now, inspired by cries from many in the district for a more racially diverse school board, Brinson has said he wants to lend that experience to the schools that have served his seven kids over the years.
Originally from Houston, Brinson attended the University of Kansas in 1999, earning a bachelor’s degree in African-American studies and English in 2004.
Since then, he’s served as a coach in the Lawrence school district, and also remains active as a volunteer with the “Can We Talk?” program at Lawrence High School and with Kennedy Elementary School’s “Watch Dogs” mentorship program, which he said he co-founded. Area voters may also remember Jesse Brinson from his run as an independent candidate for the Douglas County Commission last fall.
Equity issues are what drew Brinson, 38, to the school board, he has said. As a school board candidate, Brinson has also said he would focus on childhood trauma, “whether it be prevention or intervention,” and helping kids access and fully benefit from the social services offered by the school system.
He would also like to make clear to students, particularly young black boys, that success isn’t necessarily defined by a four-year degree. Brinson has said he wants to better publicize technical education, for example, as one of many paths available to today’s students.
Ruben Flores, an associate professor of American studies at the University of Kansas, says he has generally been impressed by the public schools his own children, now at Hillcrest Elementary School and West Middle School, have attended in Lawrence.
He also sees room for improvement, particularly in regard to equity issues, and believes he could lend his insight as a scholar of race in education.
The Texas native, 50, attended Princeton University, graduating in 1994 with a bachelor’s degree in history. Flores then earned his master’s and doctorate degrees in history from the University of California, Berkeley, in 2001 and 2006, respectively, before joining the KU faculty in 2007. As an academic, he specializes, among other areas, in the integration of school systems in the U.S. and Mexico.
Flores has said the district will need to rebuild trust among historically marginalized communities, among them students and parents of color, in the wake of last fall’s controversial investigation into alleged racist comments made by a teacher at South Middle School. Flores has also said he would like to help in those efforts.
As a school board candidate, Flores has said he appreciates the idea of establishing a designated staff member at each building “specifically trained to consider questions of equity on a daily basis.”
He also sees the recent appointment of Anna Stubblefield, the district’s former assistant superintendent of education support, to a new assistant superintendent role that also includes oversight of equity work as a step in the right direction. Still, the district will need to engage in more “forthright” and meaningful conversations with its constituents before any lasting change can occur, Flores has said.
James Alan Hollinger
James Alan Hollinger, a longtime Douglas County Public Works staffer and father of two, has said he’s interested in equity and funding issues as a school board candidate.
Hollinger, who goes by his middle name, joined Melissa Johnson last week as one of two school board candidates to file for election to the board. There are three board seats up for election this fall.
A vegetation control specialist with Douglas County Public Works, Hollinger, 46, said he “grew up all over the place” but settled in Lawrence in 2001. After graduating from high school, Hollinger said he studied pre-veterinary medicine at Kansas State University from 1990 to 1995, ultimately hitting pause on higher education before taking up jobs in the agricultural and landscaping industries before joining Douglas County Public Works in 2006.
He has been involved in volunteer fundraising work before, he told board members at public forum earlier this month, and currently serves on the employee fund committee for the Public Works department.
Now, with one of his sons having since graduated from Lawrence High School and his younger son set to graduate this spring, Hollinger hopes to strengthen the schools that have served his family over the years. Primarily, he’s focused on creating “fair, equal and safe” learning environments and opportunities for all students, including those who might pursue career paths outside the realm of the four-year college degree.
A key component of that is funding, Hollinger has said, and seeing that “curriculums and programs” are adequately provided for. He has also told the Journal-World he’s interested in maintaining the district’s technical education programs, making sure they’re still available to students.
After spending the last five years working in government affairs, Lori Hutfles has said she’s eager to apply what she’s learned from the Statehouse to a Lawrence school district facing many of the same funding challenges that have impacted public schools across Kansas.
“Prioritizing the funds we do have for the objectives that are most important,” Hutfles told board members earlier this month, would be a challenge she would face readily as a school board candidate. Hutfles, whose son is now a freshman at Free State High School (her daughter graduated from Free State last year, she said) after previously attending the private Raintree Montessori School, has said she’s “driven by a commitment to public education” in her school board run.
Hutfles co-founded her government-affairs firm, Hutfles & Associates, with her husband, Mike Hutfles, in 2012. A native of Johnson County, Hutfles attended the University of Kansas, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in design and visual communications in 1984. Before marrying and settling in Lawrence permanently in 1995, Hutfles, then Lori Majure, briefly served in the Kansas House of Representatives as a Democrat from Merriam.
Her role at the Statehouse now, she said, mainly entails working in association management, though Hutfles said she also lobbies for environmental and water reforms at the state level, among other interests.
As a school board candidate, Hutfles has said she would leverage her experience as a communicator and small-business owner to help the Lawrence district through the “financially lean times” ahead. She’s also interested in measures to retain Lawrence’s teachers, “to encourage them to stay here and help grow our school system” in the face of funding challenges, Hutfles has said.
Kyung Hwang, a full-time student and mother of four, wants to level the academic playing field for under-served kids and parents. If appointed to the school board, Hwang, 45, says she would advocate for all students “so they can have a better chance in their future,” no matter their parents’ education or income level.
Born in South Korea, Hwang moved to Lawrence in 2000 to start a new life with her husband, then a student at the University of Kansas. In her native Korea, Hwang earned a nursing degree from Gangneung Yeongdong University in 1993, which she has put to use here in Lawrence as a volunteer with the Visiting Nurses Association and Lawrence Memorial Hospital.
In addition to being a “full-time mom,” Hwang has also become a full-time student in recent years, studying business administration at Johnson County Community College.
As a school board candidate, Hwang has said she would push for healthier school lunches, and she feels “transportation should be equally accessible for all students.” The state of Kansas provides transportation to students living more than 2.5 miles from school, but Hwang has argued that the distance for her family, who she said live within two miles of her children’s schools, hinders the opportunity for equitable learning.
Syed A. Jamal
Syed A. Jamal has said that parents can often be an untapped resource in the classroom, and he wants to use his position, if appointed to the Lawrence school board, to foster that community connection.
Born in Bangladesh to Indian parents, Jamal arrived in the Kansas City area as a student in 1987. He attended Rockhurst University, earning bachelor’s degrees in biology, biochemistry and philosophy in 1997, before earning his master’s degree in pharmaceutical sciences from the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 2001. A decade ago, he moved to Lawrence, where he’s currently “taking a break” from his doctoral studies in biomedicine and epidemiology at the University of Kansas.
Jamal, 54, said he has spent the last several years teaching at area colleges, among them his alma mater, Rockhurst, and working as a research scientist at his brother’s startup company, Jives Biotech.
He also said he has been involved with his kids’ classes (Jamal’s children, he said, attend Sunflower Elementary School and Southwest Middle School) over the years, often visiting for science demonstrations or research presentations.
If appointed to the school board, Jamal has said he would focus on public health measures and better integrating environmental sciences into school curriculums.
There are several other challenges facing the district, Jamal has acknowledged, from racial achievement gaps, recruiting and retaining a diverse teaching corps, growing class sizes, and the ever-present issue of school funding. While he’s optimistic about the future, Jamal has also said “we could do better,” and he wants to help.
Melissa Johnson has said publicly that she has “never started anything I don’t intend to finish,” which is why, she told Lawrence school board members earlier this month, she’s also running for a seat on the board in this fall’s 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, whose kids attend Lawrence High School and Liberty Memorial Central Middle School, 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 would 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, has said that she hopes to lend her professional and personal experiences to the school board’s efforts to better address the district’s ongoing equity issues while also contributing “effectively to budgeting and policy issues.”
As a teacher, Johnson has said she often encounters equity challenges in her classroom, where many students are English language learners. As a school board candidate, one of her chief priorities is “closing the opportunity gap and, as a result, closing the achievement gap” for underserved students.
“As a physician, as a mother, as a good citizen, I want to make sure that I’m giving back to the community,” Fatima Khan has said of her motivations behind applying for the Lawrence school board.
The Pakistan native, who originally came to the U.S. as a student 18 years ago, said she has been impressed with her son’s kindergarten experience at Hillcrest Elementary School since relocating to Lawrence from Kansas City last year. She also sees room for improvement within the school system and feels she could help.
Khan, 36, said she studied biology at Truman State University before attending medical school at A.T. Still University, where she earned a doctor of osteopathy degree in 2009.
More recently, she has also been teaching — as an assistant clinical professor at the University of Kansas School of Medicine’s department of internal medicine and as a site director of KU’s Internal Medicine Residency Program at the Leavenworth VA Medical Center. Khan also works as an internist for VA hospitals in both Leavenworth and Topeka.
As a school board member, Khan has said she would focus on strengthening the district’s gifted programs and graduation rates. Lawrence Public Schools saw roughly 90 percent of its students graduate in 2016, but Khan has said there’s more to be done in preparing students for college.
If appointed, Khan told the Journal-World she would also serve as a voice for immigrant families like hers. She knows firsthand what a “learning process” acclimating to a new school system can be, and she feels she could play an important role in welcoming and engaging families of “diverse backgrounds” in the classroom.
District voters may remember Mary Loveland, 68, from her combined 20 years on the school board. The longtime Lawrencian served from 1987 to 2003 and again from 2007 to 2011, and also ran unsuccessfully for a two-year term in 2015.
Originally from Merriam, Loveland graduated from the University of Kansas in 1970 with a degree in English. After settling in Lawrence permanently in 1976, she and her husband, the late Chuck Loveland, enrolled all four of their children in Lawrence public schools. Outside her family life, Loveland has worked as an organizer for youth sports leagues and has served on boards for the Kansas Memorial Union and KU Alumni Association.
As a school board member, Loveland helped oversee the creation of Free State High School in 1997. Loveland has also supported closing elementary schools in the past, a stance that got her and other board members voted off the school board in 2003. In 2007, however, she won enough votes to secure another four-year term on the school board — a victory she credited at the time to her lengthy service record.
This time around, Loveland said she would return to the board with a focus on bullying and equity issues. In the wake of last fall’s racism investigation at South Middle School and overarching concerns about institutional racism within school systems, Loveland said she’s “very interested in the issues that have been occurring about the comfort level of minority people in our schools.”
Mitzi Robinson hasn’t always been happy with the school board’s response to equity issues, but the mother of six has also said she would rather “be part of the solution” than “sit back and complain.”
Her voice is one she feels is badly needed on the board, which has come under fire, notably in a Dec. 12 meeting that was disrupted by protesters, for its handling of equity concerns.
Robinson, 35, belongs to the Southern Cheyenne, Kiowa and Arapaho tribes. She was born in Oklahoma, she said, but moved with her family to Lawrence at a young age and attended public schools here throughout her K-12 experience. A 2002 graduate of the former Lawrence Alternative High School, Robinson said she earned a bachelor’s degree in media from Haskell Indian Nations University in 2006.
After spending most of her working life as a stay-at-home mom to her six kids, all of whom attend Lawrence public schools, Robinson took a job five years ago at MV Transportation. Now an engine parts specialist at the company, Robinson also coaches baseball with the Lawrence Parks and Recreation league in addition to serving as a leader in her kids’ Boy Scouts troop and on school PTAs, she’s said.
If appointed to the school board, Robinson has said she would represent “people like me — people of color, hard-working people, parents, single parents.”
William “Bill” Roth
William “Bill” Roth, a former Air Force colonel, retired engineer and father of two, has said he would make equity a priority for the schools that have served his own kids over the last decade.
The Lawrence district is what brought Roth and his family to the area 11 years ago, he told the Journal-World. The son of an Air Force officer, Roth, now 83, attended the United States Military Academy at West Point, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in military engineering in 1955. He also holds a master’s degree in business from the University of Southern California.
Roth, who said he served in southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, left the Air Force in 1979 and spent the next 12 years working as a systems engineer for Lockheed Martin. He then raised cattle on his ranch in northern Missouri for about a decade before packing up his family and moving them to rural Douglas County.
In 2011, he also filed for a spot on the Lawrence school board. That same year, amid a $3 million budget hole, the board voted to close Wakarusa Valley School, where Roth’s kids had attended and where he’d been an active member of the school’s Science Committee.
If appointed to the school board, Roth has said he would serve as a voice for rural families like his. He’s also interested in strengthening STEM programs across the district, which he sees as the kind of job training students need in order to thrive in the 21st century.
John Rury, a professor of education at the University of Kansas, feels his professional experience could serve the school board well — particularly, he has said, in the face of ongoing equity issues in Lawrence schools.
A native of upstate New York, Rury sent his now-grown children to public schools in Chicago before moving to Lawrence in 2003. He holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Fordham University, a master’s degree in education studies and history from the City University of New York, and a doctorate degree in education policy studies and history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
His work as an academic largely involves the study of inequality in education. Rury, 65, recently co-authored a book about the racial achievement gap, “The Color of the Mind.
As a school board candidate, he has been vocal about the challenged faced by students of color in the classroom, particularly the achievement gap between white students and their Native American and African-American peers.
Rury’s also said he’s encouraged by some measures being introduced in classrooms around the country, such as culturally relevant instruction and what education scholars refer to as the “detracking movement.” He finds that kind of reform, in which students are placed intentionally in mixed-ability heterogeneous classes, “really interesting and promising.”
Still, he said, change won’t come overnight. To that end, Rury has said, “leadership is critically important.”
Linda J. Sheppard
Linda J. Sheppard was one of two students of color at Kennedy Elementary School when she attended the school in the 1960s, the Lawrence native recently recalled to the Journal-World.
Now, decades later, Sheppard, who is Mexican-American, has said she’s interested in hearing “what’s happening” in Lawrence Public Schools, “and why.” Equity issues, including the challenges faced by today’s students of color, will be one of her top priorities if chosen to serve on the school board, Sheppard has said.
Sheppard graduated from Lawrence High School in 1974, eventually matriculating to the University of Kansas, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a law degree in 1995.
After working in private practice for a few years, Sheppard served as deputy attorney general for the Consumer Protection/Antitrust Division of the Kansas attorney general’s office. She also held several positions within the Kansas Insurance Department before joining the Kansas Health Institute as a senior analyst and strategy team leader in 2014.
Her two daughters have long since graduated from Lawrence High School, Sheppard said.
But, with nephews in the school district and a grandson set to enter the school district in a few years, Sheppard said there’s a lot at stake for her family and other families of color — especially now, she has said, when “issues relating to state funding” weigh heavily on districts across the state.
Norine Spears has said she’s driven by “a lot of the same things” that fueled her 2015 campaign for the Lawrence school board. Then, as now, the communications consultant and mother of three has said she wants to “give back” to her community through service on the board.
Spears, 48, said she grew up in South Dakota, eventually matriculating to South Dakota State University and earning bachelor’s degrees in communications and political science. Since settling in Lawrence 13 years ago, she’s seen one of her kids graduate from Lawrence High School, and has another set to graduate this year. Her youngest, a sophomore, attends classes part-time at LHS and Lawrence Virtual School.
As a communications professional, Spears has said she could help the district with its ongoing outreach to parents, students and others in the community. Part of that, she has said, is the district’s upcoming rollout of a 1-to-1 device program at Free State High School and Lawrence School this fall. Spears feels she could make the district’s transition a smooth one.
Improving communication between the district and its stakeholders, including school staff, is one of the school board’s goals for the 2016-2017 year. The board and district leadership have been criticized in recent months for what has been perceived as a lack of communication and transparency surrounding its ongoing equity issues.
“Equity is a huge issue,” Spears has said, and it isn’t limited to race. “It just comes down to communication. Not only that, but the willingness to get to the root of the problem and follow through with a solution.”
Jo Ann Trenary
As a retired teacher, principal and education consultant, Jo Ann Trenary jumped at the chance to offer her lengthy classroom experience to the school board, she has said.
Trenary, 73, said she spent approximately 40 years as an educator in Florida, Oklahoma and Alabama before returning to Lawrence, where she attended college, in 2012.
A Wichita native, Trenary studied at KU from 1961 to 1965 before marrying her husband and relocating with him to Florida. She completed her bachelor’s degree in education from Florida Atlantic University in 1967, and also holds a master’s degree in teaching and an education specialist degree from Oklahoma City University and the University of Montevallo, respectively.
With the Lawrence district struggling to improve its ongoing equity issues, among them racial achievement gaps and building a diverse teaching corps, Trenary has said she could offer insight into how she managed similar problems in disadvantaged Alabama schools, where she says she helped “develop curriculum to support” Spanish-speaking students.
As both an administrator and an education consultant, Trenary said she often worked with underserved populations, including children of color and English language learners. That experience, she has said, is mainly what inspired her to apply for the school board.
Trenary said she sees a need here for the kind of culturally relevant instruction she helped implement in Alabama’s struggling school districts. It’s something she feels the students at Cordley Elementary School, for example, where her granddaughter is in the fourth grade, could benefit from.
Daneka Vann did not attend the March 13 school board meeting in which board members heard presentations from candidates. Vann also has not responded to the Journal-World’s interview requests.
As of press time, however, she had not withdrawn her application. The following is based on information shared by Vann in that application.
In her application, Vann wrote that she was motivated to apply for the position because “children and parents of color need a voice in matters that concern them.” Vann, who wrote that she is working on a human services degree with a concentration on youth, also wrote that she could “be that voice.”
Vann wrote that she has lived in Lawrence 44 years. She attended public schools here, she wrote, and her five children did, too. In the late 1990s, Vann wrote, she was a parent co-director of the 21st Century afterschool program at New York Elementary School, a program that she said is now run by the Boys and Girls Club. Vann also wrote that she currently serves with AmeriCorps as a volunteer engagement coordinator at United Way and Stop Gap Inc.
Having never served on a school board before, Vann wrote in her application, “I don’t know the ins and outs.” But she also wrote that she’s willing to learn, and that she’s a “fast learner.”
“A successful board member is one who considers not just what is best for the system, but also the children and families its decisions will affect,” Vann wrote.
Fiscal responsibility is the “biggest issue that needs to be addressed” on the Lawrence school board, Steve Wallace has said.
As the father of two young children, Wallace wants to “make sure the school district is in the best possible place financially” when his kids enter the classroom in a few short years.
The Olathe native attended the University of Kansas, earning a bachelor’s degree in secondary education-social studies in 2007 and a master’s degree in physical education-sports studies in 2009. Wallace now teaches social studies at Tecumseh’s Shawnee Heights High School, where he also coaches the boys basketball team.
Jayhawk fans may also remember him from his stint as an assistant coach under Bonnie Henrickson for the Kansas women’s basketball team.
The Lawrence resident, 33, sees his background in education as “advantageous,” but has stressed that he brings more “to the table than just being a teacher.” As a father, he serves on the board and financial committee of KU’s Hilltop Childhood Development Center, where his daughter is currently enrolled. Wallace also works as a real estate agent at Lawrence’s Stephens Real Estate.
In his time as an educator, though, both in the classroom and on the basketball court, Wallace said he’s also learned to communicate effectively — an area that he feels could be improved among Lawrence Public Schools leaders. If appointed to the school board, Wallace has said he will prioritize open communication between the board and the public.
Margaret Weisbrod Morris
A longtime arts educator and mother of two, Margaret Weisbrod Morris has said she’d make equity a priority if appointed to the school board.
“The experts, the people who are running our schools and who are teaching in our schools, have a slightly different perspective than parents do,” says Weisbrod Morris, whose daughters attend Deerfield Elementary School and Free State High School. “I’m really interested in bridging those two — listening to students’ needs and parents’ opinions, and making a bridge between administration and what the parents and the community need.”
Originally from the Washington, D.C., area, Weisbrod Morris earned a bachelor’s degree in painting and printmaking from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1993, and in 1999 completed her master’s studies in art therapy at New York University.
After spending her early career as a prop artist for children’s television in the Big Apple, Weisbrod Morris, 48, moved to Kansas in 2002 to take a job as the Lawrence Arts Center’s education director. Now the Arts Center’s chief program officer, Weisbrod Morris also worked for several years as the program manager for Arts in Education in the now-defunct Kansas Arts Commission.
A longtime advocate for the role of arts in academics, her work in recent years has focused on the development and implementation of a model STEAM (that’s STEM, plus arts) education curriculum across Arts Center programming.