Lawrence school board selects former school board member Gordon-Ross to fill vacant seat
photo by: Rochelle Valverde
Story updated at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday:
The Lawrence school board has selected former school board member Ronald “GR” Gordon-Ross to fill a vacant board seat.
As part of a special meeting on Tuesday, the board picked Gordon-Ross from three remaining candidates following an interview process. The board previously selected four candidates from 13 applications as part of its regular meeting last week, but one has since withdrawn. Board President Shannon Kimball said she saw strengths in all the candidates, but touted Gordon-Ross’ understanding of the board’s duties.
“GR clearly has an incredibly solid understanding of the work that we do, the role that we play with the district,” Kimball said. “And I especially appreciated his description of the approach that he would take to being a board member. Pretty much everything in that statement resonated with me in terms of what is needed to be a good board member at the table.”
Gordon-Ross will fill the seat of Andrew Nussbaum, who resigned less than seven months after being sworn in. Gordon-Ross served from 2018 to 2021 but lost his reelection race in 2021 after he came in fourth place behind Nussbaum.
As part of the public meeting Tuesday, each candidate had a 10-minute interview before the board, where they answered the same five questions. Candidates had up to two minutes to answer each question before having the opportunity to make general closing remarks. The questions were: what challenged them in their own leadership; how they would balance competing community priorities and the district’s mission and vision with budget restraints; what their three overall educational priorities were; how they would support a board decision that they did not vote in favor of; and what educational equity meant to them.
As part of his closing comments, Gordon-Ross discussed what he saw as the essential attributes of an effective board member. He said those included doing the homework to be prepared for meetings, focusing on all children and honoring differing opinions, among others. He said while he was good at some of those things, he was committed to doing better in all of them.
“Some of these I was somewhat good at on my past board service, and all of them I have at times shown that I need to work at very, very hard,” Gordon-Ross said. “If I’m privileged enough to be given the opportunity to serve the students, staff and families of the USD 497 school district again I will commit to do my very best in each of these attributes.”
Specifically, the attributes Gordon-Ross listed were:
• Be prepared to participate responsibly in meetings, coming to each meeting prepared to work. He said that work can be to listen, to agree or to disagree, but the point is to be prepared and participate.
• Focus on serving all children, representing the district as a whole and not a single group. He said while board members may understand and/or identify with certain groups, they make decisions for the entire district.
• Use individual expertise and skillsets to offer perspective and insight other board members might not have.
• Honor divergent opinions without being intimidated by them.
• Be aware of community and staff perceptions of the board.
• Focus on the difference the board and the district can make in the community and beyond, versus day-to-day management of staff.
photo by: Rochelle Valverde
The other three applicants selected to move on to the interview process were: area business owner Amy McVey; Lawrence Schools Foundation board member and Superintendent’s Advisory Board member Anne Costello; and Billy Mills Middle School Site Council and Schwegler Elementary School Equity Team member Clint Ramirez Stephens. Kimball said McVey had to withdraw from consideration after being injured in an accident and requiring several months of recovery.
Overall, Gordon-Ross received four first-place votes, while Costello and Ramirez Stephens each received one. Board members’ specific votes are as follows:
•Board President Shannon Kimball: Gordon-Ross, Costello, Ramirez Stephens
•Board Vice President Paula Vann: Gordon-Ross, Costello, Ramirez Stephens
•Past President Erica Hill: Ramirez Stephens, Gordon-Ross, Costello
•Carole Cadue-Blackwood: Costello, Ramirez Stephens, Gordon-Ross
•Kay Emerson: Gordon-Ross, Costello, Ramirez Stephens
•Kelly Jones: Gordon-Ross, Ramirez Stephens, Costello
During his interview, Ramirez Stephens, who has a Ph.D. in education focusing on quantitative analytics, spoke in part about research he’s done into how districts dealt with budget cuts during the 2008 recession, and how he hoped to use his background in educational statistics and other skills to help the district. Costello, who has a degree in middle-secondary social studies education but currently works in retail, spoke in part regarding her work on retail budgets and how she wanted to help get the district’s budget back on track to make progress on its goals.
Other board members echoed Kimball’s comments regarding the strength of the candidates. Jones said all were exceptional, demonstrating they were informed about district issues and prepared to serve on the board.
“I would gladly serve with any of you, just to be really clear,” Jones said.
Nussbaum resigned his position on July 18, which opened up the vacant seat. Following orientation, Gordon-Ross will be sworn into office on Sept. 12 and serve on the board until Jan. 8, 2024. There will be a special election as part of the November 2023 general election to determine who should hold the seat through January 2026. Four board seats will also appear on that ballot.