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School Board Candidate Q&A

Kansas City, Missouri School Board Candidate: Gunnar Hand

Art Credit: KC Education Enterprise; Illustration Credit: 123rf stock image; Logo Credit: Kansas City Public Schools

Campaigns are underway for the Kansas City, Missouri School District Board of Education seat in District 2, and election day will be Tuesday, Nov. 6. The KC Education Enterprise is asking each candidate to respond to a list of questions that may help voters decide how to cast their ballots.

Gunnar Hand is one two candidates who filed to fill the seat vacated by the resignation of Derek Richey, who moved to take a new job out of town. The other candidate is Stephen Himes.

1. What skills and experience would you bring to a position on your local Board of Education?

As a city and regional planner, I will bring my experience and expertise to build consensus amongst diverse stakeholders, create new and expand existing partnerships with the community, and work to create a more clearly defined vision for the District. I will work to correct the negative perception of the Kansas City Public School District by engaging the entire community in its success. I believe that this City has the resources to create a viable public school system, but this City must first make the choice to work towards a positive change.

Using my skills in community engagement and grassroots organization, I intend to bring the community back into our public schools and connect our public schools with the community. After visiting all the public schools (including all the public charter schools) in the 2nd Sub-District, and speaking with parents and students who have successfully gone through the District, I know that we can graduate critical thinkers, amazing artists and productive members of our society.

2. Are you – or have you been – a parent or grandparent of a child in public schools?

I am running for the School Board because I think that I have a unique and complementary perspective and skills to offer, but I also have a vested interest that motivates me to work diligently and enthusiastically to tackle the many challenges ahead. More than anything else, what motivates me is my 7 month old daughter. I am doing this for her and her future classmates so that they can have a great public school option when they are school age. I am doing this so she can one day walk two blocks to high school at Southwest.

3. In what school or district activities have you been involved?

I worked with the Executive Committee of the Kansas City Public School’s District Advisory Committee (DACx) to develop a strategic plan and one-year implementation schedule.

Additionally, my wife, Ashley, is the Chair of Friends of Hale Cook, which is a non-profit organization that is trying to bring back Hale Cook Elementary in Waldo. I have volunteered with Friends of Hale Cook on many occasions, and supported my wife and her efforts.

4. How frequently do you attend board meetings, and how long have you been attending meetings?

I have attended every Board meeting since deciding to run for this position. Prior to this election, I attended several Board meetings to become more acquainted with the District that my wife and I intend to send our daughter to since moving back to Kansas City over two years ago.

5. What do you see as the board’s roles and responsibilities?

The Board creates a vision for the District and the Administration implements that vision. The Board must communicate the successes in the District, and be a resource for the Administration to build partnerships with the community. The Board’s policy governance model has helped create a separation between it and the Administration, but I believe that the Board treads a fine line between meddling and holding the Administration accountable for its actions and the progress of the District. In order to help the Administration better do its job, the Board must set a clearly defined vision of the District and constantly reassess its long-term goals. It must also develop more short-term objectives and an implementation strategy in partnership with the Administration and the community o measure progress.

An open, honest and transparent dialogue between the Board and the Administration, which must occur in the public realm, will not only set expectations and develop more clearly defined roles and responsibilities for all stakeholders, but also let the community better understand what is happening in the School District so that they could potentially lend their support. As part of my efforts to build consensus and raise awareness of both the successes of the District and its needs, I am committed to listening and representing my constituency and the entire District at the Board level.

6. What is the role of the superintendent?

The superintendent is responsible for the day to day operations of the District.

7. Can you – or should you – support a board decision you do not favor?

I will always vote my conscience after researching the issues, conferring with my colleagues on the Board, and meeting with as many stakeholders as possible.

8. What are the some of the challenges currently facing your district?

The greatest challenge facing the Kansas City Public Schools Board is the reaccreditation process with the State of Missouri. That is the most immediate concern, and it is also the place that I believe the District is currently placing the most of its focus.

I believe that the District has a serious public relations problem, and I will work to celebrate the successes of the District that usually go overlooked. There are pockets of excellence in the District and I believe that the schools in the 2nd Sub-District, while not perfect, are highly functioning institutions. Now that the dust has settled after the rightsizing, we must create a sense of stability and consistency so that teachers can teach and students can learn. With increased academic performance, we can begin to change the perception of the District to one that is providing a quality education so that we can grow enrollment, especially from middle-class families. We can promote each of these goals by engaging parents and community members in our schools to provide the support we need to foster a strong learning environment. By building grassroots support, we can provide administrators and teachers with the foundation they need to attain reaccreditation.

The School Board should help promote the schools and increase enrollment throughout the District. Our schools are currently not filled to capacity and there is substantial opportunity to bring more families and children into these buildings and increase ethnic and socioeconomic diversity in all classrooms. While there has been a recent jump in enrollment this past summer, Board members can help build broader awareness and support through outreach and active engagement with community stakeholders. Ultimately, without reaccreditation, it will be challenging to attract new students to the District but this should be part of a long-term strategy and policy for the Board.

The next challenge is to provide existing students with a healthy environment that is energy efficient. As environmental stewards, we have a valuable opportunity to help students learn the importance of sustainability while fostering more productive environments that will ultimately save the District money. There are many grants available for retrofitting existing buildings and this process could also provide a practical lesson for students, teachers and administrators. The Board should establish a policy adopting sustainability as a standard for all of its practices – from procurement to operations – and set the example for our metropolitan region.

9. What are some of the district’s strengths and weaknesses?

The District’s greatest weakness is its tumultuous past. Somewhere in our history, the City turned its back on its public schools. While there are pockets of excellence, they are clouded by the real and perceived turmoil in our District. We must work to break down these prejudices and misconceptions by creating the stability and consistency that is needed to create a quality public school system that is the number one option in our City.

10. What do you think is the most important thing board members can do to support children who attend school in the district?

We will never have a quality public school system until we begin to change the negative perception of our public schools. To do that we must regain accreditation, build upon and celebrate our accomplishments, and begin to engage the community in the success of our schools. All of this will grow enrollment as the City begins to make our public schools the number one choice again for their children’s education as opposed to their last resort. It is time to get aggressive about moving the District forward.
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About jwmartinez

JoLynne is a journalist and educator. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and a Master of Arts in Teaching from Park University and is certified to teach high school journalism and English. Former employment includes work for Cable News Network and the University of Missouri-Kansas City in addition to freelancing for clients such as the Kansas City Star and The Pitch.

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