by Valerie Verkamp
There is a crowded field of contenders vying for seats on the Park Hill School Board.
The Landmark has interviewed four of the five candidates seeking to fill two three-year term seats.
In the weeks ahead, The Landmark will publish additional interviews of school board candidates seeking to serve either a one or two-year term.
The two three-year seats available are currently held by Todd Fane and Susan Newburger, both of whom are seeking reelection.
Todd Fane of Weatherby Lake has served on the board for three years as treasurer as well as the president of the board. Fane's four young children are the driving force behind his aspiration to serve another term.
Fane took an interest in the district when his daughter entered kindergarten at Chinn Elementary in 2002. While serving on the school's PTA, he was introduced to Dr. Dennis Fisher, the district's superintendent at the time, who encouraged him to take a more active role and serve on the school board.
Fane took the advice to heart and succeeded in becoming a board member in 2010. While serving in several different capacities on the board, Fane has seen a lot of change within the district. He said rising to meet those new challenges will be instrumental in the years ahead.
One of the most critical issues that face schools today is maintaining a safe environment for children to learn, he said.
“I think our school district has been very proactive in making sure that our students are safe,” said Fane.
In fact, the district is currently being audited by a Missouri based Homeland Security Office through DESEA to evaluate the overall physical security of students. The audit was partly funded through a federal grant offered by the Department of Homeland Security.
In addition to being receptive to the federal government's recommendations for creating a safer school environment, the board has taken the initiative to open the lines of communication between the school district and the various law enforcement agencies.
“Park Hill is scattered across multiple jurisdictions and we had the opportunity to bring together representatives of each of those jurisdictions from a law enforcement capacity to make sure that we are being thoughtful, thoroughly coordinated in our communication, and how we would respond in those situations,” said Fane.
“We want to be proactive, but we don't want to be reactive,” he said. “We want to be responsive.”
Another critical matter in the 21st century, said Fane is ensuring that students are held to a “relevant and rigorous curriculum.”
In conjunction with the state’s common core requirements, the district should direct its focus on bringing technology into the classroom, said Fane, who spoke on behalf of the board.
“Park Hill is a leading district so I know that our standards will exceed those that are mandated by the state. I think that as part of the 21st Century's education component, the deployment of technology (is critical) and needs to be embedded not only from a device perspective, but to really embed it into the curriculum so that students can really be engaged on an individualized and personalized basis.”
Additionally, Fane says the socio-economic diversity in the Park Hill School District has significantly changed since the recession. Merely 10 years ago, the number of students that qualified for the free and reduced lunch program “were in the teens and now they are over 30 percent.”
“That is really significant when you think about that because what it means is that one and every three students require assistance or support to be able to have one of the basic necessities and that is nutrition,” he said. “I always find that statistic a little shocking.”
Another challenge the district faces is the changing demography.
A number of students in the district speak as many as 15 languages, said Fane. “I don't think that our district has ever had that level of diversity, “
When asked whether the district is operating in a transparent manner, Fane said “Our district and the board specifically is focused on continuous progress and improvements. And what that means is that we reflect on how we have done things in the past, and we are always looking to do things better.”
Fane acknowledged the district has recently strived to become more transparent by releasing more audit documents to the public, as well as reviewing policy.
Fane said in the upcoming election he wants voters to think about the importance of “continuity.” He indicated the board has become somewhat like a revolving door.
In the past “there was a significant amount of experience on our board…in the three years since I've joined we had six board members turn over and have two members currently on the board that have extremely limited experience .”
Currently, Fane works as a vice president of sales for a national third party administration. And in addition to his serve to the district, he participates in several organizations and actively supports numerous non-profit organizations.
Fane earned a B.A. in business administration, biology, and economics from Westminster College. He also attended Southern Methodist University's Cox School of Business where he received an MBA.
Sherri Scott of Parkville has served as a volunteer within the district for more than a decade. Based upon those experiences and her service as a special education teacher, Scott believes she has acquired the expertise needed to successfully fulfill the duty of a school board member. Scott has served on numerous committees including the capital planning committee, no-tax increase bond issue, calendar committee, elementary grade card review committee, policy committee, district policy committee, as well as the multi-tier bus committee.
“I have a very direct, dedicated involvement at the building and district level more so than any of the candidates currently running,” said Scott. “I will bring that direct experience to the board.”
Scott's extensive service to the district began when her oldest daughter entered kindergarten. Scott reached out to school officials and asked how she could be of assistance. Scott determined she could best serve the district as a representative at the district council PTA level.
Her dedication of service extended over a 12-year period. Scott says after more than a decade of volunteering in the district, now is the appropriate time to serve on the school board.
“Through my years of experience in my career and years of volunteerism, it is my next natural progression to serve on the board,” said Scott. “I would like to give back to the community. I think we have a very strong school district and I strongly believe that you get out of your district what you put into it. I'm not really here to serve myself, I am really here to serve the people that depend on me in the district.”
If elected to the school board, Scott says she will be a voice for the entire community and advocate for measures to ensure the safety of children.
“I know that safety is a concern for our parents,” she said. “I think our district has been very proactive in working with the municipalities in the area to make sure that we have very strong, safe procedures set in place, and drills that are practiced. I think we need to continue to work to provide that communication to the parents so that they can clearly understand. I think it is important for our educational communication continue to look at that and see if it needs to be developed further.”
Scott said she will also focus her direct attention on providing the “best possible resources” to students, as well as teachers.
“I think it very important to look at how we can provide staff the training to help our students excel and become prepared as 21st century learners,” she said.
Scott believes public education is a gift to children.
“Education gives our children choices for their future,” she said. “As a board we must look at our ever-changing world and assure that we do not narrow the scope of possibilities for our students. It is our responsibility to see that they leave our district with a complete toolbox from which they can make their choices in the future.”
Scott earned a B.S. in administration of justice and went on to obtain a teaching certificate in the state of Texas. Scott first began working with children and troubled youth as an employee of the Jackson County Juvenile Court System. In addition to her experience working with troubled youth, she served as a coordinator for a girl's home for Synergy Services in Parkville.
Susan Newburger, a retired school teacher, is seeking re-election to the school board as her three-year term comes to an end. During her tenure, Newburger says she has been able to meet certain demands that her fellow board members cannot, due to their responsibility of a full-time job.
“I am retired, so consequently many times I am the only board member able to attend activities during the week. For example, next week the Missouri School Board Association, our governing state body, is having their legislative get-together on the 19th and I am the only person able to go. And I have been the legislative contact for many of the different activities.
“I think it is important for the board to have many different points of view and occupations. I also think it is very important that we participate in activities at the state and local level,” said Newburger.
During her service, Newburger has been recognized for her extensive training and received a master board member certification from the Missouri School Board Association. Newburger indicted she has spent time getting to know families in the district and has put forth a lot of effort to “hone” her skills to be an “effective” member of the board.
“I have a unique combination of perspective and experience to continue to serve on the Park Hill School Board,” said Newburger.
She said the pressing issues and concerns currently facing the district relate to budgetary restraints.
As a board we “need to make sure that we are being good custodians of the taxpayers trust and their money,” she said. “We also need to make sure that we support and hold accountable our new superintendent.”
Other obligatory issues that should be addressed by the board in the future include “the implementation of the next five-year comprehensive school improvement plan for the district, the continued investigation and implementation of the FLiP program to help our students with 21st century learning skills, and the implementation of the common core standards which will compare and challenge our students to meet national norms,” she said.
When asked whether the district has done everything it possibly can to ensure the safety of students and prevent another incident of a child bringing a weapon to school, Newburger said “the Park Hill School District has handled those incidents well. We have our plans and they were put into effect. It is something that we hope never happens, but we plan for if it does happen,” said Newburger.
Another concern families share is whether the district is operating in a transparent manner.
Newburger said district officials disclose information to the “extent they are able to.”
“When the board structured the current superintendent's compensation, we wanted to make sure that that was as transparent as possible,” said Newburger. “We hope we communicate as much as possible with our stakeholders and part of that is through school communication, but board members have to make sure we are also available to stakeholders when they have questions or concerns. And we have to make sure that our stakeholders know how to reach us either at the board level at a board meeting or as an individual.”
Newburger has resided in the district for more than three decades and taught journalism at both high schools in the district. She believes it is essential to provide the “best possible education” to our community of learners.
She earned a bachelor's degree from Culver-Stockton Collage and later earned her master's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas.
In addition to her passion for education, Newburger dedicates her time as a volunteer to several organizations including the Kansas City Symphony, as well as the Bell Road Barn Players.
Jeffrey Goodwin of Weatherby Lake said he was taught at an early age the importance of giving back to the community. Today, Goodwin believes the best way to serve his community is serving on the school board.
“I believe I have a lot to offer the Park Hill School District with my financial background and my ability to work well with the various groups that make up the district,” said Goodwin. “We must keep the education of our children at the front of every decision we make. As a board member my first question will always be: Is this in the best interest of the children?”
Goodwin says he possesses unique qualities which make him a stronger candidate than his opponents, especially during these critical times following the economic downturn.
“My financial background will serve the district well as it moves forward,” said Goodwin. “I think the board needs more financially trained members as they work with all the changes coming. I also have the ability to work with the diverse groups that are present in the district to reach consensus on the various issues the district is faced with.”
Goodwin identifies finances as a crucial matter that will continue to be at the forefront of the board's responsibility.
“I think the finance issue will be the district’s biggest challenge moving forward,” he said. “With our main funding source tied to property values I believe it will take years to get back to the values we saw several years ago. I also see state and federal funds getting cut or formulas changing where the local district’s funds are reapportioned. With the state and the federal's own budget issues we must learn to do more with less, while still maintaining the excellent education our children and patrons deserve.”
Another important matter to Goodwin is ensuring the curriculum is enriched with technology.
“Technology will continue to be a source of growth and the funds needed to take care of that ever- changing dynamic will remain an issue,” said Goodwin. “We must find a way to keep our district at the forefront of technological change. This will insure our children have the best learning experience available to successfully prepare them for the future.”
Goodwin is a lifelong resident of the Northland. After graduation from Oak Park High School, he received a bachelor's from MidAmerican Nazarene University. He went on to receive a master's degree in finance and economics from Rockhurst University.
Goodwin and his wife, Sheryl, have been married for 20 years. Together they have raised four children, all of which have attended the Park Hill School District.
Goodwin is an owner of Complete Home Concepts. He and his family also own several real estate development and management firms. He serves on the board of directors for the Riverside Quindaro Bend Levy District and the Home Builders Association of Greater Kansas City.
Candidate Edward Stephens was not available at the designated time he and The Landmark had established for a telephone interview.