Blue Valley school board candidates on the issues: Biggest challenge facing the district

In August, we asked our readers about the issues you wanted to hear the candidates running for Blue Valley school board address. Based on your feedback, we developed a five-item questionnaire touching on the most important issues to patrons of the district.

Each day this week, we have published the candidates’ responses to one of five questions. Today we are publishing candidates’ responses to our final question:

What’s the biggest challenge facing the Blue Valley School District today, and what should the board of education be doing to address it?

Below are the answers the Post received from the candidates on this issue:

Member 6 Area

Jim McMullen

Our biggest challenge as a school district is our biggest challenge as a community — we are very divided, and those fissures have made coming together for the common purpose of educating the children of our community more challenging.

Not everything is or needs to be political. Obviously, many of us have strongly held beliefs, but let’s give grace to others who see the world differently and try to learn from those differences. Our children need to see that.

Lindsay Weiss

Our greatest challenge is that we are so divided. We endured a pandemic that was unprecedented. The only way around it was straight through. There was no playbook on how to navigate it correctly and lots of strong feelings emerged. Now that divide has grown deeper as new and more political issues arise.

Board elections are intentionally designed to be non-partisan – to put kids first, not politics. I think the only way to bridge this divide is to elect representatives that care deeply enough to listen to all perspectives, who have experience working in and for our schools, and who understand that all stakeholders matter – students, parents, teachers and taxpayers. In addition, we need to make sure our board advisory committees have representation from all of these diverse perspectives.

Member 4 Area

Andrew Van Der Laan

Even before the pandemic, the district has struggled to effectively communicate about goals, strategies and changes in our schools. We certainly saw this during the pandemic, but this issue predated COVID. Anyone who remembers the changes to middle school electives a few years ago remembers the confusion and protests that ensued. And a recent customer assessment survey confirmed this, noting that 73% of BVSD patrons got their news about the district from friends and neighbors instead of directly from the district.

This issue is serious because it undermines the good work the district does every day. Patrons don’t feel like they understand the district’s goals for their kids, and residents worry that property taxes are being misspent. In truth, the district is doing an excellent job of educating our kids.

The district needs to communicate through as many channels as possible (website, social media, print media, letters, and most importantly town halls), so that BVSD residents feel connected to the decisions being made about our students. And specifically regarding the board, I’d like to see the board workshops broadcast on YouTube, just like the board meetings. Those workshops, held the Monday morning before each board meeting, are where a lot of the work happens and where decisions are made. They are open to the public now, and I think an online option would allow even more people to check in on how the Board of Education is running our schools.

Kaety Bowers

Did not respond. 

Member 5 Area

Gina Knapp

The biggest challenge we are facing right now is recovering from the pandemic. This is both in learning loss and also in mental health challenges. The board should be ensuring there are plans in place to ensure our students are able to recover from this loss.

The good news is that our strength is in education! Our teachers and administrators know how to educate our kids and accelerate learning as well. We will recover. It will take time.

The board should also be ensuring that the mental health of our teachers, administrators and students are being addressed. This includes supports at all levels to help mitigate anxiety, isolation and depression that has been exacerbated as a result of the pandemic. Wonderful programs are already in place in the district and great strides have been made. We can do more.

Christine White

Christine White’s name will appear on the Nov. 2 ballot, but she has said she is not actively campaigning and will not accept the office if elected.

Read the candidates responses to our other questions, including managing COVID-19 in schools, the district’s approach to diversity and critical race theory, student achievement and technology in the classroom.