School Board Slate Stands Firm for Change
By Daniel Starling
An excited crowd of volunteers and well-wishers crowded into the offices of Freedom, Inc., for final preparations towards the April 6th Kansas City Missouri School Board Elections. Their goal was a simple one. Get out the vote for a slate of new board candidates who are firmly behind proposed changes proposed by Superintendent John Covington’s “Right Sizing Plan”.
The plan passed by the current board calls to downsize the district by 26 schools to meet budgetary constraints, improve lagging enrollment and falling graduation rates.
It was a historic moment for many in the room, as long-held racial, class and ethnic divisions that in the past pulled the district apart, seemed to disappear, if only for this one moment. The slate, endorsed by Kansas Citians United for Educational Achievement, features an African American, Hispanic and Anglo candidate for three contested seats on the school board. They stood together united for one purpose; change the status quo.
And what might have seemed impossible two years ago, inter-ethnic cooperation on the plight of public schools-- may quickly become reality as the slate of Joseph Jackson (4th Sub District) Crispin Rea (at-large) and Kyleen Carroll (at large) picks up steam and important endorsements of traditionally Black organizations like Freedom, Inc., and white institutions like the Kansas City Star.
Five of the boards nine seats are up for election with two unopposed, leaving a contest for the last three seats. Current board member Airick Leonard West, who helped put together the slate is optimistic they can win and bring about the “transformation” of the district away from politics as usual.
“We need to take our aspirations for the school district and Kansas City Missouri to the streets,” Leonard West appealed to the room of volunteers. “Look around, you are willing to set aside old issues of politics and race that kept us divided. This is what it looks like to be a community united for education achievement.”
Joseph Jackson, candidate for Sub district 4, a U.S. Air force retiree and chairman of the Longan French Advisory Committee said it was a “long journey” to get to this point.
“I’ve seen the struggles of our kids who are three or four grades below target or working on concepts that should have been taught in grade school,” Jackson told the crowd. “We talked about wanting change for the past 10 years. We knew they needed to close schools years ago. We need your vote on April 6th to put this plan into action.”
Kyleen Carroll, candidate for one of the two at-large seats, says her focus if elected will be on “full accreditation, safe schools and a change in the tone of leadership”.
Carroll, a former school teacher in the district, also supports the “right sizing plan” told the KCTribune.com she hopes to help provide “a unified, consistent voice of reason and strength for the school district, the superintendent, parents and the city.”
Crispin Rea, 13th Ward Democratic Committeemen and former member of the Funkhouser administration, said in an interview that although he supports both the “right sizing” and “transformational” plans for the district those new board members were “not going to be a rubber stamp”.
“This has been a very emotional issue for me,” Rea told KCTribune.com. “I grew up around McCoy Elementary which is to be closed. My mother, (Marie D. Rea) was link site coordinator there for 10 years. That’s where I learned about community service and neighborhood advocacy. But I had to put aside my own personal vested interest and support the district as a whole.”
Rea believes that organizations like Freedom, Inc., historically an African American group, are sending a very powerful message to the status quo. “We are tired of the racialization of the board.”
Rea believes it’s a huge step for Latino and African American relations politically in Kansas City, Mo to be working together “on the same side of the issue” instead of there being “lots of tension”.
Craig Bland, President of Freedom Inc., and former Missouri State Representative agreed it was a historic moment for the city and is backing the three slate candidates to change the political landscape of the school board.
“We have to find some solutions now. We need school board members working with Dr. Covington and the community,” Bland told the KCTribune.com. “I am confident a solution can be found.”
“The message is not about racism,” added Bland.” We want people to feel confident they have the best candidate for the job. It’s not about race or religion. We need to come together and work together to make Kansas City what it should be.”
Current school board member Derek Richey was on hand to lend his support to the slate telling KCTribune.com that he “didn’t think the current board has shown the capacity to do the transformation.”
“Last August, we passed a resolution to abolish the committee structure (of the board),” added Richey. “It was supposed to be the first step but nothing else has occurred. We need new leadership in the board’s governance. I believe these candidates, working with the existing board can make the necessary changes.”