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Meet the Ray-Pec School Board candidates

By Tyson Fisher

What do you know about the candidates running for the school board on April 5? To ensure that Raymore and Peculiar residents are informed voters, The Raymore Journal is giving candidates the opportunity to state their case.

On Tuesday, April 5, voters will be heading to the ballot box to decide on local issues and offices. While federal and state issues capture headlines, actions at the local level have a more direct impact on Raymore residents. Local governments’ significance was the most evident during the peak of the pandemic.

Once a footnote in the minds of many voters, school board candidates are garnering a lot of attention during the 2022 general municipal election. Many Americans across the country are now awakened to the importance of the school board and its members.

There are seven candidates running for the Raymore-Peculiar R-II School Board. The three-year terms for current board members Bill Lowe and Aaron Howlett expire this year, leaving both seats open for grabs. Both are seeking reelection. Five others seek to unseat them.

The Raymore Journal reached out to all candidates, asking them the same five questions:

  1. What is your stance on masks in schools and virtual learning?
  2. In your opinion, what is the role of a school board member?
  3. What qualifications, experiences and/or positions would you bring to the school board?
  4. Describe the top three areas the school district needs improvement.
  5. What else would you like voters to know about your candidacy?

Thomas Walsh is the only candidate who did not respond by press time after multiple attempts to reach him.

Below are the unedited answers submitted by the candidates. Candidates are listed in the order of filing.

Don’t forget to vote on April 5!

  • Bill Lowe
  • Aaron Howlett
  • Dillen Steeby
  • Janet Jones
  • Valentina Houser
  • Carol Barnes
  • Bill Lowe

    1. The topic of masks in school has certainly been a polarizing topic and unfortunately one in which school boards have been put in the middle.  My stance during our decision making regarding masks has remained consistent.  Keeping students in school has to be a priority and with the guidelines set forth early on by the health department regarding quarantines, students who used a mask were not subject to quarantine when exposed to someone who had tested positive for COVID-19.  Board members have to be willing to set aside personal beliefs when it comes to deciding what is best for the district.  We had data which supported keeping students in school was best for the learning environment.  As far a virtual learning, some students are capable of learning in this type of environment but it is not necessarily a good thing for everyone.  During the hybrid learning model we used during the 2020-2021 school year we knew this would not be a sustainable model, however we had to find a way to keep students, and parents, engaged in their education.  The LAUNCH virtual program our students can utilize has been a successful virtual program for some time.  I am for virtual learning but we have to ensure, as well as continue to improve, our VIPER program so we are creating avenues of success for those students and families who want virtual learning.


    2. There are various roles of a school board.  We create create a strategic plan, with community input, which sets a course of success for the students and staff.  The board also ensures the Superintendent is meeting those strategic goals from an administrative standpoint and evaluate the performance of the Superintendent.  We also create policies which effectively create avenues of success for each student in the district. We also ensure the district is fiscally responsible through the budgetary process by ensuring the funding supports the district’s goals as it relates to the strategic plan.  The school board must be an advocate for the public school system and the education for all students


    3. I have been a member of the school board for approximately three and half years. I am a 26 year veteran of the Missouri State Highway Patrol and during my career I have been placed in many leadership positions.  I am currently one of the instructors fo the Patrol’s leadership course Police Leadership the West Point Model.  I believe I bring strong leadership to the Raymore-Peculiar School Board.  As with any position of leadership, but specifically with the school board, you have to be willing to set aside your personal beliefs for the betterment of the district.  Decisions made by the school board should always be made with the sole principle of helping students reach their potential beyond what they thought they were capable.  During my tenure on the board we have been able to successfully navigate through some unchartered territory as it relates to the pandemic.  The ability to forecast for what it to come is extremely important and is a characteristic of good leader, which I feel I possess.  I am willing to make tough decisions with the intention of helping the Ray-Pec School District create avenues of success for our students so they can become productive citizens as they enter into the work force. 


    4. The recruitment and retention of teachers must be at the forefront.  We have to be able to be competitive in regards to salaries with certified staff as well as support staff. The current board, which I am part of, has made this an emphasis and will be discussing the best way to achieve this in the upcoming board retreat in June.  We are seeing teachers leave the field of teaching entirely, which hurts our district as well as public schools in general.  As a district we have to find ways to help alleviate the stress our staff has been under for the last couple of years.  We have attempted to help some of this by building eight extra days of non-student time in the upcoming school calendar so teachers can have more time to plan and perform administrative tasks. 


    5. It is has been an honor to serve on the Ray-Pec School Board and I don’t take lightly the fact this position has an impact on the future of your students education.  I feel each decision I have made is with careful thought and consideration of how it effects our families and communities as a whole.  I can assure you this responsibility is met with the same desire you have which is to have our district continue the mission of preparing each student for a successful and meaningful life.
  • Aaron Howlett

    1. Even though we’re mostly past the mask issue and my voting record is a matter of public record, I figure I will explain my position. First off, when I was 22 years old my youngest brother died in a car accident at the age of 18. He was in a car with three of his buddies, there was excess speed involved, and when the car flipped all four were thrown from the vehicle since no one was wearing a seatbelt.  In the end, the two on the passenger’s side of the car made it out of the hospital in time to attend the funerals of the two on the driver’s side.  I have no way of knowing whether any of them would have survived if they had their seatbelt on, but I sure wish I would have had the chance to find out.  In regards to masks, I’m not sure how we could ever know how effective they are but I sure didn’t want to look back and wish we would have and wondered.  Secondly, the board received many passionate messages and emails from both sides including a number from the parents of students with special needs who expressed the desire for masks to be worn so that their children who were some of the most vulnerable health wise but for whom virtual school was decidedly not a great option could attend school as safely as possible.  I decided that these students and their families deserved representation at the board level.  For these reasons, I voted for masks every time the question was raised and stayed constant in my position.  As for virtual learning, I believe it’s one tool at the district’s disposal but it is not for everyone all the time. 


    2. I believe a school board member is elected to hold the superintendent responsible for how he/she is leading the district, to be the conduit between the community and district leadership, and to be a sounding board on the priorities and strategies of the district. I am not an educator and don’t pretend to be. I trust the superintendent we hired and his direction and implementation of the day to day activities of the district and even though there are areas that I don’t necessarily agree with, in the end it is his call. 


    3. My wife is in her nineteenth year of teaching special education, all for Ray-Pec. Both our daughter and our son are RPHS graduates, with our daughter now in her fifth year as an elementary teacher for Ray-Pec. Needless to say I’ve spent many years trying to be a support for my wife and now my daughter, and I’ve tried my best to expand that support for all Ray-Pec teachers and staff.  I’m not perfect and there have been times that board decisions were at odds with the desires of portions of teachers and I wish it weren’t so.  However, I believe I’ve done my best and that the district is in a better position now than it was three years ago.    

       
    4. First, we need to retain and recruit the best teachers possible. We must continue to improve the salary schedule but realize that there are most likely always going to be districts that can pay their teachers and staff more than we are able to. However, we can provide more in the way of appreciation and work/home balance.  Second, we’ve made progress on expanding the opportunities for all students regardless of their post high school plans (college, trade school, careers, etc.) but we can do a better job helping them navigate their path while in high school.  We need to do a better job exposing students to the options available and giving them guidance.  Lastly, I believe we can do better by our special needs students.  We can do an even better job of preparing them for life after high school, same as regular education students.


    5. It’s my belief that effective and passionate teachers are the foundation of any great school district and it’s my desire to see them get the recognition and resources they deserve. I’ve learned a lot and truly enjoyed my time on the board despite the ups and downs, and while I realize not everyone is going to agree with every position I’ve taken, my conscience is clear. I would truly appreciate the opportunity to serve my community for another three years.
  • Dillen Steeby

    1. As far as masks in our schools are concerned, I don’t believe mandates for masks are in order in regards to SARS-CoV-2. First of all the virus requires ACE2 receptors in order to attach/infect. Children in general have extremely low quantities of ACE2 receptors. As such children have a very low susceptibility to infection from this virus. In regards to the hyped asymptomatic carrier, it is clear in scientific literature regarding respiratory infection, if you have a high enough viral load to be infectious/contagious then you will undoubtedly have obvious symptoms of disease. Furthermore, hundreds of conclusive studies, over the last 50 years which means subjects concluded in infection or no infection, show that cloth and surgical masks are absolutely ineffective at controlling the spread of respiratory pathogens and proliferation of disease. In fact many of these studies found higher rates of disease associated with mask use.
    On virtual learning; I’m actually fairly knowledgeable as my senior research project for my Bachelor of Science degree from Missouri Western State University was a meta-analytic of learning modalities, comparing in-person learning, to online learning, and hybrid learning modalities. Virtual learning and/or online learning is not for everyone. In fact it is only the realm of the self-starter and those are not common among even adult learners, let alone children. Just like virtual reality isn’t reality, virtual learning isn’t learning.


    2. The role of the school board and its elected members is to serve and protect the interests of the electorate by ensuring the school district and its administration can and are serving their mandate to educate our students in a fiscally responsible manner. It is to set the expectations for performance, ensure the provision of the resources necessary to meet those expectations, and to hold the school district and its appointed officers responsible for the outcomes.


    3. My qualifications for the position are simple. I am a citizen of the district, my taxes are paid, and a clean criminal history. My experiences are wide ranging, eclectic, but an overall pattern emerges. I have many years of experience managing business in the retail, restaurant, transportation and construction industries, as well as education and experience in law enforcement and professional teaching experience. Criminal justice is an amalgamation of many disciplines including psychology, sociology, history, etc. Crime statistics are most directly influenced by socio-economics which is most directly influenced by education. I’ve been the hiring manager so I know what hiring managers want to see from their prospective employees and staff. I’ve managed and trained people from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. I’ve been the face and voice of service in dealing with customers and negotiating with vendors. I’ve managed the inventory and the budget. I’ve been a parent for over 23 years. I’ve been an eager learner my whole life. But I don’t know everything. Recognizing this fact is my greatest strength.


    4. Education: Reading, writing, and math. 5th grade students should have no difficulty reading a novel, writing their own name legibly, or effectively counting the change in my pocket. It seems that over the last 30 years our schools have replaced what works with what sounds good. If we do not return public education to what it once was it is doomed to fail as parents and politicians create pathways to alternatives and take their funding with them. The people have had enough of the monopoly.
    Fiscal Responsibility: We can’t keep spending money like it’s going out of style and we need to buckle down, reexamine our priorities, and take steps to provide greater value to our customers. If we are taking out another bond/loan before we pay off the one we have then we are not being fiscally responsible or even honest. There’s no such thing as a tax free bond issue.The interest payments for the Ray-Pec district exceed the federal funding it receives. I can’t help but think that if we didn’t need to pay that interest we wouldn’t need the federal money and wouldn’t be beholden to the federal government to influence our policies. I’d rather we didn’t have outside entities telling us how to live our lives. A fool can put his own jacket on better than a wiseman can do it for him.


    Lunch: We can do much better at providing our students with food they will enjoy, that is much healthier for them, and is cost effective. No child should go hungry in our schools. Processed foods may save staff time but relative to cost we’d be better of hiring additional staff to produce home cooked style food. This will provide better flavor and nutrition for our students and I’m confident we can do so at significant savings. The notion that eating healthy is more expensive is a myth.
    5. I am a Christian and love God above everything else. I love people and especially children. I love our community. My wife and I joined this community March 1, 2017. We moved to Raymore in Cass County for the core values of the community and also for the schools which were highly rated at the time. If we wanted live like they do in Lee’s Summit in Jackson County we would have stayed there. So I’d rather not watch as well intentioned neighbors try to change this into that. I have no interest in being a politician. I don’t want to do this. I’m just like most everyone else around here. I just want to live my life and mind my own business. I’d rather scrape hog sheds on a hot, humid summer day than get into politics, but my neighbors asked me and I said I would because when there’s something that needs done, I roll up my sleeves and get to it and I keep my word. I’m not collecting or spending a single penny on either of my campaigns. If you feel moved by the spirit to support me, you can go talk to your friends and neighbors and tell them to show up on April 5th to vote. Don’t forget to get yourself there too. As it is 90% of registered voters don’t bother with spring elections. I’m gonna tell you something about that. For democracy to work, it requires participation. Also, Jeff Fletcher, our County Clerk, needs volunteers to serve as election judges. You don’t have to know anything about it, he will make sure you are properly trained. His number is 816-380-8102 and the office is open 8am-4:30pm, Monday through Friday. God bless you and all who bless you!

  • Janet Jones

    1. I support any steps we can take to keep students in school and prevent school closures. Suppose cases rise again as they did in January when several teachers were absent, a substitute shortage, and administrators were filling in where needed. In that case, we should have made mask required. If the cases remain low, I believe the mask should be optional.
    Virtual learning has been challenging for some students yet beneficial to others. I am pleased that our district offers students the option of virtual or in-person learning.


    2. Board members focus on what is best for all students, advocate for public education, works well with others, and respect the other board members and superintendent. They approve the district’s budget, set the vision and goals with community input, measure the district and superintendent’s success against the goals, and review and change policies as needed.


    3. Having spent over fifteen years working in the financial industry, I am well-versed in finance, construction draws and loans, SBA, commercial, and consumer financing. As the owner of a development company, I am responsible for employee safety and ensuring that projects stay under budget and are finished on schedule.
    Additionally, I have attended the last 28 out of 31 of the last board sessions (work sessions, special meetings, and board meetings), and I am familiar with our district’s challenges and opportunities.


    4. Professional Development: Our district must focus on ways to offer competitive compensation and benefits for our employees and attract and retain employees so that they do not leave for neighboring districts.
    Post Pandemic Challenges: Continue to evaluate our student’s academic progress to ensure they are performing at grade level. Continue to provide mental health support to students and employees.
    Policies and Procedures: After speaking with parents, students, and staff, I believe we need to revisit and revise our existing policies and procedures to ensure safety in our schools and that all students are treated equally.


    5. I understand the time and the dedication it will take to be a board member. I have been to the last 28 of the 31-board session (work, special, and board meetings), and I see the struggles of our district. I see our teachers’ dedication to their students, but I also see their challenges as educators. Our teachers are being creative in teaching our children. I have witnessed our teachers get emotional when discussing their students’ struggles and successes, showing they care about our children’s education.
    I believe an open line of communication between teachers, students, community members, and administration is essential for our district’s continued success. We must be open-minded and accepting of change. I want what is best for our students and teachers, and I’m not afraid to stand up and fight for them.

  • Valentina Houser

    1. Wearing masks all day can be a challenge because we are not used to them and at times they are in our way. However, the main goal is for students and school staff to be safe when attending in-person learning, therefore, masks become a necessity and one of the ways to keep everyone more protected.
    There is nothing better than having students go back to school in person, however, virtual learning is still a good option for students and parents who prefer getting education from the comfort of their own home. Virtual learning is a better alternative compare to students missing school due to pandemic or snow days.


    2. School board members represent values, views and desires for the public schools in the community they serve by establishing the vision, goals and setting standards for the performance of schools and its management.


    3. I was not raised in Raymore or attended any schools within the district and that makes me an outsider looking in. Because of that, I am able to provide a fresh set of eyes, a new perspective on district matters and the way to address them, to better the district and improve district’s relationship with the community.
    I have a very diverse background and a broad experience in various areas of life. I taught at the college, was a Reserve Police Officer, and worked at a financial institution, a technology company. Because of all this experience I have gained a lot of knowledge and skills but most importantly, I get to better these skills and have new experience because of the job I do every day.
    Currently I work for Judicial Branch as a project manager and business analyst. Some skills and knowledge I get to bring to the table are leadership, teamwork, commitment, accountability (I own my mistakes and make sure they don’t happen again), responsibility, communication (with varies court, county members, vendors, state organizations and public), comprehension (ability to fully comprehend a person’s/organization’s job in order to address their issues the best way possible). Budgets, work with tax payers’ money and grants; schedules and multiple in and out of state vendors.


    4. (1) Staffing due to shortage and exhaustion of teachers and bus drivers. (2) Learning\behavior due to educational gap in children due to school closures. (3) Competitiveness of the workforce and how to keep up with it.


    5. Some candidates who run for the school board have an agenda of their own. Because I am an outside looking in, I don’t have one. My goal is to work as a team to see our district thrive, our children receive the best education and our teachers enjoy working for our schools. I am for finding creative ways to connect our district with the community and come up with different ways to address budget shortfalls rather than raising taxes. I stand for improvements, benefits, innovations that somehow benefit everyone within the district. If my diverse background and broad experience are combined with my passion for making a difference, my drive and my personality, district will receive an incredible asset. And last but not least, I am recommended for the school board by RayPec National Education Association.

  • Carol Barnes

    1. I believe that masks in schools are the personal choice of parents. I do not believe the board has the right to mandate that all students wear masks. Sadly, viruses are part of our daily lives and I am positive we will see more variants of both the flu and Corona virus.
    I believe the real problem is that many parents send their children to school when sick. This is a battle schools face every day.
    I like the idea of AMI (Alternative Methods of Instruction). Virtual learning is a viable tool reaching many students who can not attend school due to illness. I feel we need Virtual Teachers to assume these tasks. It should not be an added responsibility of the classroom teacher.


    2. A school board member should represent the community, not a single group of supporters. The school board member should govern the district and work with the community to improve student achievement.


    3. I retired from the Raymore-Peculiar School District in 2017 after a 30 year career and I continue to work as a substitute teacher in various buildings across the district. I have served students from Early Childhood through the 12th grade. During my tenure at Ray-Pec, I served on various committees such as Superintendent’s Advisory Board, Insurance, Health and Wellness, and Team Ray-Pec. As a member of Team Ray-Pec, I took part in the Strategic Planning of the district from 2014-2017.
    I received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Education with an emphasis in Communication Disorders from Northwest MO State University. I received a Masters Degree in Education from Webster University.
    My husband and I have called Ray-Pec our home for the past 35 years. Our 3 children attended and graduated from Ray-Pec and our grandson is a future Panther! Because of this, I want to give back to this community. I want to be able to offer a teacher’s perspective on the Board. I want to give a voice to all of the individuals who come in daily contact with our students, regardless of the roles they play in school.


    4. I believe the district needs to work to make salaries competitive with neighboring districts. We need to stop the mass exodus of quality teachers leaving our district for better paying ones in surrounding areas.
    I believe we need a Behavior Interventionist in each building. Childhood trauma continues to affect behavior in the classrooms, especially at the elementary levels. Teachers are not trained to deal with explosive behavior, nor is it fair to the other children in the room. Behavior Interventionists need to be on hand when a child’s behavior escalates and to remove them safely from the classroom.
    I believe each elementary school in the district should house a transitional kindergarten and or first grade for those children not quite ready for the academic expectations set forth by the district. I also believe that kindergartners need more socialization and play time.


    5. I can not think of a better school board candidate than a retired district teacher and current substitute. As a traveling Speech Pathologist, I have been involved in the education of our students from ECSE through the 12th grade. I have served on various committees throughout the district during my 30 year tenure. I have been a mom of Ray-Pec students and a Ray-Pec coach’s wife. I know the needs of this district and I promise to make student learning the priority in all school board decisions.


The Raymore Journal

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P.O. Box 1391
Raymore, MO 64083
816-859-0302

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