Questions were sent to all nine USD 231 school board candidates Oct. 14. Responses were received from seven including incumbents John Brandon Parks (2), Rob Shippy (5), Lana Sutton (4) as well as newcomers Greg Chapman (6), Stacy Coleman (6), Tom Reddin(5) and Monica Jacobs (4).
Jeff Miller (2) and Corrie Kramer (6) did not respond.
Election will be Nov. 2. Polling and other information can be found at jocoelection.org.
Questions included: Provide brief information on yourself: Name, education, employment, family, achievements, community groups.
Tom Reddin: I am a happily married father of five; three of which have been students in the Gardner-Edgerton District since kindergarten. Two still attend GEHS. My wife is also an elementary teacher in the district. Community work/Education/Community Involvement Experience: *US Army Veteran, *Retired Lieutenant – Johnson County Sheriff’s Office; *Bachelor’s degree – Business Management ; *Master’s Degree – Criminal Justice; *Gardner Parks & Rec girls softball coach – 6 years; *Youth Blazer football coach – 2 years; *Cub Scout Pack 3088 den leader – 5 years; *Member – Knights of Columbus ; *Member – American Legion.
Stacy Coleman: University of Kansas, Small Business Advisor and marketing consultant, board member of Gardner Pride.
John Brandon Parks: I am a former educator and current stay-at-home dad. My wife and I have lived in Gardner for the past 13 years and have a son and daughter who are in elementary school here in the district receiving an amazing education. I earned my Bachelor’s Degree in History Education from Washburn University and my Masters in History from Pittsburg State University. I am an Eagle Scout and a former Kansas Teacher of the Year nominee. I have served on the Board of Education for the past 2 years.
Monica Jacobs: I have been a resident of Gardner for over 22 years.  My two children, Cole and Megan, received all of their education from UDS 231 with Cole also graduating from Fort Hays State and Megan a sophomore at University of Missouri – St. Louis.  I have been in the finance and banking industry for over 25 years and am currently employed at Crossfirst Bank as a Business Banker.  Activities and organizations that I have been involved in throughout the years include local organizations Special Olympics Gardner Gold, City of Gardner Blazing the Trails research committee and the Board of Zoning Appeals, Ladies Auxiliary Post 19 of which I am currently treasurer and was on the first Parent-Teacher Special Education Advisory committee for USD 231.  Outside of Gardner I have served in various finance positions at Lifebridge UMC Church in Shawnee and currently serve as Chief of Finance of KC Express – ABWA (American Business Women’s Association).
Greg W. Chapman: I have an associates degree in applied science, and carried EMT-B licenses many years ago. I am currently a FedEx Ground driver for the commercial warehouses in Edgerton, Gardner, and New Century. My wife Erin and I have 3 children ages 20, 19, and 17. I was on the BOE for 4.5 years and helped bring a lot of transparency and common sense while on the board. I am running again to try and bring those things back to the district, to help our SPED department get back to where it needs to be, and to #BlazeNewTrails.
Lana Sutton: My husband and I have been residents of Gardner for over 23 years. I am the Executive Assistant to the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Commerce Bank where I utilize my financial, organizational and management skills. I am the extremely proud mother of 3, all graduates of USD231. My family is very active in public service and are long time members of Divine Mercy Parish. I am a founding member of an organization that is community / civic focused and very active with food drives. One of my passions is helping the homeless.
Rob Shippy: I am a proud graduate of Gardner Edgerton High School. I have an Associate’s Degree in Fire Administration, Bachelor of Arts Degree in Technology Leadership (Fort Hays State), and Masters Degree in Public Administration (University of Kansas). I serve our community in a variety of ways – professional firefighter (20+ years),  previous volunteer firefighter, and a reserve police officer (20+ years), and as a USD 231 board member (8 years) serving as president and vice-president. My family and my wife’s family have called Gardner home for over the past fifty years and we have two daughters enrolled in #231.
According to KSDE, just 21% of local students are on track in 10 grade math. Is this acceptable or why not?
Rob Shippy: October 2021, KSDE reports 50% – not 21% – of local students are on track in 10th-grade math and “have the skills and knowledge needed for post-secondary readiness.”  Though the percentage roughly aligns with state averages, teachers and administrators are not satisfied. They continue to work collaboratively to address every students’ needs.
Tom Reddin: It is not acceptable for only 21% of our students to be in performance levels 3 & 4 for math. Knowing the quality of teachers we have; we need to get input from our classroom teachers and come up with a solution to improve this as soon as possible.
Lana Sutton: No, this is not acceptable. We have amazing teachers who did their best during what I’ve heard referenced as “the lost year”. It is our responsibility to ensure the students do not continue to lose ground by refocusing on the core subjects of education.
Greg Chapman: This is absolutely unacceptable! I want to help our teachers and students by going to a standards based grading scale to help show where each individual child is and where they need the most help.
John Brandon Parks: This isn’t according to KSDE, it is a misinterpretation of KSDE data by an outside group using outdated language and outdated data.
Stacy Coleman: It was demonstrated during the last board meeting that those statistics were misrepresented and inaccurate.  That said, the district should focus on math by creating district funded tutoring programs taught by teachers.
Monica Jacobs: I don’t believe a 21% achievement rate in 10th grade Math is satisfactory.  I would like to know more about the source of this statistic and also more information on the general statement of “math”.  Is this all math courses?  In best case scenario all students should be successful in “life” math such as spending, savings and budgeting.
Since 2017 Gardner Edgerton has lost 250 students while SH has increased more than 1800, primarily in virtual school. What are your thoughts on virtual schools and decreasing enrollments?
Monica Jacobs: I believe USD231 will need to offer virtual school as an alternative to attending school in person in order to keep kids in the district instead of students going elsewhere.  This is a big undertaking but one I feel is essential for todays’ and future students as more choose to attend virtual school.
Rob Shippy: Data supports enrollment increases every year during my eight-year tenure, except (18-19, 20-21). The 2020-21 decrease was obviously due to the pandemic. 21-22 saw an increase from 20-21. As we move forward, we will continue to review the need for virtual schools and continue to always support face-to-face learning.
Greg Chapman: It has been heartbreaking going door to door hearing all the parents that lost so much faith in our district that they are either homeschooling now, or taken their children to other area districts to get the education they need and deserve! I am not a fan of virtual schools, but I think if we are going to keep quarantining children over and over, then we need to have an option for them to receive an education.
Stacy Coleman: Gardner lost 240. Spring Hill’s increased numbers are no surprise. The community is growing at a rate twice that of Gardner.  I am 100% on board with offering virtual alternatives. In the past, it was said that there wasn’t enough student interest to justify the cost. I think that has changed.
Tom Reddin: While I prefer brick and mortar schools over virtual, there is a benefit for some. KSVA is certainly better than our lost year of education last year and the quarantining with no education this year. As for GE, we must take steps to keep our children here in our district.
John Brandon Parks: This loss in enrollment is not unique to USD 231. It’s a pretty common trend across the area. As for remote, I’d love to have an option for our student, but there are options in place nearby already; it seems wasteful of taxpayer dollars to offer a redundant program.
Lana Sutton: Decreasing enrollments are concerning to any school district. I do believe that working to develop a virtual school option would be beneficial as some families prefer that option. We will need to carefully consider all aspects, as funding does come into play, and funding is less for virtual students. As an individual, what ethical concepts / principals or ideas do you have that will bring strength to the board. How will you communicate with patrons?
Rob Shippy: I consider four principles when deciding – greatest good, fiscal responsibility, individual rights, and socially acceptable. No one decision has a perfect balance with four principles, but considered, the decision has the best interest of students and staff. Communication is critical.  Email/phone make for meaningful relationships. In person is best.
Stacy Coleman: Honestly. I will communicate with patrons honestly. Ethically, I am bound by fact and research. I bring no personal ego to this role, and want only what is demonstrably good for our students and teachers.
John Brandon Parks: I am honest, open, and I work hard to look at the facts on the ground and make decisions based on that information rather than just going with my own opinion. I’ve communicated with patrons in person, over the phone, and via email. I will continue to do so.
Lana Sutton: I will continue to listen to our patrons and other board members. I can disagree without being disagreeable. As an elected official my behavior is a direct reflection of the school district so I will continue to hold myself to high ethical and social standards.
Greg Chapman: First I plan on communicating with patrons in any way they wish, whether that is text, email, or phone call. I am a man of principle and morals. I made a living on my morals and ethics as a security officer for over 18 years. I do what is right even when it is hard, and even if I am alone. I am not afraid to stand up for people or what is right, just, and fair.
Tom Reddin: Honesty and Integrity. You will find that I am a reasonable person and easy to get along with. I am willing to hear everyone’s position and admit when I am wrong. As for communicating with others, I always maintain a calm, professional demeanor and treat others with the utmost respect.
Monica Jacobs: I have three primary goals if elected to the school board.  The first is to strengthen the Special Education Services.  There was a time when families were moving to Gardner because of the Special Education services provided but recently families have MOVED from Gardner because of a lack of special education services.  This population deserves the same quality education as the other students and this has not been the case recently.  I intend to work effortlessly to ensure the quality of these services is once again great.  The second is making all efforts to communicate with the teaching staff and retain the educators and third is to open up communication with the city of Gardner to where the two are working together to provide activities and services to the community.  I am an avid communicator and will do my part to respond openly and honestly to those that reach out to me.
How do you plan to hold administration responsible for ensuring student education and proper mgmt. of schools?
Monica Jacobs: I plan to hold the administration accountable by ensuring full transparency between the administration and the school board.  In some cases, this may require more board involvement  but this is the only way I can see where the administration can be held more accountable.
Rob Shippy: During the spring of 2019, Long Term Goals for the district were collaboratively developed by parents, students, teachers, administrators, and board members. Through this process, our stakeholders made it clear what they desire and expect. Through a continuous review of progress related to these goals, the administration is evaluated.
Greg Chapman: For the 4.5 years I was on the board and the two years since I have been off, the board never really discussed where the students were academically or the plan to get/keep them on track. I think this should be a regular topic and the main focus of the district and board.
Lana Sutton: Communication and transparency must increase between the district and the board. I plan on visiting different schools and increasing communication with staff. I am pleased to have been placed on the educational services committee and plan on being an active member.
Stacy Coleman: I would want to see quarterly reviews of both the superintendent and the directors. Currently, there is only an annual review, which I do not believe allows for appropriate oversight.
John Brandon Parks: I meet with district administration regularly, email them with questions and concerns, and I visit schools to meet with administration and teachers at the building level to see how decisions are impacting the classroom directly. I plan to continue doing this as long as I am on the Board.
Tom Reddin: As a member of the board, I will hold administration accountable through tracking students’ performance, the districts growth, and an unbiased review of exit interviews. We need leadership that listens, promotes a team environment, and shows appreciation for teachers in the district. This will in-turn trickle down to the students
Our district pays to lobby the state for additional monies, and have, in the past, filed lawsuits. Do you agree with school districts using tax funds to lobby for more money? Why/why not?
Lana Sutton: We should never lose sight that all money that the district uses is taxpayer money. No, I do not believe that we should use these funds to lobby the state. Fortunately, the Kansas Supreme Court has ruled that the current funding formula is fair and equitable.
Greg Chapman: I believe a few years ago the district left the group of districts that were doing this. I think that during the block grant funding it was appropriate to lobby the state for what was needed, but with per pupil funding, it has become a lot more reasonable. I am not for using tax dollars to try and levy for more tax dollars.
Rob Shippy: USD 231 does not pay any individual to lobby, and has not been involved with the Fair Funding lawsuit since 2014. Our district, along with most districts in Kansas, is supported by the Kansas Association of School Boards. KASB provides legal, training, and advocates for education at the state level.
Monica Jacobs: I can’t provided an educated response to this question as I’m not certain what this pertains to.  I am not aware that the district has received tax money due to lawsuits filed.
Tom Reddin: Adequately funding our schools is of the utmost importance. It is my understanding, with per pupil funding, lobbying is a thing of the past for our district. I believe we need to keep every tax dollar in our district and in our classrooms. Gambling dollars for a return is risky.
John Brandon Parks: This is a false accusation. Our district has not used taxpayer funds specifically for lobbying during the current district administration’s tenure. I am personally extremely leery about doing so.
Stacy Coleman: I’m not aware of any lobbying efforts in the past, but yes, in principle, I do agree with it.. The school district is the advocate for the community’s students and teachers. It’s not only correct, it’s commendable.
Should USD 231 be able to receive and make electronic cash receipts? (credit card, ACH, cash aps?) Or are check and cash sufficient?
Monica Jacobs: I believe that there should be an option to accept credit cards and/or ACH  for lunch or class fees.  Offering as many sources of payment as possible allows all families to utilize the form of payment of their choice and does not limit them to something that may not work for them.
Tom Reddin: Absolutely. Checks are becoming outdated with many people today not even having them. Cash is always easy to use but must be handled and taken to the bank. Everyone is moving to cards or cash apps and would find it more convenient to pay for lunch accounts and other extras.
Stacy Coleman: Of course USD 231 should be able to receive and make electronic payments. It’s 2021.
Lana Sutton: Times have changed and electronic payments should be able to be received. Our families currently make payments online, the district should be able to accommodate the patrons in the same way. As a district, we should make working with our community as easy as possible.
John Brandon Parks: Our district does allow electronic payments. I have done so for classroom fees and (in previous years) lunch balances for my kids every year.
Rob Shippy: Yes, I support that USD 231 continues to be able to make and receive electronic forms of payment. We currently accept electronic payment for lunch and enrollment expenses. I am continuing to work with the administration to review options to support all and any forms of payments.
Greg Chapman: I believe they absolutely should be able to. If they can for certain things, then they should be able to for things such as KORA requests.
Do you believe it is important to have a diverse teaching staff and administration at USD 231? Why or why not?
Greg Chapman:  I think that it is important to have great staff that have varying backgrounds and ideas. Having many different ways of looking at things helps not only the children learn to see things in new ways, but also helps their fellow teachers to think outside the box as well.
Lana Sutton: I do believe that diversity is important. Our students deserve the most qualified teachers.
John Brandon Parks: Yes. If we all see things the same way and come from the same backgrounds we miss different perspectives that can provide better solutions to a multitude of potential issues. If we can stay civil in our discourse, diversity is a strength.
Rob Shippy: Yes. Ideally, our staff makeup would reflect the makeup of our student body. Our Human Resource department makes concerted efforts to be inclusive and equitable in their recruitment and hiring processes. I believe diversity is important for all involved.
Stacy Coleman: I do. It’s an area of deep concern for me. I want to understand why Black people and people of color are not better represented in our teaching and administrative positions. There is at least one Black teacher living in Gardner, driving to an outside district to teach. Why is that? I would want to investigate ways to incentivize diversity hires.
Tom Reddin: I do believe in diversity. Since moving to Gardner 18 years ago, I have seen the change in diversity in our town. It is only appropriate that the staff and administration is reflective of our community. When you can incorporate differences from all angles, it only makes everyone feel welcome.
Monica Jacobs: I completely support a diverse background of teaching staff which only demonstrates the acceptance of all teachers and students.