Shawnee Mission school board candidates answer our questionnaire
We asked the candidates running for Shawnee Mission School Board in District Four questions we believed would help voters determine where they stood on critical issues. What follows are the answers given by April Boyd-Noronha and Sean Claycamp.
The Pitch: What is the driving factor in your desire to be on the Shawnee Mission School Board?
Claycamp: In the Spring of 2020 when students were home and learning hybrid because of COVID-19, we were able to see firsthand where our children were academically. We quickly noticed we did not have as good a grasp on our children’s learning as we thought. We were relying mostly on their scores on standardized testing that teachers discussed with us during conferences. These concerns were things we heard from other families also.
I’m not placing blame on the educators of SMSD for this. Class sizes are so large now and resources stretched so thin I’m sure they felt overwhelmed then and still do. I’m running primarily to find ways to bring greater transparency to parents so we can all become more active members of the learning process. We need to place the emphasis back on core subjects—math, reading, writing, and science. And then, as students grow, we need to focus on problem-solving and critical thinking, dealing with adversity, and teaching our students how to work in groups.
Families, teachers, and staff of SMSD need to all work together to elevate student achievement.
Boyd-Noronha: I chose to run for Shawnee Mission School Board because I have a strong desire to ensure children receive the very best education possible, and are prepared to thrive in the next-generation workforce. I believe public education is the most important institution in our country, one that must be nurtured and protected for the sake of our children and future generations.
What makes you a better choice for voters than your opponent?
Claycamp: I don’t plan to represent any particular interest or stakeholder at SMSD. As a parent of two students, I will look at issues through a parent’s lens obviously but that is not the only perspective I’ll consider.
I’ve always tried to be a person that can consider a variety of viewpoints and find a way forward that creates a long-term solution I can stand behind. I’m also someone who assumes the best of intentions in all those trying to solve a problem. That’s a great way to work in good faith with others.
Boyd-Noronha: Proven leadership and poise under pressure. I have an established track record of working collaboratively with diverse groups of people with differing opinions to achieve strategic goals. In the socially and politically polarizing times we are living, possessing leadership ability and a balanced approach to problem-solving is essential to progress.
As a college professor of Cybersecurity, Computer Information Systems, and Health Information Management, I have the privilege of helping brilliant young minds learn new concepts and ideas. My students also challenge me to evolve as a scholar and a person. As President of Cyber XR Coalition, a cyber advocacy organization, I lead a global network of organizations seeking to address social and technical biases. I also serve as Global Diversity & Inclusion Advisor for XR Safety Initiative, where I lead the strategic implementation of global initiatives to establish baseline standards and discover novel cyber attacks in emerging technologies. The breadth of these experiences allows me the knowledge and strategic approach to assist the Shawnee Mission School Board build on its history of preparing students for success in life.
What is your experience with public schools or other experience that you think has prepared you for this role?
Claycamp: My wife and I have been involved in SMSD—specifically Pawnee Elementary where my kids attend—since my oldest child started there 7 years ago. She has been very involved in the PTA and I have tried to be an active leader in the dad’s group. Prior to COVID-19, I was a volunteer in the school’s Watchdog program where dads went into the schools and helped in classrooms during the school day. My favorite thing to do as a Watchdog was to spend time in the lunchroom and interact with all the kids. I’d challenge them to eat all their fruit and vegetables, tell “Dad Jokes,” and try and speak to as many of them as I could. I am excited to be able to do that again when COVID-19 is finally behind us.
Boyd-Noronha: I am the daughter of two public school educators, I attended public schools, and my children attend the Shawnee Mission School District. I have over 20 years of experience in academia as a college professor, educational trainer, and educational consultant. Public education remains under attack by our state legislature, and in our current political climate, we must remain vigilant in ensuring quality education for our children, and future generations. This vigilance must extend to the ballot box, and with our support of teachers, administrators, and leaders in our respective districts.
What are your stances on student safety as they relate to the current pandemic?
Claycamp: We know a lot more about COVID-19 now than we did when it began back in March of 2020.
One encouraging finding is young people handle this virus pretty well. Even with concerns over the Delta variant, serious complications for school-age children remain small. A recent article published by the Cleveland Clinic explains that while Delta is more contagious, most children seem to handle this new variant well with only minor symptoms.
For this reason, I am for choice for both masks and vaccinations for students and staff. I am not discounting the risks of COVID-19 because it is real. My wife and I are vaccinated and believe strongly all Americans should consult with their physicians and make an informed decision on vaccination.
My primary issue with masks is it does impact many student’s abilities to focus and learn. Parents around SMSD, especially families who have a special needs or IEP student, tell me they are concerned their student is falling behind due to daily frustrations with masking. Another factor is many children are wearing disposable masks several days in a row or are wearing cloth masks many days in a row without washing them. This creates other health concerns. It is reasonable to ask are we damaging our children’s overall immunity by putting them in masks six to seven hours a day. If SMSD requires masks they should be providing them fresh every day.
Boyd-Noronha: How can we expect future generations to let their decisions be guided by the scientific method if we, as their leaders, ignore it in the decisions we model for them? I fully support the recommendations from leading health experts and public health agencies for mask use in schools to lower the spread of COVID-19. I applaud the leadership of Shawnee Mission School District, and surrounding districts, who mandated mask use in buildings this year. Last school year our children suffered learning loss because of extended time outside of the classroom. Time outside the classroom also negatively impacted our families in a number of ways, including economically. Students learn best in the classroom. We must take all reasonable steps to keep students in person this school year.
What should and shouldn’t be taught to public school students regarding America’s history?
Claycamp: It is important to tell the truth about American history. It’s important to describe slavery as America’s original sin because it was. It’s good to teach our students that America has warts and millions were kept down via Jim Crow laws, red-lining, poll tests, and taxes… these things created a separate and unequal society. There is ugliness in the American story and by acknowledging it we grow together.
However, there is also much for this country to be proud of. The United States is the freest and most equitable country on this planet. America is home to entrepreneurs and inventors that have changed history. There are very few countries where an adopted child of Syrian dissent could grow up in a blue-collar household and create one of the most successful companies in history. Steve Jobs did that with Apple and he did it with a public school education.
America is in a constant state of remaking itself and we can only do this because our Founding Fathers had the foresight to put a system of government in place that allows for constant improvement.
I’d add, even our Founding Fathers were flawed. But judging any man or woman from our history by the standards of today is unfair to that person and poor historical practice.
There is still work to do but we don’t get there by shaming groups of people for things that happened 50-100 years ago that they played no part in. That is a recipe for continued division and should not be practiced.
Boyd-Noronha: I do not support pedagogical approaches that seek to divide students based on race, ethnicity, cultural background, sexual orientation, or religion. I do support our schools teaching the broadest possible perspective of American history, in an age-appropriate manner, that substantiates and validates the experiences of Americans of all backgrounds.
Not all of the history of our great country is rosy, but students need to know it just as much as the soaring accomplishments that fill us with patriotic pride. Depriving students from learning the uncomfortable aspects of American history does them a long-term disservice, and adds to the misinformation machine so prevalent in our culture today. We have a duty as educators to teach kids how to think, not what to think, and the best way to achieve this is by providing a full picture of history for students to wrestle with, and form their own perspectives about these important events.
What is the main role of a board member in your opinion?
Claycamp: School Board members’ primary function is related to budgetary concerns, evaluating and approving policy that impacts the entire district, and the hiring and oversight of the superintendent. Beneath that umbrella are numerous tasks related to strategic planning, defining and implementing the district’s mission and purpose, committee-related responsibilities related to the board, and one final important role for me would be modeling professional and respectful behavior to fellow Board members, staff, families, and taxpayers.
Boyd-Noronha: The board has one employee, the superintendent. The superintendent is charged with administering the district based on the policies and procedures approved by the school board. It is essential that the board provide the superintendent with a clear roadmap of where the district is going as far as district goals, and then evaluate the superintendent to determine how close the district is getting to the destination. The board must ensure the areas for the superintendent evaluation are clear, the goals and strategic plans of the district are well defined, and the rubric for evaluation to determine whether outcomes have been achieved is known and understood.
I also believe it is essential for board members to be responsive to community concern, do their duties in a transparent fashion, and seek to resolve disputes with dignity and respect for stakeholders.
Do you think families in your district should be taxed to fund both their public schools and vouchers for families who prefer alternate schooling methods?
Claycamp: I believe every student deserves to have access to a great public school. Many families now are choosing to send their kids to private school or homeschooling. Those families are making decisions that work for them, however for a variety of reasons private and/or homeschooling is not an option for thousands of SMSD students.
Specific funding formulas as described are not the role of a school board and are instead handled by state legislatures. Any changes to these formulas would likely result in Kansas State Supreme Court involvement as well.
My focus as a Board member will be to work together to make sure that SMSD can be a great public school option for families and educators.
Boyd-Noronha: I do not support public tax dollars being used to fund school vouchers, or any efforts by state legislatures to defund public education. I am the proud product of public education and an example of what quality public school education can do for families. I support measures to increase funding for public schools. Unlike other schools, public schools educate every child, no matter their learning ability, disability, economic condition, or background. Public schools deserve our full support and full funding. That should be our focus as a community, creating a system of education that serves every child, so that every child has access to quality education.
Can you name a board member who you believe has done an excellent job?
Claycamp: The SMSD Board has dealt with an unprecedented number of complicated issues in the past two years, many of these tied directly to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is important to recognize all these members have been asked to make decisions on policy they could not have imagined having to make at the beginning of the 2019-20 school year. I disagree with some of their policy decisions but I don’t question their intent in doing what they think is best for students.
Singling out a few SMSD members, I applaud the efforts of Jamie Borgman and Jessica Hembree in showing a commitment to transparency. They have been champions of sharing and even expanding the Public Comment portion of the SMSD meeting. In late July, the Board approved by a vote of 5-2 to no longer broadcast Public Comment as part of the regular meeting. Ms. Borgman and Ms. Hembree’s votes were the two dissenting votes in that decision.
I’d also single out Ms. Borgman for her comments after the emergency SMSD Board meeting on August 5 regarding updating mask policy. She reminded all of SMSD that the decision to mandate masks was entirely decided by the SMSD Board and not teachers, administrators, or staff. I believe when you make a decision you need to stand behind it and take the criticism for it and Ms. Borgman’s comment exemplifies that sort of leadership.
Boyd-Noronha: In the past few years the entire Shawnee Mission School District board has navigated some difficult terrain, and it would be unfair for me to scrutinize their decisions with the benefit of hindsight. I think they all deserve more support and less criticism. However, I believe Heather Ousley has demonstrated tremendous courage as board president, and Laura Guy has contributed to ensuring the board focus on the underserved in our school district. Courage under fire and empathy are traits I admire from leaders. Both of these women have taken on tough choices with integrity and transparency. I consider these collective qualities paramount to public service.
Further questions? Click here to register for the candidate forum that will be hosted by Mainstream Coalition on Sept. 21 at 6 p.m.