School board leaders describe navigating challenging year and decisions making ahead of elections

Posted at 10:21 PM, Oct 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-12 23:54:40-04

KANSAS CITY, MO — Maneuvering through life during the pandemic has been challenging for many of us, and it has been especially challenging for school board members as they made some hard decisions about their districts.

“So it was unanticipated, and it was very challenging and that our primary goal is educate kids to be a successful leader in life,” Heather Ousley, board president of the Shawnee Mission School District Board of Education, said.

Ousley had to answer some tough questions over the course of the pandemic and made tough decisions.

“How do we keep kids in a healthy learning environment? How do we keep them in person to the extent that it’s possible and then set out to meet those goals?” Ousley said.

These questions are just a few that school board leaders like Ousley had to continuously ask themselves and their colleagues to ultimately make the best decision for students across the Kansas City area.

“So what we do is about making an environment that’s successful for students and whether or not we have to navigate something like Covid or something like the risks of vaping for students," Ousley said. "There is always something that poses a risk or something that we have to take into consideration."

However, some of Ousley's decisions were met with backlash from parents and the community, and she wasn't the only school board member to face this backlash.

“Im not going to say that everything has been handled perfectly," John Brandon Parks, vice president of the Gardner Edgerton School District Board of Education, said. "I don’t know that there was a way to handle it perfectly, but I do think that we have to step back and look at the bigger picture and see that as hard as it is and as taxing as it has been on all of us, this is one moment in time that we are going to get through."

Nonetheless, school board leaders like Ousley and Parks still have one goal in mind as the pandemic continues on.

“In order to provide for our students long term with just what we have been dealing with masks and exclusions at this point," Parks said. "It’s important for us to look at that whole picture of trying to make sure that over the next 10, 15, 20, 30 years we are still in a position where we can continue to grow and meet our students where they need us to meet them."