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Smithville R-2 school board candidates weigh in key issues

Posted at 3:05 PM, Apr 03, 2023

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A school district's Board of Education has to handle many aspects of public education from finance and operations to performance and outcomes. Hear from candidates for the Smithville R-2 School Board.


Why are you running for the Board of Education? If elected, what will be your priorities?

Stacia Cudd - I have chosen to run because education matters. The students attending Smithville now and those attending Smithville tomorrow need a strong educational foundation that will propel them into their futures. Our community has a lot to be proud of, but we must not be complacent.

Our students are my top priority. Our students need a strong school with the best educators and administrators. I will support efforts to leverage the opportunities that lie ahead for our community to foster a competitive culture, including more competitive pay for our teachers. I also want to ensure early childhood education programs have the support needed. I know the benefit of programs like “Parents as Teachers” (PAT). The early years of a child’s life are a critical time of development and early childhood programs, particularly PAT, provide a foundation for success in school.

Patrick Nichols - For my children, to be a part of the growth, decision-making, and opportunities that lie ahead for our district and every child’s future. I want to provide my background as an engineer and leader to listen to the administration, educators, and community to put our best action plan forward to position our district to be better continually. I am not running with an agenda or with pre-prepared items I want to go after and change. I simply believe our civic duty as citizens are to be involved in our communities. The opportunity to do that while impacting my children’s future as part of an already great leadership group was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

Samantha Oryshyn - As a mother of three young children, I am deeply vested in the district and community, as decisions will impact them for years. I want to ensure responsible and positive decisions are being made for our students and teachers. If elected, my priorities will be students first and community partnerships.

Brooke Perkins - I want to invest in my family’s future in Smithville by using my time, knowledge, and collaborative skills to create a strong partnership between the community, school district, and families in the district. I want to make sure they each recognize the value in one another and understand how important they are to the success of Smithville as a whole.

My priorities are quality education, building trust, and effective and meaningful communication between families, the district, and the community.

Susan Whitacre - I am running for reelection to the school board. I have been serving on the board for the last three years. It has become evident that having a great school district is very important to our students, staff and community. I want to continue to help our school district remain strong while seeking improvement in all areas.

My priority will be to work together with the rest of the school board members to provide excellent governance to the district. This will allow the district to make the best decisions that benefit our students the most.

Is there a particular issue that motivates you to serve on the board of education?

Stacia Cudd - We must address staff consistency. Research has shown that a high turnover rate in schools harms student achievement, including decreased academic achievement in core subjects. Turnover can also redirect resources that could be used to improve other areas. We need competitive compensation, support and respect for our teachers, and attention to class sizes. If we focus on these areas, I wholeheartedly believe we can foster a culture where top teachers and administrators choose Smithville, grow in Smithville, and stay in Smithville for the betterment of our students and our community.

Patrick Nichols - The fact that we are not positioned to be a district of stabilizing and maintaining; rather, we are a district that will see growth and planning. The need for us to generate long-term plans to motivate and excite our district faculty for retention, as well as take advantage of expected new tax revenue to better our facilities and make us more competitive and perform at a continually high level.

Samantha Oryshyn - I am running for a seat on the board because of my children. I want to help make the best decisions for them, their friends, and every student. Our children should always be at the heart of decisions made for the district.

Brooke Perkins - I want to protect our children's education and ensure future stability. I have four kids in the district and I want to contribute to their educational success as well as assist in bringing value and great people to our community to grow our future. I have been attending meetings for a while now and I learn something new about the district each time. There have been some things that I disagreed with, but I was glad to be able to speak my concerns to the board. It is one thing to point out issues and another thing to work toward a resolution. I want to step up and go to work on issues and contribute to exciting projects and initiatives.

Susan Whitacre - I want to serve on the school board because of our students. I believe that should be the main motivator of anyone wanting to serve on the school board. I am one of seven people on the school board, so we all have to work together on all issues to help support our students.

What experiences or skills have prepared you to serve as a board member?

Stacia Cudd - In my career working for an association, I served hundreds of people across the country. I learned how to listen to different voices and work with a variety of people to meet the needs of our members. School Board members hear a wide range of opinions and needs from many voices, all while making decisions that have far-reaching impacts. I will use my previous experience to ask the right questions and make informed decisions on behalf of Smithville students.

Patrick Nichols - I am an engineer and a parent. I now work as a manager in a mining services company and previously worked as an operations team leader over the largest underground limestone mine production group. I currently manage my company's sales, P/L statements, operating budgets, invoicing, and revenue. In my last job, I managed a multi-million dollar per year operating budget for the largest underground limestone mine in the world.

Samantha Oryshyn - I want to ensure responsible and positive decisions are being made for our students and teachers. I coach my children’s sports teams through Smithville Parks & Recreation and volunteer at their school when available. At work, my daily interactions include leading a team of cost report auditors and collaborating with supervisors, managers, and more to manage and complete work promptly. These skills will serve me well as a board member to work with other board members and be an active participant in discussions to ensure decisions made are in the children's best interest.

Brooke Perkins - I have excellent leadership skills. I have managed many people with varying levels within my company. I learn quickly and have a lot of success implementing new products and services across internal teams and clients. I have been in charge of training teams and task management. I work in a very diverse environment and have successfully collaborated with teams and clients worldwide. I work for a large investment bank, so I have vast financial knowledge and receive the regular required training to stay updated on important security, banking, regulations, and ethical practices. All of this can be applied to prepare me to be a valuable and successful contributor to the district as a board.

Susan Whitacre - I have been on the school board for the last three years and have experience with how school boards work. I am aware of school finances, upcoming legislation and current district issues. Spring is a busy time for school districts with budget preparation, etc. With my knowledge, I will be able to jump right in without the learning curve the other candidates will have.

What differentiates you from the other candidates and/or board members?

Stacia Cudd - I have lived in the Smithville community most of my life. I am a proud graduate of Smithville High School. This is my home and I have a passion for ensuring the students of today and the students of tomorrow can take great pride in their education for years to come. I am ready to give back to the school that has given me so much as we keep pressing ahead to make Smithville School District even greater than it is today.

Patrick Nichols - I think the best management and leadership groups I have ever been a part of are those that have a diverse set of experiences and skill sets. It is important to have long-tenured local input, strong financial expertise, strong leadership, and people who can problem-solve and provide experiences from outside the community. With my background, I think I can fit several of those roles, as needed, and be somewhat of a utility role on the board that can fill a plethora of roles depending on the group’s weaknesses.

Samantha Oryshyn - I will always work for my children, their friends, and every student. I will speak up and advocate for our children and teachers.

Brooke Perkins - I must admit I do not know much about the other candidates. I am glad to see many people willing to step in and contribute their time, knowledge, and skills to the district and community. I DO know my strengths and I am confident voters will not be disappointed with me as their choice to represent their voice on the board.

Susan Whitacre - I am the only candidate with prior school board experience.

Clarity of Purpose

What are the factors on which you will base your decisions as a school board member?

Stacia Cudd - Facts and how those facts support the best interest of our students. That is the lens I believe a school board member is meant to look through.

Patrick Nichols - The same process I have followed my whole professional life. I will seek input from multiple sources and varying perspectives to develop my own independent opinion. I will evaluate decisions on whether or not they positively impact and promote healthy or improved learning and/or facilities in the district, first and foremost.

Samantha Oryshyn - Simply put, every decision must be in all students' best interest.

Brooke Perkins - I would ask: How will this affect the staff in the district, how will this affect the students, how will this affect the community, and how will this affect the parents and families supporting the children in this district? Will this contribute to the success of the strategic plan for Smithville? I would do my best to gather the thoughts and opinions of each of the above as often as possible so that when I make a decision, I will be doing so using all the knowledge and tools that I have available.

Susan Whitacre - I base my decisions on what is ultimately best for the students, as they are why we are here as a district and a school board.

What specific steps would you take as a school board member to improve transparency and make school district information more widely available?

Stacia Cudd - I believe our district does a good job communicating with parents in the district. I appreciate the newsletters I receive from my children's teachers and having access to information through PowerSchool. I also received monthly emails from my building principal and the district. I can also easily access all materials related to public school board meetings. As I take an active interest in the education of my children and our schools, I am able to remain updated on what my kids are learning, how they are following through on their assignments and tests, and what is happening on the larger district scale.

Patrick Nichols - Communication is a difficult obstacle in any organization or community. I think it is important to continually try new things and develop new strategies to see what works or if delivery improves. I think talking with the city government and local organizations and using groups like “Parents as Teachers” to get feedback which are sought-after communication portals, would be a great start.

Samantha Oryshyn - The district does a decent job of posting on social media, streaming board meetings, and providing links to meeting agendas.

Brooke Perkins - I will do my best to have face-to-face conversations as often as possible to build trust and work together to reach a common ground. I hope these meaningful conversations will continue to expand throughout the community to bring about a greater knowledge base and provide an opportunity for clarity on questions and concerns. Attending various regular community meetings will keep the district engaged with community members at many levels.

Susan Whitacre - I would continue sharing information via social media and email. I would answer questions to the best of my knowledge or direct them to the appropriate staff member to answer the questions. I would continue to encourage people to look at our district website, where they can find lots of information on finances, upcoming events, etc. I would encourage people to come to meetings for the public when the school district offers them, as this is a great way for the district to share information.

As a school board member, from whom will you seek advice or input in weighing key decisions?

Stacia Cudd - I want to hear from our teachers and parents. I am willing to look at all sides of an issue and listen to all parties to determine what I believe is the best course of action. I am not afraid to say "I don't know" and then find the appropriate research and information or an appropriate person with knowledge of the issue.

Patrick Nichols - I think as a collective board, it will be important to seek advice from fellow board members in our meeting discussions to build our trust and abilities in each other. At the end of the day, all decisions have to be made collectively as a board. Therefore it will be most important to seek opinions and advice from fellow board members.

Samantha Oryshyn - I will seek community and teacher input regarding key decisions.

Brooke Perkins - Valuable input and advice can be found anywhere, from our students and staff to our families and the community. There is so much knowledge and experience that can be applied to the success of Smithville as well as to preserving the many things that people cherish about our town and district. It’s important always to be open and receptive. You never know what gems of knowledge you will happen upon.

Susan Whitacre - I seek input from all people that will be affected by my decision. This can be by email, phone calls, or a private conversation. I will also consider data that the district has collected through surveys, etc.

Finance and Operations

What are your thoughts on the current and the proposed budget for your school district? How would you determine your budget priorities?

Stacia Cudd - I am thrilled to see our current board members making strides to retain quality staff with the approval of an improved compensation package for the next fiscal year. I will be a voice of support to continue the effort to make strides in this area, as this is a top-budget priority for me.

Patrick Nichols - I think we currently have strong finances as a district and a solid plan for investing our current surpluses. I think priorities are about understanding where our weaknesses are. Those weaknesses should be identified through district performance data, district and community feedback, and examining our placement and facilities to surrounding districts to ensure we are competitive. I think it is important to communicate what we do and do what we communicate.

Samantha Oryshyn - The proposed budget for the district for next year includes significant pay increases for teachers and staff, which is a step in the right direction. Budget priorities would be determined by looking at what is necessary and seeking community input.

Brooke Perkins - I have a lot to learn about the budget. What I know now I have just learned from the public meetings I have attended as an audience member. The priorities presented so far seem justifiable with the information I have on hand currently. With the no-tax increase bond meeting these priorities seems attainable without adding a tax burden to the community. I am eager to learn more about the budget as a whole.

Susan Whitacre - I believe the school district is working together to spend the money we receive wisely. Smithville has a lower tax rate than many other school districts around us. So we have to make the money we receive go even further. That can make for some tough decisions. I think everyone has to keep the students and their education as our number one priority. I don’t have personal budget priorities. I am one of 7 members and we have to work together with the district to determine the best budget priorities for the district.

What are the district’s greatest capital needs right now? How do you think those needs should be addressed?

Stacia Cudd - The district has a good plan for making the necessary improvements with available resources. Smithville residents provided input to prioritize needs for a long-range facility plan. We are addressing several of those with the current no-tax bond issue, including an on-site transportation and maintenance facility, improved sidewalks on our main campus, HVAC upgrades at two of our buildings, enhanced security at all buildings, upgrading the middle school athletic field, and upgrading the high school gymnasium.

Patrick Nichols - I think the urgent needs are being addressed with the proposed bond issue on the April 4 ballot. I think this bond is a win for our district and community. There can never be a one size fits all solution when trying to improve the district as a whole, but this bond issue covers a lot of our needs.

Samantha Oryshyn - Currently, the greatest capital need is a transportation and maintenance facility. There is a no-tax increase general obligation bond on the April ballot for this facility and other items as well. I am in favor of this bond as it not only addresses the on-site transportation facility but also on improving sidewalks on the main campus, HVAC upgrades, enhancing security at all buildings, converting the middle school athletic fields to synthetic turf, and remodeling the high school gym for expanded seating.

Brooke Perkins - I think that the expansion of the gym is important as it cannot currently fit all of the students in the high school and there is a need for extra multipurpose space that can be used for robotics, debate, dance, etc. Improving the HVAC at the middle school is needed to ensure a productive teaching/learning environment. I understand there is a need for a larger space that can be used more often. Turf on the field by the middle school can be used for multiple building classes for gym, band, cheer, dance, flag, and outdoor gatherings. I also understand that we need a new transportation plan. The bus facility will allow for more options for transportation. This can be achieved by voting for the no-tax increase general obligation bond. The school has presented plans to execute each of these projects as well as expected completion dates should they achieve approval.

Susan Whitacre - The district needs to be able to pay all of the staff in our district more. We need to remain competitive in pay to attract and retain the best staff for our students. I think the current school board and administration are showing that we are trying to pay our staff more. Without a higher tax rate with more income, it is hard to do everything we know needs to be done. We are hoping that with the income coming in the future from commercial buildings in our district, we will be able to provide even more compensation to our staff.

How will you enlist support for bond issues or public school spending from voters or taxpayers with no children in the public schools? How can the school board prove itself accountable to those citizens?

Stacia Cudd - Strong schools benefit the whole community. All residents, whether they have kids in public schools or not, have a vested interest in making our district the very best it can be. When the school board is devoted to the students, it automatically makes decisions that are best for the district, which in turn are best for even those citizens who do not have children in the school.

Patrick Nichols - I think communication is key. Identifying business partners, community group partners, and facilities where educational seminars can be held is essential. I do believe these are taking place with our current bond issue. I think when it comes to taxpayers who do not have children is a fairly easy discussion. I think everyone wants our community to be desired and crime-free and for living here to be a valuable investment. I think the biggest attractant for new families who can support those causes starts with a healthy and sought-after school district.

Samantha Oryshyn - Open communication and learning why people in this category might hesitate regarding bond issues is key.

Brooke Perkins - We must have great communication, not just push out mailers and social media. We, as board members, really need to get out and have conversations with people in the community. We should recognize the burden of tax increases and their effect on our community members. For example, seniors versus those families who are still working will feel the weight of any tax increase differently. Yet, if we want to see growth in our town, we must have successful schools and a thriving community. As Smithville grows, so will the number of households, which will spread the tax burden across more voters in the area.

Susan Whitacre - I believe we must show that our school district is vital to our community. Many people move to Smithville because of our school district's reputation. We have to try and go meet this population where they are at. They often don’t use social media and emails as often, so we must try to find ways of getting this information out to them best.

Teacher starting salaries continue to be an ongoing discussion here in Missouri. How will you be able to keep and attract staff despite having some of the lowest salaries in the nation?

Stacia Cudd - Our salaries have aligned with the state average, but data published last April shows Missouri ranked 49th in starting teacher salaries. In the Kansas City area, Smithville is at or near the bottom across the board. We need to do better for our teachers. Teachers enter the profession because they have a passion for education and students. Their important role must be placed at a higher value in our communities. I put great value on our educators and want to see a continued effort to reflect this in our teacher’s salaries. I see opportunities on the horizon to make Smithville more competitive in this area. While I ultimately want to get our teacher salaries into the top 10 in the area, I believe there are also creative ways to work with and listen to our teachers to make Smithville an attractive option for high-quality candidates.

Patrick Nichols - I think it starts by prioritizing learning and education to attract those already in the field. Learning starts in the classroom; therefore, as a Board, we should evaluate any decision on how it can positively impact learning. If we have obtained a healthy, safe, and productive learning environment, we can ensure that teacher and student morale are high and learning can be successful. I also think that by ensuring we build pipelines through student teaching and cadet programs, we will be proactive in bringing in high-quality educators that can be exposed to our culture and opportunities as well. At some point, this will need to be addressed on the state level regarding how our funding formulas can be improved and evaluated.

Samantha Oryshyn - The district's biggest challenge currently is teacher pay and retention. Our children are the future and the best thing we can do for them is give them great teachers and role models, outside of doing that as a parent. Smithville has amazing teachers and to ensure that those teachers want to stay with the district, we must be competitive with pay, benefits, and other incentives. Our educators should be compensated in a way that aligns with the district’s academic excellence. This will signal that Smithville is serious about not only retaining our teachers but that we want to be highly competitive with other districts in the area to attract new teachers as well.

Brooke Perkins - We should work to bring awareness to everyone. I know people understand the need for teachers to be paid more, but seeing the actual data and comparisons is very eye-opening, especially when considering society's expectations of our educators. We should encourage recognition of the hard work, dedication, and educational success that our educators bring to our children. Official recognition, publicly or individually, is very affirming. Ensuring that the staff feels supported by the district, parents, and the community is important to retaining quality staff. Building a strong supportive community around the district will keep Smithville thriving and attractive to new families to keep growing the overall success of the district. With this growth, we can expect greater opportunities for the community and district as a whole.

Susan Whitacre - We have to show that we are making efforts to increase our salaries. We also have to continue providing teachers with the best support staff to make their jobs easier. We can also work on increasing the use of non-monetary items that help teachers feel needed and appreciated.

Performance and Outcomes

How will you engage the community to improve public schools in the district?

Stacia Cudd - We are fortunate to have a community that takes great pride in our schools. The support doesn't rest with only community members with children in school. That strong foundation of pride is something we can build on. As we continue to grow, we need the support of Smithville's citizens. The district is currently demonstrating how we engage local businesses, organizations, and our residents as they educate on the no-tax rate increase bond. With transparent communication and invitation to engage, everyone wins.

Patrick Nichols - Engagement starts by listening. I will always be a champion for improving our district. Improvement starts by identifying problems and creating solutions. I will be passionate about never having complacency with where we are. Being involved in our community and building relationships is the easy way to collect feedback from our community.

Samantha Oryshyn - I am always open to hearing from the community for feedback, opinions, and ideas for anything they feel should be heard. Throughout this campaign, I have met some great people and heard some great ideas. Open communication and transparency are key between the board and the community.

Brooke Perkins - It’s important to have engaging conversations with many different people in the community. Through these conversations, we can gain perspective and understanding of what people view as a priority. It also allows the district to describe its rationale to support its strategic goals. With this newly gained perspective, ideas can be exchanged and perhaps an improved, more mutually beneficial strategic goal can be created.

Susan Whitacre - I will continue to seek input from everyone in the district. I have people email me or request to meet in person. I also let the public know when the school district has community meetings and information sessions. With our “Real World Learning” program, we are reaching out to our community to work with our students. This allows the community to help our students to be better prepared after they graduate and for the community to see what our students and schools are doing.

In your view, what has the district done well over the past year? In what areas could the district improve?

Stacia Cudd - I am so impressed with the implementation of the “Take Flight” program, an intervention program for students with dyslexia. We have a dedicated group of staff and teachers who have given great time and effort to bring this program to Smithville. They are celebrating great success.

We must address staff consistency. Research has shown that a high turnover rate in schools harms student achievement, including decreased academic achievement in core subjects. Turnover can also redirect resources that could otherwise be used to improve other areas. We need competitive compensation, support and respect for our teachers, and attention to class sizes. If we focus on these areas, I wholeheartedly believe we can foster a culture where top teachers and administrators choose Smithville, grow in Smithville, and stay in Smithville.

Patrick Nichols - We have done a good job of identifying problems such as pay increases, facility upgrades, and our superintendent search. All of these issues had quick, effective, and positive solutions proposed—all of which are being executed thus far except for the bond issue, which is currently on the ballot.

Brooke Perkins - Things the district has done well include “Real World Learning,” “Portrait of a Graduate,” and “Grow-a-Teacher,” which are all programs that are refreshing, exciting, and show great promise for the future. Improvements that are needed include communication with families and the community. It's not enough to push information out. Conversations are needed to gain perspective and understanding on all sides.

Susan Whitacre - Our test scores show that our students are performing at a high level. The district also has gone through the year with an interim superintendent. She has done a great job. The board has hired a new superintendent, and we look forward to him assuming leadership next year. I think one way we could improve is to continue to work on increased compensation for staff.

How should the district address underperforming schools?

Stacia Cudd - Fortunately, this is not an issue for Smithville. Our schools are performing well across the board. I believe any and all changes aimed at attracting and retaining the very best teachers, staff, and administrators will only enhance the academic success we have seen.

Patrick Nichols - By analyzing our performance data. Through this analysis, we can see where our deficiencies are at. We can then seek the input of the educators or leaders in that area to start gaining feedback on what is needed from a support standpoint in order to generate improvement.

Brooke Perkins - The school should work to discover common factors in the school's underperformance. This information can be reviewed to address the gaps in the educational programs that led to the underperformance. We can speak to students, staff, and families to obtain their perspectives on the underlying causes of the underperformance and review their suggestions for creating positive change. Each of these perspectives can then be used as a tool to create a plan for achieving higher performance in the future.

Susan Whitacre - I believe we need to consider why a specific school or grade level might be underperforming. We need to look at staffing, class sizes, behavior issues, staff turnover, and previous test results and trends.

How should school board members evaluate school and student performance in your district?

Stacia Cudd - Test scores in our district are obviously an important metric that provides an overall look at how our schools and students perform academically. But I'm interested in looking deeper. We can celebrate gains our teachers and staff identify that may not be seen in top-line scores. We can also celebrate when we get reports of improved social, emotional, and mental health in our schools.

Patrick Nichols - Through our performance data and community feedback.

Samantha Oryshyn - School and student performance should be evaluated through testing scores and improvements for each student from the previous year. We should also consider participation rates in extracurricular activities such as clubs, programs, and athletics.

Brooke Perkins - There are many tools that I have seen the district use to measure success. This is important because success must be measured using many different facets to get a clear overall picture. Success doesn’t always look how we expect, so we should also keep an open mind when seeking proof of success in our students.

Susan Whitacre - We should use all the information provided to us. This includes all testing results, the district’s Annual Performance Rating (APR), and other objective and subjective data provided.

What metrics will you use to assess district leadership’s attainment of key goals? How will you know when a program or decision has been successful?

Stacia Cudd - It's difficult to know what evidence will support the different goals of leadership, but I believe the mark of a successful administration is the satisfaction and success of its staff and teachers. At the end of the day, a program or decision is successful if it propels our school district forward and leads to a positive outcome for our students.

Patrick Nichols - With any improvement plan or decision, it is critical to identify, on the front end, what our metrics will be to measure success. These must be established before implementation to know if the decisions and actions we anticipate to perform are effective or not.

Brooke Perkins - Reviewing our strategic goals regularly and engaging corresponding groups to ensure we are on track to meeting those goals. Surveys to different groups, testing/scores, visual proof. I also think it's great to get post-graduation metrics, for example, continuing education, employment, extracurricular activities/group contributions, etc. This data can be a great long-term measurement of the direction our students take after their education with the district.

Susan Whitacre - The school board's only employee to directly hire and evaluate is the superintendent. I believe it is important to have a good evaluation tool for the superintendent and to review the evaluation quarterly to see goal progression. The school board has quarterly program evaluation workshops in which we look at and evaluate the district's programs.