VOTERS GUIDE | USD 383 candidates weigh in on board topics ahead of Nov. 2 election

Oct. 16—Six candidates are vying for three open positions on the Manhattan-Ogden School Board. The general election Nov. 2 will decide who will serve on the board for the next four years.

Karla Hagemeister is the only board member seeking re-election. Board president Jurdene Coleman and fellow member Katrina Lewison are not.

The Mercury asked each person about topics they will face if they are voted onto the board. The candidates' answers are listed in alphabetical order.

1. Do you believe the USD 383 board acted correctly by reinstating a mask mandate to start the 2021-22 school year?

Hagemeister, incumbent board member: Yes. The board knew that ongoing student absences due to illness or quarantines would create hardships for the students who have to miss school, as well as their teachers, parents and fellow students. Requiring masks has had the desired effect of reducing the spread of infections and minimizing the number and duration of quarantines. Safe, in-person learning was the desire and we are achieving that goal.

Betty Mattingly-Ebert, owner of Paradoxx Design in Manhattan: First and foremost, our responsibility is to educate our children. It's not the responsibility of the board to make healthcare decisions. There is no consistency through our community and no mandate from our local health department. It should be left up to their parents, and health care providers.

Jayme Morris-Hardeman, Thrive! Flint Hills executive director: Yes, and I believe comparison to school districts without a mask mandate provides evidence to support this position. The science is clear; masks protect others from infection and are allowing our schools to remain open, which is clearly in the best interest of our students. This is particularly true for early learning and elementary schools, where the students are too young to be vaccinated.

Teresa Parks, career transition readiness specialist for Flint Hills Job Corps in Manhattan: I absolutely believe that the USD 383 school board acted correctly by reinstating the mask mandate. While it may be some parents right to choose whether or not their family gets vaccinated it is not their right to put other people's families at risk. I am glad that the board decided to be safe rather than sorry. It does not infringe upon people's rights to be considerate of others.

Steven Ruzzin, data engineer: No, I can understand the caution from last year, though I still disagree with the choice. We've had ample opportunity to understand what COVID is, the parents can make their own informed decisions, the school board should not force the decision on anyone.

Christine Weixelman, registered nurse: Last year, I understood their reasoning because there were so many unknowns, but given the evidence we have now it is time to allow student and parental choice. No mandate.

2. What specifically should the school district do to promote diversity, equity and inclusion? What specifically should it not do?

Hagemeister: Students need a mirror to learn about themselves and a window to see the world. The district should provide materials, curriculum, professional development and resources that allow all students to see themselves in all aspects of their education. We should not be afraid to teach comprehensive history, with space for challenging conversations. DEI is intended to challenge our system to live up to the aspiration of being a place where each student matters.

Mattingly-Ebert: The district needs to stop talking in platitudes and implement solutions that will actually make a difference in our local sister communities, like Ogden, which serves mostly low-income families, for example. Middle and high school students in those communities cannot participate in after school academic programs, clubs, or sports if their families don't have transportation. What the district should not do is continue ignoring these communities.

Morris-Hardeman: Ongoing professional development for educators and staff on ways to increase inclusion in the classroom, such as adding more diverse books to a classroom library or considering different family structures when naming events. A grow-your-own teacher program, similar to Topeka and Olathe, that identifies diverse students as future teachers and provides them with college scholarships if they will return to teach in our district. Personalized learning for every student helps ensure equity and inclusion.

Parks: I believe that the school district should broaden the scope of their curriculum to accurately reflect history and not just teach it from a White patriarchal perspective. I also believe that more of an effort should be given to celebrate different cultural events and create an inclusive environment for all students. Incidents of discrimination and bias need to be taken seriously and addressed accordingly. What it shouldn't do is continue to minimize the problems that some students are having.

Ruzzin: We need to stop talking politics, stop teaching ideologies. Everyone is human; we don't have trainings to tell people that we should treat people the same based on hair and eye color. Let's start teaching people that all humans have worth and value, and stop sorting people into different groups. We need to be sure we treat everyone equally, but lets focus on education.

Weixelman: The district should encourage freedom of discussion, expression, and thoughtful conversation in a neutral environment for all students. The goal should be increased understanding and unity, not divisive political activism. We should also expand history education to include more about the Manhattan community, as well as Native American history. No critical race theory in the curriculum or CRT-based trainings for staff.

3. What's a recent or notable example of your ability to compromise with people who hold an opposing viewpoint on a social or political issue?

Hagemeister: Attendance lines provided fertile ground for deeply held priorities and beliefs as parents advocated for their children and neighborhoods during redistricting. As a redistricting committee member, I listened to the concerns being raised while also holding to the board's priorities. The boundaries must serve the needs of the district as a whole, in the immediate and long term. My own personal desires or those of any other individual or group could not outweigh that charge.

Mattingly-Ebert: Life is full of compromises. Anyone who raises a family, serves on committees, or owns a business knows this, and I've done all three. I've successfully worked with and served people who have differing viewpoints than me for my entire career.

Morris-Hardeman: While serving on the Manhattan City Commission, I frequently compromised to keep government moving forward. The biggest compromise was the vote to acquire property for the southern downtown redevelopment project. I struggled with the use of eminent domain, however after much consideration, I made this vote because it was in the best interest of the community as a whole. I am proud of the impact downtown redevelopment had for our city.

Parks: I have sat down and had coffee with one of the other candidates who has vastly opposing views from mine in an effort to understand where they are coming from. Just because we don't agree on all issues doesn't mean we can't work together to make sure our students have the best learning experience possible. I am more than willing to bridge the gap of disagreement with understanding and effort.

Ruzzin: I'm not a politician, so I don't have any examples of notable compromises. As a personality, I'm actually more of a consensus builder than a lone wolf. I expect to have rigorous debates with other board members, but as an analytic, I expect facts and logic to show themselves and drive decision making. I have morals I will not compromise, but there is plenty of room in most scenarios to come to a joint decision.

Weixelman: I'm willing to change the name of Manhattan High School to Frank Prentup High School and retain the Native American image by Brent Yancey.

4. In making budgetary choices, what particular educational needs of students will be your priority?

Hagemeister: Our charge is to be a place where each child can learn. That means meeting the child where they are and helping them grow. The district's direction toward personalized learning should guide the budgetary decisions in teaching and learning, finding the tools, resources and training that educators and students need to be successful. This approach benefits all students.

Mattingly-Ebert: My priority will be to recruit and retain quality teachers. If we don't have and keep the best possible staff, our student's education will suffer. SPED and gifted programs must remain a priority. Our children should also have STEM classes available starting at the earliest possible age. Independent learning should also be implemented since not all students learn in the same ways.

Morris-Hardeman: Every student deserves every opportunity to learn and be successful in the classroom. For this to occur, schools must address social and emotional needs as well as academic curriculum. Personalized learning, which is part of the District's Strategic Framework, will provide each student the tools they need to succeed. This applies to all children, including those with IEPs for special education.

Parks: Special education students will always be one of my top priorities. Our most vulnerable students often slip through the cracks and it's important that we empower them with the knowledge and skills they need to be as independent and functional as possible. Another top priority is making sure that students have access to staff that can help them manage their mental and emotional health.

Ruzzin: I want to prioritize technology education. I see a world continuing to become more and more technology focused, and students of today need to be prepared for the job market of tomorrow. But maybe more importantly, we need our kids to understand how to cut through the disinformation surrounding us. Critical thinking skills are the most important thing they can learn.

Weixelman: The highest priority of education should be helping every student achieve academic excellence. In our district specifically, we need to help students increase their proficiency in reading comprehension, mathematics, and writing. The budgetary focus should be on hiring excellent teachers.

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