by Debbie Coleman-Topi
Four candidates are on the ballot for three open seats on the Platte County R-3 School District's Board of Education, where voters will choose members in the Tuesday, April 4 election.
Two newcomers, Gwendolyn J. Cooke and Buffy Smith, are facing long-time members and incumbents Lenora Miles, who joined the board in 2011, and current board president Sharon Sherwood, who was first elected in 2008.
Another incumbent, Julie Vanover, did not file as a candidate.
The three members elected will serve with others who were earlier elected to the seven-member board, which reviews, amends, and adopts policies that govern the operation of the district. Board members serve three-year terms during at-large elections and there are no limits on the number of times members can serve.
Buffy Smith already believes the school district is doing a great job educating students, but is concerned with ensuring that the district makes sound fiscal decisions as they manage growth. Smith currently serves as a member of the Long-Range Facility Plan Task Force and previously served on the Boundary Adjustment Committee.
As a school board member, she hopes not only to help prepare students for future district growth, but also to create students who will be competitive in a quickly-changing technological world.
Smith, who has a kindergartner who attends school in the district and a younger child who will attend school in a few years, believes she has a special interest in the district's future and is concerned with guiding district growth and changes while being mindful of the investment of taxpayer dollars.
“I see what's going on every day with my daughter who's in kindergarten,” she said. “They are (current board members) doing a good job, but if we're looking at growth and future planning, we have to do it conservatively with the mindset of getting current debt under control.”
Gwendolyn J. Cooke has served as deputy superintendent of a district in Ohio and the Kansas City School District and was the Director of Urban Schools for the National Association of Secondary School Principals. “I didn't realize the hot water I was stepping into,” she said of her two years working in the Kansas City School District. “But, I take every experience and make an apple out of it—make a way out of no way.”
She is interested in increasing the diversity on the board. Cooke decided to run for the board after reading that minority students' academic performance was not satisfactory and “will help move the district forward in academic achievement for all enrolled students.”
Cooke, who said she has lived in Platte County for the past 13 years, believes strategic planning committees should include business partners, professors at post-secondary institutions, advocacy groups, elected local leaders and “think tank” consultants.
In addition, Cooke said she plans to address “issues of transparency regarding expenditure of funds for district initiatives” as she read about in a recent issue of The Landmark. “My experiences have prepared me to digest, pose questions and drill down to facts which will inform my approach to decision-making…”
Sharon Sherwood has served on the board for the past nine years and has been the board president for the past four years. She believes that her 24-year career as an educator, including positions as an elementary music teacher and elementary school principal, has helped her become a successful board member.
In addition, Sherwood has served on several Missouri School Improvement Teams for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, which is tasked with determining accreditation for area schools. Sherwood is a Platte County district graduate and has four grandchildren who are either graduates or attending Platte County schools. Sherwood also has worked as a Missouri Accelerated Schools Coach and as a member of the Basic Schools Regional Network Advisory Board, is a grant writer and has experience in developing and implementing curriculum, instruction and assessments and with fund allocations, budgeting, supervision and evaluations of federal funding programs.
She listed as district challenges: managing resources, growth, class size, safety, student achievement and maintaining quality staff as issues facing the district.
“Ultimately, the board of education, administration, staff, students, parents, and patrons of the community must become partners in keeping our schools viable and successful,” she stated.
She listed appropriate and relevant professional development as a key to reaching goals of student achievement. “We cannot ask teachers to do something new or different without providing the tools,” she said.
Sherwood added that school board members face special challenges. “Having the ability to act on issues that are in the best interest of the district, while those actions are occasionally met with negative reactions from a few, takes courage. I possess that courage and determination because I understand what we are doing, and how we are doing it, and why we are doing it.”
Lenora Miles said her 35 years as an educator, coupled with her seven years of experience on the board, combine to make her a strong candidate for re-election to the board. She said her grandfather first instilled in her the importance of education as “freedom from the state of ignorance.”
Miles taught in the district for 19 years, where she served as chair of the English department at the high school and was a member of a committee charged with planning for the district's future, which the current board also is involved with and identifies the strategic challenges, advantages and target objectives.
Miles said as a member of the board, she is accustomed to working with administrators and the community in creating an “improvement action plan” for the district's next phase and that all involved are not only planning for, but, also embracing district growth.
Two of her three children graduated from the district and three of her five grandchildren attend school in the district. She enjoys attending regional school board meetings where she hears updates from state legislators while also providing them with feedback. She attends conferences of the Missouri School Boards Association (MSBA), where attendees learn about proposed legislation and educational trends. She serves as a voting delegate who represents the Platte County School District at MSBA meetings.
“I feel that my unique qualification is being a teacher…and that having an educator on the school board is valuable,” Miles stated in an email. “I know the value of working with the administration and other school board members. Education changes, the future career market changes, needs change.”