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Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

USD 259 school board candidates discuss teacher shortages, classroom content, more at forum

Three USD 259 school board candidates came to Hubbard Hall on Wednesday evening to take questions and discuss their plans to improve Wichita public schools, if elected.

Melody McCray-Miller, a former teacher and state representative running for the at-large seat, Ngoc Vuong, a graduate teaching and research assistant at Wichita State running in District 3, and Stan Reeser, a candidate for re-election in District 4, attended the forum. 

Ken Carpenter (District 3), Jason Carmichael (District 4) and Brent Davis (at-large) were not present.

The forum was moderated by Student Body Vice President Sophie Martins and hosted by Loud Light; The Wichita Beacon; the League of Women Voters; Student Engagement, Advocacy, and Leadership; and the Shockers Vote! Coalition.

The candidates took turns answering a mix of pre-written and audience questions.

Teacher shortages

The candidates first spoke on their plans to address teacher shortages and retention.

Reeser said teacher retention is “the number one question this year.” He gave three solutions: provide teachers more public advocacy, mental health support specifically designed for teachers and increasing pay.

Vuong also brought up priorities for teacher retention, including standing in solidarity with teachers’ unions, paying student teachers, improving housing incentives and recognizing and rewarding teachers who stay for a long time.

McCray-Miller focused on diversity, saying that “our teachers need to look like our students.” She also mentioned a teacher apprenticeship program that would pair veteran teachers with new ones.

Content in classrooms and libraries

The candidates were then asked whether school board members should have a say in classroom and library content and whether they believe some content should be omitted.

Vuong had a one-sentence answer: “Fuck no to censorship.”

Reeser highlighted the process that exists currently and the importance of content decisions being made by professionals, community members and teachers rather than “one person with a particular viewpoint” making an emotional decision.

McCray-Miller agreed with Reeser, saying that the current process works. She concluded by saying, “No, I’m not about banning books, either.”

Behavior and attendance

Candidates also shared what role the school board should play in increasing good behavior and attendance.

McCray-Miller emphasized the importance of involving parents in these discussions.

“The community has to get engaged,” McCray-Miller said. “We can’t do this as just a school district. We can’t do this as just a school board.”

Reeser said that in middle and high schools, discipline should focus on “restorative practices.” He explained that students should have to accept responsibility for their behavior and come up with a “plan of action.”

“Believe me, students fear that more than they fear a three-day or three-week suspension,” Reeser said. “The toughest lesson we all have to learn in life is to accept responsibility.”

Vuong said that these issues don’t exist in a vacuum, and solutions must focus on broader issues, such as economic inequality, mental health and substance abuse.

“Our schools do not exist in a vacuum,” Vuong said. “The very nature of learning is impacted by systemic issues in our society.”

Protecting marginalized students

The candidates were asked what the school board could do to protect students of color and LGBTQ+ students from bullying and harassment.

Reeser said that he “led the fight” to strengthen the non-discrimination policy of USD 259.

“You have to have a strong policy,” Reeser said. “And when it’s challenged, you have to have board members who are strong enough to say, ‘This is the policy that we are going to follow.’”

Vuong promised that he would put his political career and future aspirations aside to protect all students.

“I will do the right thing, even if it means losing my job as a school board member,” Vuong said.

McCray-Miller highlighted the importance of having respect for all students, regardless of race or identity.

“It’s not to me about losing anything but my dignity if I can’t stand for every single child that walks into our buildings, and I will consistently do that,” McCray-Miller said.

Priority issues

The candidates were asked to speak on an issue they would prioritize that others are not talking about.

Vuong said that he is concerned with sleep deprivation among students. He said that he would encourage good sleep habits and hygiene and would be open to a conversation about school start times in the future.

“At some point, we may have to take even bolder decisions, even if it means standing against economic interests,” Vuong said.

McCray-Miller talked about the demographic makeup of the school board and teaching staff.

“If you don’t have the lived experiences of those that you are teaching, then you’re going to be challenged,” McCray-Miller said.

Reeser explained that he is concerned with a rise in artificial intelligence and misinformation.

“We even have board members that fall for the misinformation stuff,” Reeser said. “You have to develop critical thinking skills.”

Cell phone policy

The candidates were asked if they agree with the cell phone policy passed in August by the school board that requires elementary and middle school students to store phones away at all times and high schoolers to put phones away during class.

All three speakers expressed agreement with the new restrictions. Vuong said that students’ relationships with technology and social media harm their attention spans and memory.

“It goes back to the point of, how can we work more intentionally with you all in addressing some of those more upstream, underlying issues that affect education in so many ways that we don’t even realize,” Vuong said.

McCray-Miller explained that she was surprised by the support from young parents over the restrictions and said that she would like to revisit phone usage by teachers during class periods.

School overcrowding

Candidates also shared how they would address overcrowding in schools. All of the responses included solutions involving allowing more students to transfer around the city.

Vuong said that while he opposes school vouchers, he could support the creation of a new collective magnet school that students could transfer to.

Reeser said the board is going to have to make some “tough decisions” because buildings are aging, some schools are overutilized, and some are underutilized. He cautioned those trying to “fit a political ideology” when talking about overcrowding.

“If you are in it strictly for political reasons, then you will not have a clear mind on how you make those decisions,” Reeser said. “I think my record shows that I’m willing to make tough decisions, and I’m willing to be unpopular if it has to be that way.”

Support from the state legislature

An audience member asked what support the candidates would ask for from the state legislature.

Reeser and McCray-Miller said that the state legislature should provide more funding for special education funding. Kansas law requires the state to fund 92% of the excess costs of special education incurred by local agencies, but the state government has failed to meet this requirement for more than a decade.

“Wichita is a hub for special education,” Reeser said. “We have children coming from southeast Kansas, from northwest Kansas. We have a program for the hard of hearing, visually impaired, and they bring their children down to Wichita.”

Opponents not showing up

Throughout the event, the speakers took jabs at their opponents for not attending the forum.

When answering a question about how they would support district staff, Vuong pointed out that the three candidates on stage showed up to the forum to take accountability and answer questions.

“When I’m elected, I’m probably going to make a lot of mistakes along the way,” Vuong said. “So my ask for our school employees is, please, hold us accountable because at the end of the day, we work for you. It’s not the other way around.”

In the final audience question of the day, the candidates were asked to comment on their opponents not attending the forum. McCray-Miller called it “disrespectful” to not take questions.

“If you want to represent a public, I would think that you would have the sense to show up,” McCray-Miller said.

Reeser said that he prides himself on talking to anybody, even those who disagree with him on core issues.

“When somebody comes along and is outside of your bubble and gives you a different perspective, even if you end up still disagreeing with them or disliking them even more, I think it’s things that have to be said,” Reeser said.

Early voting for the general election began on Oct. 23 and will continue until Nov. 6 at noon. Election Day is on Nov. 7.

For more information on voting times and locations, visit www.sedgwickcounty.org/elections.

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About the Contributors
Jacob Unruh
Jacob Unruh, Assistant Sports Editor
Jacob Unruh is the assistant sports editor for The Sunflower. He is a junior at Wichita State, majoring in journalism and minoring in political science. This is Unruh's first year on staff. He goes by he/him pronouns.
Garima thapa
Garima thapa, Photographer
Garima Thapa is a second-year photographer for The Sunflower.

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