Blue Valley Board of Education Candidates

There are six candidates running for three positions on the Blue Valley Board of Education.

Megan Yates , Editor-In-Chief

Stacy Obringer-Varhall, Michele Benjamin and Mike Seitz’s terms on the Blue Valley Board of Education are up, and there are six candidates running to replace them. Early voting began today and regular voting will occur on Tuesday, November 2.  BVNWnews reached out to each candidate to gather more information on them. So far, three of the six have responded and we will update as we receive more responses. Three candidates are endorsed by Stand Up Blue Valley, a non-partisan organization of parents and community stakeholders in the Blue Valley area. To find out more, visit the official Johnson County election website. Here are the six questions we asked each candidate: 

  1. Why did you decide to run for a position on the Blue Valley Board of Education?
  2. What do you like about the Blue Valley School District?
  3. What needs to be changed/improved within the Blue Valley School District?
  4. If elected, what will be your top priority?
  5. What would you say to seniors in high school who are eligible to vote for you? 
  6. Why should members of the Blue Valley community vote for you

Here are their responses as well as additional information:

Kaety Bowers is running for Board Position 4.

  1. I’ve lived in the district for 12 years and have six kids, all of whom have either graduated from or are attending Blue Valley Schools. I feel like the district has drastically changed in the past 5 years and isn’t serving our students like it has historically. I would love to develop a tangible plan that allows us to anticipate and embrace change.
  2. I like knowing my kids are safe when I drop them off and that they genuinely have teachers who care about their well-being. I love what level of education potential we have here and our ability to adapt to change as it inevitably emerges. We have so many opportunities in this district.
  3. After talking with a senior analyst at the Kansas State Department of Education, I learned that we have about one in five students below grade level for reading and math in our high schools. While one student is too many, 20% is unacceptable. I want to make sure that we’re giving all of you all of the tools you need after you graduate. I also want to foster unity between our community. We’ve got to come together if we are to move onward and upward.
  4. My top priority if elected is clearing enough space to focus on 90% proficiencies in math and reading so that we can prepare our kids to succeed in post-secondary school. As that looks different for every individual, (trade schools, college or immediate job placement) we have a very big job ahead of us. Giving our district a more community-like feel is extremely important to me. 
  5. I would humbly say that my hat goes off to you. By the time you graduate you’ll have navigated about two years of a pandemic during what could be described as some of the most stressful times in your young life. What you’ve been expected to give up isn’t lost on me. Research the candidates and reach out to them if you have questions! They will answer you. Voting is both a right and a privilege and I hope that you exercise your right at every chance.  
  6. As we both seek and admire diversity in our schools, I believe that I offer a new set of eyes to serve on the board. I’m not a politician and I’m not a typical candidate; I’m a tattoo artist who grew up in poverty and fought hard to offer my first child a great education and safe place to grow up. Now that I have six kiddos, the youngest being 6, I want more than ever to see our district continue to succeed.

Andrew Van Der Laan. He is running for Board Position 4 and is endorsed by Stand Up Blue Valley. 

1.I’ve always been a supporter of our schools, as a classroom volunteer and a PTO member and officer, and a supporter of students, as a long time volunteer for organizations that create opportunities for young people. And as someone with an economics degree, I always think a lot about the return on the time I invest; I really want to make a difference. In my role with Scouts BSA, I get to work with kids one hour a week, maybe another day or two a month if they camp. With the Coterie Theatre, maybe it’s four or five hours in a year. And with Boys’ State, it’s only one week out of their entire life. I finally decided that if I really wanted to make a difference, I should run for the Board. Because if I believe in creating opportunities for young people, what better place to do so than in the schools that educate kids for nine months of the year, five days a week, eight hours a day?
2.First and foremost, I appreciate the fantastic teachers all three of my kids have had at every grade level; I am so impressed by their skill, their professionalism, and how much they care about their students. Second, I believe students in the district are getting an excellent education, one that will prepare them for life beyond Blue Valley. And third, I really appreciate how the community supports the schools, with countless donations of money and time – as long as I have lived here, this has always been a community that shows up for its schools.
3. First, our district is only as good as our teachers, they are by far our most valuable assets. Every bit of research I’ve seen indicates that teachers are the single most important factor in determining student learning outcomes. It is crucial that we continue to recruit, train, and retain excellent teachers. Second, I would like to see a continued focus on experiential learning. In early elementary that might be working with physical counters while learning math, and in later elementary grades it could be a hands-on science lesson about erosion. In middle school it might be a mock doctor’s visit to share information about diseases that students have researched, or a Shark Tank style competition around business ideas for a math class. And the district already offers so many great experiential learning opportunities in high school, between the CAPS program, the Career Ready program with Johnson County Community College, and the new Fire Science program, to name a few. Third, I want to make sure the district continues to fulfill its mission statement of helping ALL students achieve their potential. Whether students have an IEP, play sports, need support from a paraprofessional, have a 504, are aiming at a competitive college, participate in extracurriculars, have mental health challenges, want to attend junior college, have learning challenges, are in advanced classes, want to learn vocational and technical skills, or some combination of the above, they all deserve opportunities to learn and grow and succeed.
4. Even before the pandemic, the district has struggled to effectively communicate about goals, strategies, and changes in our schools. We certainly saw this during the pandemic, but this issue predated COVID; anyone who remembers the changes to middle school electives a few years ago remembers the confusion and protests that ensued. And a recent customer assessment survey confirmed this, noting that 73% of BVSD patrons got their news about the district from friends and neighbors instead of directly from the district. This issue is serious because it undermines the good work the district does every day. Patrons don’t feel like they understand the district’s goals for their kids, and residents worry that property taxes are being misspent. In truth, the district is doing an excellent job of educating our kids. The district needs to communicate through as many channels as possible (website, social media, print media, letters, and most importantly town halls) so that BVSD residents feel connected to the decisions being made about our students. And specifically regarding the board, I’d like to see the board workshops broadcast on YouTube, just like the board meetings. Those workshops, held the Monday morning before each board meeting, are where a lot of the work happens and where decisions are made. They are open to the public now, and I think an online option would allow even more people to check in on how the Board of Education is running our schools.
5. First, congratulations on voting for the first time. Whether you vote for me or not, the most important thing is that you go and vote! We talk a lot about the right to vote, and I hope you’ll also see it as a responsibility. Voting is how your voice as a citizen is heard, so go to the polls and speak up!
6. When I talk to voters, I ask them to consider both my professional and volunteer experience. In my corporate career, I’ve led teams of diverse stakeholders with differing viewpoints in large organizations; I’ve been successful in tackling complicated problems by finding common ground. And along the way, I’ve developed a lot of finance and operations expertise that will be relevant to the district’s operations. My volunteer experience for the last three decades has been focused on creating opportunities for young people. I’m involved in leadership positions with Scouts BSA, the Coterie Theatre in Crown Center, and American Legion Boys State. And I sit on two Board of Education committees, as well as staying involved with my local schools and PTOs. I also would highlight that I have prior board experience with the Coterie Theatre, and I understand the role of a board member. And ultimately, I think patrons of the district want someone with a consistent track record of showing up for kids.

Christine White is running for Board Position 5. She has dropped out of the race, however her name will still appear on the ballot.

Gina Knapp is running for Board Position 5. Knapp is endorsed by Stand Up Blue Valley. 

  1. I explored running a couple of years ago, after being encouraged by a patron who heard me speak passionately about special education in general, not just at Blue Valley.  As the time to consider running came around again this year, I decided it was time for me to make my voice heard and go for it.
  2. ​I love the sense of belonging and community that we have, the feeling of partnership and collaboration with our great principals, teachers and administrators, and of course the exceptional education that is provided to students, making us a premier district, not just locally, but nationally.
  3. Improvements: I know that at a district level communication could be improved. It is critical that our DEI initiative creates change and enhances the experiences of ALL students to feel safe, supported and included in the success of our district. I believe we could reimagine how we administer our special education services by collaborating with other districts locally and around the country (similar to our middle school study). 
  4. Free Ice Cream for all High Schoolers!!! (just kidding)  My top priority if elected is to concentrate on pandemic learning loss and mental health.  This has been an EXTREMELY difficult year for everyone and students, especially in high school, are dealing with overcoming missing out on so much curriculum that builds on itself, potentially impacting college acceptance, and more.  The stress and anxiety is overwhelming.  We must keep this front of mind.
  5. I am running for school board to ensure this district continues its upper trajectory of success not just for one year and on one issue, but for the next 4 years and beyond. You, our Seniors, have set the bar higher than ever before.  You are teaching the underclassmen about grit, strength, and resilience by achieving at new heights, despite spending parts of your Sophomore, Junior, and now Senior years in a pandemic.  You are the epitome of what makes Blue Valley great.  It would be my honor to serve you and this district.
  6. I am running for school board because I know the kids of today turn in to the leaders of tomorrow.  I began my career in banking, but soon realized my passions and talents were better matched working in the non-profit sector. For over ten years, I have worked in organizations focused on serving youth, all emphasizing positive development, the importance of mental health, and the ability of our youth to change the world. I am privileged to have been a part of teams that are truly making a difference in the lives of our children and am excited to bring my experience to the Blue Valley Board of Education. My three children attend Blue Valley schools and I am proud to say that I am the mother of a special education student, an athlete, a scholar, a musician, and an artist. I have cried at the desks of principals, begging for additional help, and have cried tears of joy and pride as I watched my children succeed. With my youngest having just starting middle school this fall, I have a vested interest in making sure a Blue Valley education remains world-class not only for my children, but for all our children, now and in the future.

Lindsay Weiss. She is running for Board Position 6. Weiss is endorsed by Stand Up Blue Valley. 

  1. I’m running to keep Blue Valley great — to ensure we have Board representatives who have experience working in and for our schools. I have lived in Blue Valley for 15 years and have kids at each level (elementary, middle and high school). I’ve spent 10+ years volunteering at the classroom, PTO and district level — not because I ever intended to run for the Board — but because our family truly loves Blue Valley. My husband and I both own small businesses here and we know that great public schools are the heart of a community. I want to make sure our representative has the experience to know where we’ve been, where we’re going, and the context to know what we’re doing well and what can be improved upon.
  2. I love how solid we are academically — consistently ranked #1 in Kansas and in the top 100 in the country. I love that we embrace an “all means ALL” philosophy of welcoming any student and can provide depth and breadth of programming to help them succeed. I love the community spirit we have — especially this year when we are all just so happy to be back at football games, having Homecoming dances and watching live theatre and music. I love seeing you all do what YOU love!
  3. We still have some work to do academically, specifically with our reading and math proficiency. Even though we’re #1 in Kansas, there’s still room for improvement. I think we also have room for improvement in our diversity initiatives and in our overall district communication strategy.
  4. Our top priority has to be recovering from pandemic-related learning loss. We are just beginning to get a handle on how significant it is, and the Board will be responsible for oversight on the plans to catch our students up. I am also a huge advocate for bridging this divide our community has and promoting a culture of community pride and spirit.  I am proud to be part of the Five Schools, One Family initiative in the BVSW area that brings all our elementary schools, our middle school and high school together to connect our community and would love to help all our high school feeders do the same!
  5. I would say your vote is especially important, because you are living what we do each day. Ask the candidates questions — you are our favorite people to hear from! Make sure your chosen candidate has some experience in our schools, does more listening than talking, and puts the well-being of students before anything when making decisions.
  6. I’m not a politician, just a mom and business-owner who loves Blue Valley and has been willing to put in the time over the years to contribute to our success. I’m not running because I’m mad about a single issue, but rather because my 10+ years of experience have given me great context to see what we’re doing well and what we can improve upon. I want us to continue to be great, but push ourselves to be even better!

Jim McMullen is running for Board Position 6.

  1. I actually was first prompted to run after I read this article in the Blue Valley Northwest school newspaper about the removal of four works of literature (To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, Huckleberry Finn, and Tom Sawyer). https://bvnwnews.com/news/2020/09/25/blue-valley-removes-four-books-from-course-curriculum-due-to-racial-concerns/ This was a terrible decision by the Blue Valley administration, and it made me furious. I’m glad we had student journalists there to expose this censorship.
  2. I love our teachers, our tradition of excellence, and our commitment to innovation. 
  3. We need to greatly enhance our commitment to advanced literacy (reading, writing, and public speaking) for all students, regardless of being enrolled in honors or non-honors classes. This is especially important in the social media age for the next generation who are growing up with constant interaction on social media. 
  4. What I have described in #4 will be my top priority. We need to step up our game on literacy for all our students. 
  5. Ten and 20 years from now, many of you will be parents with your own kids in the Blue Valley schools … this election will help determine what the schools look like when your own kids are in school. Study the issues closely and then get out to vote!
  6. I am the only candidate who is articulating the critical importance of advanced literacy for all our students. We must think differently and creatively if we are to ensure our continued excellence. The world is changing rapidly. We must be thoughtful about developing the next generation of leaders.  The best candidate to lead that charge is Jim McMullen!