By Kathy Feist
Four candidates compete for two three-year seats available on Center School District’s Board of Education.
Rebecca Lahann, the incumbent in the race, graduated from Stephens College in Columbia with a theater degree, but for the past 19 years has been a human resources manager for the city in its Education and Development Division. She and her husband have three children who have attended four of Center’s seven schools. Lahann says her human resource skills and board experience helps the new board. “I understand how we got here and that’s important.” Lahann believes Center will have to address the achievement gap resulting from the pandemic mandates, noting, “Many kids struggled in the virtual environment.” She feels the tight-knit school district must find opportunities to come back together and heal from the past year. She would also like to push students to prepare beyond high school. She says that while the past year has been a difficult one, exciting groundwork has been laid down, such as a new curriculum for the elementary and middle schools, a Trauma Smart program, and racial equity conversations.
Julie Kramschuster, a retired Center School District teacher, hopes to fill her husband’s seat on the board. Paul Kramschuster is stepping down after serving three years. He participated in ousting former Superintendent Sharon Nibbelink, who struggled with teacher and staff relations. Julie, who has a master’s in math, a graduate degree in law and a teaching certificate, has taught at Rockhurst University, UMKC and high schools in Blue Springs and Lee’s Summit as well as Center High. She retired in 2019 after her daughter graduated from Center. She would like to see the school district return to its former glory when it ranked among the top districts in the state less than 10 years ago. “From 2016 to 2019 performance and academic concerns moved in the wrong direction,” she says. She plans to support new superintendent Yolanda Cargyle, whom she believes can turn that around. She feels the board needs to address the high rate of teacher turnover. “Two-thirds of the staff in place in 2017 are no longer there,” she says, attributing the situation to micromanaging and lack of respect for teachers by the administration. “It’s become a toxic environment.” Julie says she brings a collaborative personality to the board, adding, “I find value in all voices.” Know your Center School District School Board candidates 2021Four candidates compete for two three-year seats available on Center School District’s Board of Education.
Kathleen “Katie” Ramel is a former Center School District teacher who quit to raise her two sons, ages 3 and 2. Ramel was raised in the Center School District but attended Lee’s Summit Schools where her mother taught. She was a paramedic for 12 years while studying for her bachelor’s in education at UMKC. She is concerned with the recent academic decline at Center. “We’ve gone from accredited with distinction to accredited,” she says. Her solution is to go back to smaller class sizes. “Smaller class sizes allow teachers to create a close relationship with their students. When working in an urban school, that relationship with a teacher is everything.” As teaching positions began to get cut from the budget in 2014, class sizes began to grow. A decline in academic achievement followed. Teachers are slowly being added back, she says, admitting, “It’s a very expensive priority.” Her other priority is fiscal. “The district needs to be more prudent with their spending,” she says. She believes her strength as a former teacher on the school board is that she has seen how policy decisions affect students.
Bryce Shields, while not a Center School District graduate, has strong ties to the area. His grandfather, William Brandt, served on the board of education and his mother and her siblings are alumni. He and his wife moved to the area four years ago. Shields states he is running as a “citizen at large.” Shields graduated from Missouri State University and has a master’s in professional science from Colorado State University. He is a deputy director for the Community and Government Relations Department at the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority and believes his analytical and managerial skills will benefit the board. “I tend to think long-term on solutions, putting off immediate satisfaction for greater gain.” Shields says he is big on universal Pre-K. “Studies regularly show that kids with quality Pre-K exceed well beyond kindergarten and even into 5th and 6th grade.” He is passionate about boosting Center’s post-high school preparedness plan. “I want to make sure students are graduating with a plan, whether that’s a university, technical school or community college” he says. Shields favors competitive salaries that will draw teachers to work and live in the district, and adequate planning time and administrative support for teachers.