Friday, March 8, 2019

Local chambers combine for joint networking luncheon

by Mary Wilson

Grandview and Belton Chambers of Commerce have teamed up to provide their members a unique partnership opportunity with businesses in neighboring communities.

On Thursday, February 28, the two chambers met for a joint luncheon, where leaders from both cities shared highlights from the past year and provided insight into what’s to come in 2019. The Belton Chamber of Commerce first kicked off the idea of joining forces in 2018, with plans to meet annually. Representatives from education, economic development, business relations and city management from both Belton and Grandview presented to the chamber members.

“We are really excited of the year that we’ve had thus far,” said Dr. Andrew Underwood, Superintendent of Belton Schools. “We’ve got a great, veteran staff in Belton that is providing top-notch education for our kids.”

Underwood added that with the latest Annual Performance Report for his district being at a 92.9%, Belton continues to aim for 100%. The district is also completing a $32 million construction project at Belton High School, which will provide a 9-12 grade building.

“We’ve not been able to have that in probably the last 15 years,” said Underwood. The project is scheduled for completion in June, with opening by the 2019-20 school year.

Alexa Barton, Belton City Manager, stated that one of the very first things she accomplished upon her new position was to introduce herself to Superintendent Underwood.

“It’s been one of the best things that I’ve ever done,” said Barton. “In working with the school district, we’ve really improved those communications. I am so proud of our school district. I am so proud of our teachers and our students and all of the hard work that they’ve applied to raise our scores the way that they have.”

Barton added that the district is the City of Belton’s secret gem. The city and the district are working on a collaborative marketing plan to let visitors and interested investors know that Belton is making great strides to improve its image and is open for business. She added that with commercial development, the city is also seeing new subdivisions taking shape.

With the development of Southview Business Park, located just south of Grandview along I-49 and 155th Street, Belton’s jobs will increase by approximately 1,300, and residents will also see some infrastructure improvements. This will include a thoroughfare from 155th Street to 163rd.  Barton said that this was absolutely necessary in order to provide access to the facility.

Grandview Superintendent Dr. Kenny Rodrequez said that his district also works closely with Belton, and that Underwood serves as one of his mentors. He discussed Grandview’s three main priorities for the school year: college readiness, career readiness, and cultural competency.

“We are extremely blessed,” said Rodrequez. “This school district is one of the most amazing places that I’ve ever worked in and I’m certainly very pleased to be the superintendent.”

Rodrequez added that his district has increased ACT scores in the last three years by over a point, and as a whole scored over 90% on the state’s Annual Performance Report. His goal is to provide a path to college or career for every student in the district. The district is also seeking opportunities to work more with the community and further parent involvement.

“It’s almost cliché to say that it takes a village, but it really takes everybody,” said Rodrequez. “Our school districts cannot do this by ourselves. It benefits everybody to work together.”

For the City of Grandview, City Administrator Cemal Gungor talked about the improvements on the I-49 Outer Roads to be changed back to two-way streets, along with the splash pad groundbreaking ceremony taking place this week.

“This is not the Grandview of your mothers and fathers,” added Economic Development Consultant for the City of Grandview Troy Nash. “This is a new city with a dynamic mayor, a dynamic board of aldermen, a city administrator with a lot of energy, and a committed senior leadership team.”

Nash stated that Grandview is included in the state’s opportunity zone, which was selected by the Governor to focus on the most economically deprived and underserved parcels of land. 161 designated opportunity zones were submitted by the governor, and with Grandview being on the list, Nash said that means the city will be able to keep its share of private capital investments made in the city.

Belton will host next year’s joint luncheon with the Grandview Chamber of Commerce. For more information, follow either organization on Facebook.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Hickman Mills may have to close four schools to accommodate budget needs

by Brent Kalewi

The Hickman Mills School District has been seeking answers to cope with a $5.5 million shortfall. In the district’s effort to reach its goal, it has been leaning on the help of Florida-based MGT Consulting
The district held a public forum on Tuesday, February 12 at Smith-Hale Middle School, to allow MGT to present recommendations, which included closing four of the district’s nine elementary schools – Truman, Symington, Dobbs and Johnson. The schools were selected based on a scoring chart that graded the schools’ condition and suitability. The chart showed that seven of the district’s schools were classified as poor or unsatisfactory in the suitability category.
“Those buildings are actually serving as a barrier for educators to do the work that they are in charge of doing,” said Portia Bates of MGT Consulting Group.
A learning environment can impact student performance anywhere from 12-20 percent, according to Bates. Only one of the district buildings is currently at the 85 percent utilization rate recommended by MGT.
“Buildings that have low utilization rates really pull from your operational dollars,” Bates said.
Moving the students into fewer buildings would save the district on busing, staffing and maintenance costs, according to Bates. A demographic study showed that the district’s enrollment decreased by about 1,800 students during the last 32 years. The district’s enrollment is projected to drop from 5,773 in 2018-2019 to 4,472 in 2027.
John Sharp, a former Hickman Mills school board member, believes the projections are pessimistic, adding that residential projects and recent development of the city can help the student enrollment rate.
“I’ve always felt very positive about the district, but seeing the magnitude of these closures that have been recommended does cause me concern,” Sharp said. “To close four elementary schools sends a bad message to residents of this district. In the neighborhood I live in, I’m seeing houses being renovated that have been vacant and abandoned for 10-20 years. I don’t think we are going to keep seeing this decline in population.”
Dan Weakley, Executive Director of Operations for Hickman Mills, said the district has a fiscal responsibility to use tax dollars in the best possible way for kids. He added that the data in the demographic study is extremely important in the district’s decision-making process.
“We have had ups and downs in economic development over the last 32 years, but the one consistent thing that has happened during that time, is that enrollment has continued to decline,” Weakley said.
An additional item to consider, according to Weakley, is reducing transportation costs and providing opportunities to bring students to closer proximity to their schools.
In order to make up the other portion of the deficit, additional budget reduction recommendations by the district’s Executive Leadership Team include cutting travel costs, restructuring programs, decreasing building and district supplies, and reconfiguring grades. The cuts would equate to more than $3.3 million. The proposed grade reconfiguration plan includes moving pre-kindergarten to one building; having elementary serving students in kindergarten through fifth grade; Smith-Hale Middle School as sixth-eighth grade; and sending freshmen back to Ruskin High School.
The district reduced the budget by $2.8 million last school year, according to Superintendent Dr. Yolanda Cargile.
“The team and I have really worked in looking at how we can spend dollars in a more fiscally responsible manner because the board has challenged us,” Cargile said. “Each board member really wants to make sure that we spend our dollars in the most impactful way to serve children effectively.”
The district’s fund balance was at 8.5 percent at end of 2017-2018 school year. The fund balance for the end of 2018-2019 school year is projected at 9.1 percent. Hickman Mills’ goal is to eventually reach 15 percent.
“It’s important that everyone in this room knows that we don’t engage in this work without feelings, emotions and concern for the best interest of children.” Cargile said. “But, when you are faced with a decision where the finances are depleting and your fund balance is decreasing, you have to make those difficult decisions.”
As far as possible layoffs, Casey Klapmeyer, Associate Superintendent of Human Resources and Accountability, said no decisions have been made.
“We’re working behind the scenes in knowing staffing at each building, so that when we get to a point when we make a recommendation to the board, we’ll quickly have a turnaround time to inform staff,” Klapmeyer said. “As soon as the decisions are finalized, communicating any staffing changes that will take place will be a priority.”
School board president Wakisha Briggs said the final decisions should be made in the best interest of the district’s future, which includes hiring teachers, investing in facilities, making sure their students compete well with neighboring school districts and improving community engagement and economic development in south Kansas City.
“The number one goal for this district is to provide students with a high quality education, and we must figure out a way to stabilize our budget,” Briggs said.
Bates and district leadership emphasized that the final recommendation could be different than the one presented at the forum.
“We are not done with the options. The schools that you see proposed here may or may not be the final schools that are proposed to be closed,” Bates said.
A final recommendation is scheduled to take place at the Thursday, February 21 school board meeting that begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Smith-Hale Middle School multipurpose room, 9010 Old Santa Fe Road. The Board of Education's vote, however, will likely not take place until a special scheduled meeting on Thursday, March 7.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Grandview C-4 removes half days from 2019-20 school year

by Mary Wilson

The Grandview Board of Education typically adopts the school calendar for the following year each January without much discussion, as the overall scope of it doesn’t change year after year. However, Grandview families and teachers will see significant changes in the 2019-20 school calendar. 

“This board item is a bit lengthier than it usually is because we have a dramatic change in our calendar for next year,” said Superintendent Dr. Kenny Rodrequez during the Board of Education meeting on Thursday, January 17. “We’re looking at the removal of early release days in our district and going to full professional development days. This removes the half days and would give us more opportunities with our teachers to work with them on professional development, not just our certified staff, but our classified staff as well.”

Districts in Missouri are required to provide 1,044 hours of student attendance, with no minimum number of days. School calendars must also include 36 make-up hours for inclement weather, for a total of 1080 hours. After several input meetings from district personnel and staff and parent surveys, a proposal to move to full day professional development was considered.

“With the staff survey that we did, and we were provided a lot of input from a variety of different sources throughout our individual sites, we saw that staff is 70 percent in favor,” said Rodrequez. “The survey was also completed by district families, and 70 percent of our families were also in favor of this. I know that I have heard, since I’ve been in this district, several parents who struggle with the early release days.”

The proposed 2019-20 calendar creates eight full-day non-student attendance days, eliminating all but two half days (during parent/teacher conferences in October and the final day of school). The 175-day calendar, which the district has had for many years, provided for approximately 1,091 student attendance hours. Although the draft 2019-20 calendar exceeds the number of state required hours, five minutes will need to be added to the daily schedule in order to maintain approximately the same state funding.  Doing so provides 1092.16 hours, comparable to the current calendar.

“How adding that five minutes plays out in regards to each school’s schedule, we’ll get into that later on as we’re developing this,” said Rodrequez.

The district did its best in the calendar to keep the full days off on Fridays, providing for a long weekend for students. Non-student attendance days are designated as Professional Days. In November and April, they will fall on election days to alleviate safety concerns and disruptions to schools that are polling stations. 

“Overwhelming feedback from our sites that are polling stations was that they would rather not be in school on election days,” said Rodrequez. “It is a security risk for us, in our opinion, and it can be very disruptive.”

The calendar also includes a transition half day for incoming sixth and ninth-grade students.  All middle school and high school staff will be on site to help and support those students the day before classes officially begin on the first day of school. Elementary staff will have an additional half-day without students. The first day of school will be all day. 

The Board of Education unanimously approved the adoption of the 2019-20 school calendar with the proposed changes, and a copy of it will be available in the coming months on the district’s website.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

US Army awards Military Outstanding Volunteer Service medal to Grandview fireman

by Mary Wilson

For firefighters, community engagement can come with the territory, but one local fireman is receiving national recognition for his involvement in Grandview. Service is second nature to Grandview Fire Department Engineer Rodney Baldwin, who was recently honored by the 7456th Medical Backfill Battalion Army Unit in Des Moines, Iowa, for his work with the Grandview Assistance Program.

Baldwin also serves as Command Sergeant Major for his Army Reserves unit. On his last tour, he met Dr. Gary Morsch, co-founder of Heart to Heart International, who retired from the US Army Reserves in 2012 and has written a handful of books focused on humanitarian efforts. Morsch gave Baldwin several copies of books he authored and the two got to talking.

“Gary Sinise was doing his USSO show, and I mentioned to Morsch that I’d like to meet him. So, Gary Morsch pulls out his cell phone and calls Gary Sinise,” said Baldwin. “I was like, holy crap, you know Gary Sinise? So, I met Gary Sinise, and I read the book.”

At the time, Richards says, the Grandview Fire Department wasn’t doing much as far as community outreach or service projects. Baldwin began his career as a volunteer paramedic, and wound up working in Grandview because he thought he would see more action here. What started as a way to help his neighbors in the town he grew up in evolved into a career that makes him proud.

Knowing that his friend Morsch was able to make great things happen in his own community with the organization he started, Baldwin knew he wanted to do something here.

“I knew I couldn’t do something that great,” said Baldwin, “but I knew I could at least be doing something and be a part of the community.”

Wondering how the rest of his crew felt, he decided to go around and ask his coworkers why they joined the fire department.

“Only one guy said he did it to help the community,” said Baldwin. “I knew we needed to be a part of this community.”

The first thing he did after the deployment where he met Morsch was research Grandview and its people. Seeing a great need for mentorship with students, Baldwin wrote a program, which has since developed into the Lunch Buddies in Grandview elementary schools.

“It was going pretty well, but I then realized that there were a lot of kids that we saw who didn’t have food,” said Baldwin. “I did a little more research, and I found that about 70 percent of students in the Grandview School District are food insecure.”

Wanting to find a way to help the families he serves, Baldwin organized a food drive for the Grandview Assistance Program’s (GAP) Back Snack program in the spring. This led into another drive in the fall for holiday needs.

On December 1, 2018, Grandview Fire Chief Ron Graham traveled to Des Moines to witness Baldwin receive the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service medal, awarded for substantial volunteer service to the local community above and beyond the duties of the United States Armed Forces.

“I was talking with another guy at the ceremony who told me this is something he hardly ever sees awarded,” added Graham. “It was a really, really big deal. I didn’t even realize how big of a deal this was until I got up there.”

Baldwin added that it is an award he’s never seen given before. The impact to the community from Baldwin’s efforts is immeasurable, according to Graham. The number of backpacks filled, hours spent with children, and pounds to food donated can likely be calculated, but the lasting impression on the community is what Baldwin was recognized for.

“It was truly an honor to be there to see it. I was really proud of him,” said Graham. “With these programs, it can be hard to see what an impact you are having, but the guys just continue to go in and hope they’re making a difference.”

Graham said that volunteering on their own time can be a hard sell for his crew members, but once they go and they see that they are needed, they fall in love with it. He added that the community service aspect has become a part of the change in culture in the department, and he thanks Baldwin for his role and leadership to make a positive impact.

Baldwin is gone one weekend a month, or two weeks a year, for the Army Reserves. He works in a medical unit, where they are currently focusing on readiness processes for soldiers heading overseas. Back at home, and after seeing living circumstances in the community he works in, Baldwin has also begun other efforts to help GAP, including a coat drive.

“Giving back makes you feel good,” said Baldwin. “It’s good for our guys to see the good of what we’re doing, and it makes them feel good about themselves, too.”

To help Baldwin and the Grandview Fire Department with future coat or food drives, follow them on Facebook.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Grandview alum keeps his wheels spinning despite disease

by Brent Kalwei

Since the age of 13, Doug Bolton has dealt with symptoms of Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT), a neuromuscular disorder. CMT has paralyzed him from his knees to his toes, and from his elbows to his fingertips. However, Bolton’s disorder has not taken away his ability to fulfill his love for competing in sports.

Bolton, 41, is a 1996 Grandview High School graduate who has pushed his body to the limit by competing in a number of athletic activities. He has competed in triathlons, including the Capital of Texas Triathlon, a national event for para-athletes, which Bolton raced against athletes who qualified for the Paralympics.

“I got to race, and see how I compared to other athletes similar to me,” he said. “I was in the pool, I was running, and on my bike every day for a year working my butt off.”

Bolton occasionally uses a wheelchair in his personal life. He also wears a device called an ankle foot orthotic (AFO) to help him walk. With Bolton’s condition, he can become fatigued by overexerting.  Without his leg braces, he can walk up to about 500 feet before getting tired, adding that his braces allow him to walk about a mile without feeling completely fatigued.

Over the years, CMT has progressed to the point where it has affected Bolton’s ability to work. He said he can still write, but added that it’s difficult to type.

Bolton loves biking so much that he participated in Biking Across Kansas (BAK) seven times. BAK is an eight-day bicycle tour across the Sunflower State.

He has also taken part in Ride the Rockies, a six-day cross state tour of Colorado. Bolton still enjoys
occasionally riding his bike about 100 miles on the Katy Trail from Pleasant Hill to Windsor. With no feeling below his knees, riding a bicycle is a challenge for Bolton.

“This affects the power that I have going uphill,” he said. “I cannot stand safely. I have to be careful  on how hard I push myself, so I don’t break down the muscles further.”

Bolton’s feet are clipped into foot pedals while riding his bicycle.

“If I don’t have pedals that keep my foot in place, my feet just flop off,” he said.

Bolton also enjoys swimming. He competed on the Grandview swim team from 1993-1996.

“Swimming has always been something that I’ve done to help me stay competitive, and also to keep my health up,” he said.

Bolton has also competed in cyclocross, which is raced on a circuit spanning one to two miles.
“You’re in the grass, in the mud and in the rocks. You have to dismount and climb hills and jump over barriers,” Bolton said.

In October 2017, Bolton made the decision to participate in his first team sport activity. He joined the Kansas City Revolution Wheelchair Rugby Club, playing games at the Hy-Vee Center, formerly known as Kemper Arena.

“Since day one, he has always been a hard worker,” said Brad Hudspeth, a KC Revolution player/coach. “He’s done a lot of training with head coach Tony Durham and me, outside of just our one practice a week to really help himself get in rugby shape.”

Hudspeth added that Bolton brings a positive attitude to the team.

“If you’re having a bad game or not liking how the weekend is going as far as your own personal play, he is always there to tell you that you are doing a good job,” Hudspeth said. “He may also point out what he sees that you can be working on.”

Bolton’s interest in the sport began after meeting a man at a bike store, who was getting a tire changed on his wheelchair rugby chair.

“I started asking questions,” Bolton said.

He instantly fell in love with wheelchair rugby after deciding to give the sport a try.

“Playing the game requires every ounce of my ability and brain function,” he said. “It is the most rewarding thing that I’ve ever had when I get the ball, do something right, and we score.”

According to Bolton, players who participate in the sport have disabilities such as a spinal cord injury, amputations or neurological disorders. Although traditional rugby and wheelchair rugby share a similar name, the two sports are quite different.

“The only similarity between rugby and wheelchair rugby is the aggressiveness,” Bolton said. “It’s 100 percent effort the entire time. Think of soccer, think of hockey and think of basketball when it comes to wheelchair rugby. There is a lot of the same strategy in comparison to those sports.”

Bolton said each wheelchair rugby chair costs $5,000 to $10,000. He raised about $1,000 to buy his and paid for the rest out of pocket.

“I also sold a bunch of my personal belongings to buy this wheelchair to be able to play,” he said. “I made some sacrifices to play.”

The Kansas City Revolution used money raised to play in a national tournament called the Wheelchair Rugby Metal and Muscle Tournament from Friday, December 7 through Sunday, December 9, in Houston, Texas. Bolton only played a few games, but he was proud of getting the opportunity to compete on the national stage.

“It allowed me to be validated for all the training I did over the last year,” Bolton said.

He enjoys participating in wheelchair rugby, because the sport allows him to be around other people with disabilities.

“It’s just a pure joy to get them out on the floor and let them hit someone. The smile is something amazing,” he said. “It’s like the very first time you tackle someone playing a football game.”

One of Bolton’s favorite memories of the sport came in his first practice with the Revolution.

“At the end of practice, one of the big guys and I started at opposite ends and hit each other at midcourt,” he said. “That was my addiction point.”

Bolton’s eagerness to compete has allowed him to travel to new places and meet many para-athletes along the way. He likes hearing stories about how other para-athletes deal with their disabilities and he enjoys sharing his story. Bolton urges others with disabilities to never give up on their dream of playing sports.

“If you’re motivated after an accident, and if you are willing to put in the time and effort, it’s going to be rewarding,” he said. “Going and pushing your boundary, and learning what you can actually do to play a sport are huge.”

Bolton is always looking forward to his next athletic challenge. His goal in the next year or two is to compete in the Redman half Ironman Aquabike event in Oklahoma, which is a 1.2 mile swim and a 56-mile bike ride.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Grandview McDonald’s owner retires, restaurant sold

by Mary Wilson

Back in 1988, young entrepreneur Ty Yano opened his first McDonald’s restaurant in Grandview, Missouri, after moving to the area from California. Since that time, Yano has acquired a dozen more restaurants, and has sold a countless number of hamburgers and French fries to the communities surrounding his stores.

Believing in promotion from within, Yano has provided employment and advancement opportunities for his crew. Many began their careers under Yano’s direction, working their way up to management positions in the company.

“So did I,” said Yano. “I worked my way up, too.”

In recognition of owning and operating the McDonald’s restaurant in Grandview for 30 years, Mayor Leonard Jones and the Board of Aldermen presented Yano with a proclamation during their meeting on Tuesday, November 27. As he was preparing for retirement and more time to enjoy his family, Yano sold each of his restaurants.

“Thirty years have gone by very, very quickly,” said Yano. “I understand this thanking, but I’m the one who should be thanking the city. They accepted me thirty years ago and with that one store, I now have thirteen. It's a blessing.”

“Ty has been very instrumental here in Grandview,” said Jones. “Of the 13 McDonald’s restaurants he owned, Grandview McDonald’s on Blue Ridge was his first. Because of the success of that one, he was able to open up 12 more, which is a blessing by itself.”

Over the last three decades, Yano has been a generous community supporter, with financial donations going toward many area nonprofits including the Grandview Education Foundation and Grandview Assistance Program.  He has provided support for Music on Main and Harry’s Hay Days, to name a few.

“We want to say thank you for all you’ve done and, if you know anything about Ty, you know he’s been very faithful in helping support the community,” said Jones. “Ty has given back to the community over and over again.”

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Creators of impactful fundraiser in Hickman Mills honored

by Mary Wilson,

The Hickman Mills Educational Foundation recognized two outstanding alums on Friday, November 2, at their annual gala fundraiser. Mark Launiu, a 2007 graduate of Hickman Mills High School, and AbdulRasheed Yahaya, a 2006 graduate from Ruskin High School, teamed up to host a basketball fundraiser last August called “Play It Forward,” in which former Hickman Mills and Ruskin students competed, raising funds for school supplies.

Launiu went on to graduate from Longview and attended Kansas State University. He is cofounder and co-owner of MADE Urban Apparel, and is also the founder of Kritiq Fashion Show in Kansas City. Yahaya also attended Kansas State, where he studied Computer Information Systems. He is the owner of Local Legends Gaming.

As a child, Launiu moved to California from Hawaii, and ended up in Kansas City by accident when an aunt from Indiana said she was tired and made a pit-stop with the trailer.
“’What do you think about moving to Kansas City?’ she asked. So, here I am, right in front of you in Kansas City,” said Launiu. “I went to Dobbs Elementary School, Ervin Middle School, and graduated from Hickman Mills.”

His clothing company, MADE Urban Apparel, recently opened their second location in Kansas City, and his products are carried and sold in retailers internationally. Launiu’s wife is a teacher at Ervin.
“Everything I do is brought right back to this community,” said Launiu. “None of this I would have been able to accomplish if it wasn’t for this district.”

Yahaya attended Symington Elementary, Smith-Hale Middle School, and graduated from Ruskin.
“Mark and I met briefly at K-State, and it’s crazy how the world works and we’ve circled back around and get closer and closer,” said Yahaya.

His company, Local Legends Gaming, hosts a slew of competitive games all around the Kansas City area. It began with a mobile gaming truck one year ago, and Yahaya is currently in the middle of a 5000-square-foot build-out of a gaming center, opening in mid-December in Westport. His wife also works in education, and is an administrator at Longview Community College.

“This idea Mark had really hit home for me,” said Yahaya. “Being a product of the Hickman Mills School District, it is really great to be part of something that allows me to give back. Year after year, teachers reach in their own pockets to provide for their students. That’s the reason I wanted to be a part of this. Even if I couldn’t fork it out of my own pocket, I can use my resources to generate something with an impact.”

“Play It Forward” was inspired by Launiu’s wife, who had a DonorsChoose funding page asking for help with getting students in the Hickman Mills district what they need to be successful in the classroom. Each time, Launiu paid each project off to give back to the community he was raised in. He then decided he would like to do something for the district on a bigger scale and make a larger impact.

“I wanted to help out every teacher in the district,” said Launiu. “If my wife needed help, I was sure everyone needed help. I know what it’s like growing up in south Kansas City and being very limited.”
The charity game raised enough money to fill around 300 book bags with supplies, which were distributed at the beginning of the school year to students from all schools in the district.

“I alone can’t change the perception of what people think south Kansas City is,” said Launiu. “But, I want the change to start in the classrooms.”

Launiu and Yahaya intend to make the “Play It Forward” charity basketball game an annual event.