Thursday, February 6, 2020

Candidates File for April Elections

by Mary Wilson


The deadline for those interested in filing for local elected positions was last week, and those who wish to serve on school boards or city council in Grandview have made their first move in what will be a few months of campaigning.

Grandview’s Board of Aldermen has three positions open, one in each of the three wards. Each ward has multiple candidates for the positions. In Ward 1, incumbent Sandy Kessinger has decided to step down from service to the City of Grandview. Former Alderman Debbie Bibbs, who resigned from the position in September of 2016 due to health issues, has filed again for Kessinger’s seat, along with resident Tom McBride.

“Serving on the Board of Aldermen has been one of the most educational and gratifying activities of my adult life,” said Kessinger. “As a society, we tend to think meaningful outcomes are attained at the federal or state level. Conversely, I have learned that our neighborhoods and local communities are the venues where we can have a powerful voice and have the most impact on our day-to-day lives. To this end, it was a privilege to serve the citizens of Grandview by being their voice.”

In Grandview’s Ward 2, incumbent Annette Turnbaugh has filed for her own seat, and she is contested by Kaele Bybee and Bud Day. In Ward 3, incumbent James Crain has also filed for his seat, and he is contested by Ron Brownlee.

In the Center School District, seven candidates for three open positions are seeking office. Incumbent Marcie Calvin, Sam Cook, Johnathan Decker, Margo Simms-Hurst, incumbent Danielle Quinn, Amy Carr and Bryce Thomas Shields will face off in April.

Grandview School District also has three open positions. Four filed; however, candidate Sheila Maberry has since withdrawn due to family health issues. Therefore, an election for Grandview Board of Education will not be held, and the three candidates will be sworn in in April. Incumbent Monica Terry, Damon Greene and Don Kessinger will take the oath of office.

Finally, Hickman Mills also has three positions open, for which six candidates have filed. Former board member Byron Townsend, former State Representative DaRon McGee, incumbent Clifford Ragan, incumbent Richard Abram, Irene Kendrick and Debbie Long will campaign for their spot on the school board.

The Advocate will issue questionnaires to each candidate seeking office, and those will be printed in March, prior to the election on April 7, 2020.

Filing for the statewide August 4, 2020 primary election opens on February 25 and closes on March 31.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Grandview Schools to Implement New Visitor Management System

by Mary Wilson

Visitors to any Grandview School District buildings will soon be required to provide identification as the district works to ensure a safe and secure environment for students and staff.

After reviewing and testing a handful of different management systems, two vendors were selected for demonstrations with the district team, which was comprised of representatives from central office administrators, building level administrators, building secretaries, the IT department and the public relations coordinator.

“The conversations we have had with our safety team throughout the district have revolved around the need for further security at our entrances,” said Superintendent Dr. Kenny Rodrequez. “These discussions have gone on for the last year or two, and this is the recommendation from the team.”

Raptor Technologies, or the “gold standard” as Assistant Superintendent Lori DeAnda referred to the company, has a visitor management system used by school districts in the Midwest.

“The things we liked about this technology were also things that the safety committee wanted in the system that we acquired,” said DeAnda. “Accessing the database was really important and doing that every time a person comes through the door. What’s true on Tuesday many not necessarily be true on Wednesday, and this program will show us that.”

The system is customizable to the district’s specific needs, but overall will offer:
• Screening of every visitor against registered sex offender databases in all 50 states.
• Creation of custom alerts for custody issues, trespassing, etc.
• District-wide reporting for all visitors.
• Visitors’ passes including a photo.
• Tardy slips for late students.
• Expansion capabilities for student attendance, volunteer tracking, and emergency management.

“We also appreciated the ease in which the system could be implemented,” said DeAnda. “Training should take less than an hour at each building site.”

Upon entering a district building, visitors will be asked to present an ID such as a driver’s license, which can either be scanned or manually entered into the system. If a parent or guardian for any reason does not have a US government-issued ID, the school staff member can use any form of identification and manually enter the person’s name into the Raptor system. The Raptor system will check to ensure that registered sex offenders are not entering school campuses without staff’s knowledge. The Raptor system checks the visitor's name and date of birth for comparison with a national database of registered sex offenders. The registered sex offender database is the only official database checked by the Raptor system. No other data from the ID is gathered or recorded and the information is not shared with any outside agency.

Once entry to the school building is approved, Raptor will issue a badge that identifies the visitor, the date, and the purpose of their visit. A visitor’s badge will not be necessary for those who visit the schools simply to drop off an item in the office or pick up paperwork.

“The system will be a little different in some ways, and very similar in others, to what we’ve done in the past,” said Rodrequez. “While we know that there may be some concerns and challenges, we think that at the end of the day, this will ensure a safer environment for our district.”

The implementation of the Raptor visitor management system began at CAIR and Central Office on January 13, with the rest of the district sites seeing the new system beginning on January 22.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Community Input Requested for Hickman Mills Area Plan


By Mary Wilson

The City of Kansas City is seeking public input in helping shape the future of the Hickman Mills area. A public meeting will be held regarding the Hickman Mills Area Plan on Thursday, January 16, at 5:30 p.m., at the Kansas City South Patrol Division Station, 9701 Marion Park Drive.

The previous Hickman Mills Area Plan was adopted by the City of Kansas City back in 2007, and includes the area generally bound by 87th Street on the north, I-49 on the west, Grandview city limits on the south, and Raytown Road on the east. At the meeting, community members can expect an overview of the planning process, proposed recommendations of the upcoming plan, and next steps for adoption and implementation. Those interested will have an opportunity to hear the ideas and provide input to city staff to be included in the final document.

City Planner Brian Jackson, who focuses on long range planning and preservation, said that the goal of the public meetings is to provide a comprehensive framework to guide public decisions on land use, housing, public improvements, community development and city services. Area plans, like the one in Hickman Mills, recommend strategies to help realize a community’s long-term vision.

During the planning process, Hickman Mills and South Kansas City lost a longtime community advocate, Lou Austin. Always a visionary and forward thinker, Austin never hesitated to make personal commitments to the things he believed in, whether that meant funding development studies for his properties or donating land to be used as a park and educational opportunity. Austin’s dedication to the bettering of his community was an inspiration to all who had the pleasure of meeting him, and because of this, Jackson said, the Hickman Mills Area Plan is dedicated to his legacy.

“Lou has always been a tireless advocate for South Kansas City, and especially the Hickman Mills community that he lived in,” said Jackson. “His contributions can be seen across the planning area in the form of off-street trails, historical markers, and public spaces. It is difficult to think of a community group or organization that he did not impact. After learning of  his passing, it seemed like an obvious action to dedicate the upcoming plan in his memory."

In 2007, Kansas City established 18 area plan geographies. The previous Hickman Mills Area Plan was the first area plan to be completed of the original 18. Prior to 2007, the city was comprised of 46 separate areas, with three in the current boundaries of Hickman Mills. Since 2007, Kanas City has created area plans for all 18 geographies and recently has begun to update those plans in communities that were among the first to go through the planning process. Martin City and Greater Downtown have also had plans updated or are currently in the planning process.

According to Jackson, the current planning effort in Hickman Mills is focused on ensuring that the document reflects the current conditions while communicating a long-term community vision. It will update community concerns, form development guidelines, provide future land use recommendations, and establish priorities for capital improvements. The updated Hickman Mills Area Plan will also serve as the reference point for community members and city staff to evaluate future development projects.

Since March of this year, city staff has been conducting various outreach efforts to gather input on the goals and priorities for the plan. From those discussions, Jackson said that a few items were identified as crucial community priorities. Those priorities include:
• Preventing commercial expansion into single family neighborhoods.
• The renovation or redevelopment of aging and underperforming commercial centers.
• Prioritizing sidewalk construction around schools, transit stops, and areas of highest need.
• Improving access for all modes of travel throughout Hickman Mills.
• Continued buildout of the trails system and promotion of the trail history in Hickman Mills.
• Improved code enforcement to improve neighborhood livability.

The draft version of the Hickman Mills Area Plan is available for review on the city’s website at kcmo.gov, under the City Planning and Development page. Members of the community are encouraged to contact city staff with any feedback or questions related to the document. Final adoption by the City Council is expected in early 2020.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Melodrama Opens Season with Original Screenplay

Scrooged and Marley, with Ebenezer Scrooge and his Service Dog Marley, and the Water Glass Symphony


by Mary Wilson


For 35 years, the nonprofit Martin City Melodrama and Vaudeville Company has entertained audiences in Kansas City with their humorous take on show business and theater arts. After a rocky start to the beginning of the 35th season, starting with an actress with health issues and having to rewrite the script, in true theater fashion, Director Jeanne Beechwood determined that the show must go on.

The entire show’s premise was based around this specific actress and her service dog, so when it was determined that she was unable to perform, Beechwood got to work. She tapped an old friend in the business to see if he was available, and Beechwood and local actor Sean Taylor came up with a new show.

“The theater was opening in two weeks. We lost the dog, the girl and the Scrooge,” said Beechwood. “I was like, this is supposed to be our 35th season and it’s not looking so good. My dear friend Sean, who has done a lot of tech work here in town and is foolish enough to help me here when he can, stepped up to help me out.”

In two weeks’ time, the show was rewritten and the main dog was re-casted. While still the same premise, the dog in the show is not an actual service dog like the previous Marley. The traditional water glass symphony that Melodrama fans have come to love at Christmastime was written for four people, so Beechwood had to determine if the cast of two could pull it off.

“By the grace of God, it all came together,” said Beechwood. “The dogs outnumber us in this show.”

Scrooged and Marley features eight rescue dogs alongside the two actors. The show opened two weeks ago, with the premise that everyone dropped out, which works well for Beechwood and Taylor. They are able to play up the fact that they’re pulling off a show with a limited number of people.

“All that’s left is us old-timers,” said Beechwood. “And it works. We made it seem as though we could only put the show on if we used the theater’s rescue dogs.”

Scrooged and Marley and the Water Glass Symphony is playing now through January 1 at the Martin City Melodrama and Vaudeville Co., located at 702 E Blue Ridge Ext. in Grandview. For ticket information, visit martincitymelodrama.org, or call 913-642-7576. 

Thursday, December 5, 2019

City Manager Resigns to Become County Administrator

by Mary Wilson

This week, Troy Schulte walked through doors at City Hall in Kansas City for the final time as City Manager. On Friday, November 22, Schulte submitted his resignation letter to the Mayor and City Council.

Having served the last ten years as city manager, Schulte has worked for 21 years for the City of Kansas City. During that time, he is credited for a list of success stories, including: balancing billion-dollar budgets during both a recession and an economic upturn; guiding the creation and implementation of the GO KC 20-year infrastructure repair program; creating an award-winning citywide business plan; expanding the use of data to guide decision-making and to measure results; creating a modern streetcar system that has sparked billions of dollars in economic development; bringing free public WiFi to the downtown business district and along the Prospect Avenue corridor; increasing leadership opportunities for women and minorities; and both the convention center hotel and airport terminal now under construction.

“I thank Troy for his decades of service to our city,” Mayor Quinton Lucas said. “The impact of his work will be felt for generations. I appreciate Troy’s participation in our city manager search process and his dedication to ensuring continuity for our city employees during this transition period. I wish Troy and Laurie the best in this next chapter.”

Schulte previously announced that he would leave city service at the end of his current contract, in February 2020. However, on Monday, November 25, the Jackson County Legislature approved a contract of employment that will allow the County Executive to hire Schulte.

As a member of the County Executive’s staff, Schulte will have the title of County Administrator and will assist the County Executive in overseeing the day-to-day operations of the County. He begins this role on Monday, December 9.

“Troy is an exceptionally talented and hard-working public servant who knows how to get things done,” said Jackson County Executive Frank White, Jr. “When I learned that he might be available, I immediately sat down with him to see if we could find a way to add him to our team.”

“I’m excited about the opportunity to work with Troy,” said Legislative Chairwoman Theresa Galvin. “He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience that is needed. This is a positive step in the right direction and I would like to thank County Executive Frank White, Jr. for working with the Legislature to move the County forward. This process has truly been a collaboration that has been missing for some time and I hope it will continue.”

Prior to serving as city manager, Schulte led the city’s budget office. He received the Department of Economics and Department of History Outstanding Alumni Award last month from Iowa Sate University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in history and economics in 1992 and 1994, respectively.

“I am grateful to the County Executive, Legislative Chair, and members of the County Legislature for their support,” said Schulte. “While trying to figure out what was next for me, I ultimately decided that I was not ready to give up public service. I love what I do and believe I have more to give. I am excited to join the Jackson County team and look forward to working with everyone to get things done.”

Schulte leaves city management in Kansas City on solid footing. Following other top-level retirements, he has promoted Tammy Queen to finance director, Donna Maize to fire chief, and Teri Casey to acting director off the human resources department.

On Monday, December 2, Mayor Lucas appointed Earnest Rouse as acting city manager. Rouse, a 30-year veteran of the City of Kansas City, has worked in a variety of roles and departments within the city’s government. He becomes the third African-American to serve as City Manager in Kansas City’s history.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Oak Grove Criticizes Center High School in Conference Expansion

by Stephanie A. Wilken

At 3:05 p.m. Friday, the late afternoon sunlight pours into the lobby of Center High School as students spill into the halls with excited chatter and sporting their school colors of yellow and blue
as they find their friends at the end of the school day.

But this isn’t a typical Friday. This week, posters adorn the columns advertising that the spirit bus leaves for the district conference football championship later that afternoon. The buses and caravans that will follow will drive almost an hour each way to be there as the Center Yellowjackets face the Odessa Bulldogs in the Class 3 District 7 finals.

Wrestling practice is expected to be light, because most of the players are riding the bus to support their classmates. The students at Center High School are focused on their fellow Yellowjackets.

It’s most likely a similar scene forty minutes away at Oak Grove High School; just replace the school colors of blue and yellow with orange and black – and there’s no district championship under Friday night lights: The Oak Grove Panthers lost two weeks earlier 47-26 to the Boonville Pirates in the first round of the post season. That’s a fact apparently overlooked by appointed and elected officials in the Oak Grove School district when they recently went on record wondering if Center brought “competition,” among a list of other negative comments when discussing the Missouri River Valley Conference expanding to include the Yellowjackets in its Western division.

Oak Grove athletic director Darin Sehlke made his comments about Center High School at the Oak
Grove Board of Education meeting October 28, the Monday before the Friday, November 1 11-1  decision, with Oak Grove being the lone dissenting vote against Center and Clinton joining the MRVC West.

“The coaches are not in favor,” Sehlke said in the meeting, as reported by the local newspaper Focus on Oak Grove in its November 7 edition. “Do they fit with the conference? The distance to Clinton is a factor, and Center is urban. Do they bring a rich tradition in athletics? Do they bring competition?”

“We hold our students to a high standard,” Sehlke said. “Is that true with Center? They have a nice
facility. They don’t have the perception of the Kansas City School District to weigh into them.”

Oak Grove Board of Education director Randy McClain said at the meeting that “there’s a significant
cultural difference between Center and us.” “I think I would rather add Sedalia rather than Clinton and Center,” he said.

While the Focus reported that their discussion at the Board meeting did not include how they would cast their Friday conference expansion vote, the eventual 11-1 is an indicator that feelings did not change in the four days preceding the MRVC vote.

“Play hard to get,” said director Montie Tripp at the meeting. “Tell them to go fly a kite.”

On November 1, Center notified staff that they had been accepted into the Missouri River Valley  conference, as reported in the November 7 Advocate. The conference expansion included Center and Clinton joining the existing Excelsior Springs, Harrisonville, Oak Grove, Odessa, Pleasant Hill and Warrensburg school districts.

The news was welcome throughout the district, according to Center Athletic Director Brad Sweeten.
Center had previous success both on and off the field when they were a part of the West Central conference before it dissolved. Sweeten added that while not every student is involved in athletics, being in a conference created a ripple effect where they saw test scores rise, earned a Blue Ribbon nomination, and students were more involved overall.

“We found out that it did wonders for our kids,” he said. “All of a sudden, we were competitive.”

Sweeten said that they’re eager to have that again.

“All of our coaches have been very excited,” Sweeten said. “I don’t think our kids understand yet what that means because for two years now, we haven’t been in a conference.”

“That’s a big deal, because you might not go far in your district, and the reality of winning a state
championship in any sport s very slim. You set little goals, and maybe that’s the first little goal you
set: ‘Let’s win conference games, and then let’s win the conference.’”

The district's Interim Superintendent Dr. Michael Weishaar agrees.

“Center School District believes in partnerships and communities. We believe that joining the
MRVC will expand our students’ knowledge, create new experiences and provide a catalyst that will
push students toward future success,” he said. “We also believe this opportunity will not only benefit our students, but will also provide positive benefits for all MRVC conference member communities.”

Sweeten doesn’t look at traveling to Oak Grove as a bad thing.

“We’ve always said it’s good for our kids to get out and see how other people live, with how the small town life is, but it’s also good for those kids to come and see our kids and adults are no  different,” he said. “You don’t change people’s minds with words, you change in actions, so that’s
what we’re going to show them. We’re going to show them that we’re no different than anyone else.”

In football, Center traveled to Oak Grove this year and won 41-10. In all-time matchups, it’s 4-0 Center, with Center winning both away in 2019 and at home in 2018, and winning the other two contests in the post season, with Center coming out on top in both district and state tournaments.

“The next time we play, they could beat us,” Sweeten said. “But that win or loss isn’t important, it’s
what happens on the field. In the last game where we played them I saw guys from both teams reaching out and holding out a hand, picking another guy off the field.”

The kids, Sweeten said, were just playing the game. And he said they’ll keep leading by example.

At Center, Sweeten has helped foster a culture of leading with love. It’s not just words on an inspiration poster somewhere, or someone talking in abstracts about culture. At Center, that’s a daily weekday email to his coaches and community about positivity and personal goals of positive  interactions; it’s breakfast together on Fridays with any student who would like that fellowship; it’s showing the students at Center that adults care. And Sweeten has been a driving force in creating that environment.

“It makes a big difference, to show our kids that,” Sweeten said. “Our kids come from all kinds of backgrounds, mostly working families, and it’s important for our kids to see the example of adults.
Sometimes that’s the greatest gift we can give them is the example.”

And even in the face of negativity, Sweeten continues the positive attitude.

“With my words, I can’t change the way [the people quoted in the Focus] think,” he said “I’ve known
Darin, the AD out there, for a long time,” Sweeten said. “He’s a great guy.”

“We’re just excited,” Sweeten said. “We’re excited to be in the conference. We’re going to welcome
them to come here, and hopefully we’re welcome to go there.”

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Grandview Shows Slight Progress in Performance

by Mary Wilson

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) released statewide Annual Performance (APR) Reports last week, providing districts with data and insight into how they are performing against state standards. The information was released publicly at 12:01 a.m. on the day of the Grandview School District’s Board of Education meeting, giving staff just a few hours to prepare to present the information to its governing body on Thursday, October 17.

“In the past, we were all given a percentage and the districts were all ranked,” said Superintendent Dr. Kenny Rodrequez. “We were told what that percentage was and we went through a variety of things to talk about how those points were calculated. Hearing from different superintendents in different districts about how the test was changed several times, that number became less useful.”

This year, DESE has removed that overall percentage score for districts. In the past, the Grandview School District released their overall score as well as the scores for each individual school.

“I felt like if I had done that, it probably would have given even more confusion than clarity,” said Rodrequez. “It gives us an opportunity to show what the scores look like, what our performance actually is, and how that compares from previous years, though it won’t be about the overall score.”

Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Dr. Joana King said that getting past the fact that there’s not a percentage point to grade them, she feels as though the latest data provides more valuable information to the district.

“We can see exactly where we are and see exactly what our achievements are in each area,” said King.

The districts in the state are evaluated on five standards: academic achievement, subgroup achievement, college and career readiness, attendance and graduation rates. These are the same standards DESE has used in recent years for performance data.

“Last year, 90.2% of the points were earned in our district, and it was very easy for people to rank us, even though there really isn’t a true correlation between districts,” said Scott Sisemore, Grandview’s director of instructional technology. “What was released this year is a little more chaotic.”

In order to make sense of the chaos, Sisemore indicated that DESE has issued growth expectation, status expectation and progress expectations, using the same formulas as in the past. Growth indicates change in achievement scores in students over time. Status expectation is the status that reflects the measurement of the school’s level of achievement based upon a three-year average. Progress indicates the measurement of annual improvement on state assessments.

“The three-year average is actually the easiest way for us to compare where we are to the previous years,” said Sisemore.

In academic achievement, the district is exceeding; while in mathematics, the district is not currently meeting the measures according to the state. However, with the information based on the three-year average, DESE states that a comparison of proficiency rates across years is not advisable. The assessments in 2018 and 2019 are comparable, while the test administered in 2017 was not.

“Because the 2017 assessment was different than what we took in 2018, you’ll notice a pretty big difference in scores,” said Sisemore. “It looks like we dropped quite a bit, but it was actually completely different assessments and the state is saying we cannot compare the two.”

This makes the three-year average that DESE has calculated skewed. The best way for districts across the state to determine how they are doing is to only look at the 2018 and 2019 data. Grandview shows a slight increase in achievement in ELA (English language arts) between 2018 and 2019, with about one percentage point of students who are scoring in proficient and advanced. In mathematics, the district shows a moderate increase in achievement.

“This is certainly not something that we are celebrating, but it is a positive indicator that we see some growth in math,” said Sisemore. “While we are still below the state average, we have made a little bit of improvement over the year.”

Subgroup achievement includes the district’s traditionally underserved students, including those with individualized education plans (IEP), free and reduced lunch rates, English language learners (ELL) and minority students. These students are all lumped together to measure their performance against the district. Sisemore said that their APR was very similar to that of the district’s.

“Our ELL students are actually out-performing the district,” said King. “A lot will say that they will not be able to perform as well as everyone else, and we are proving that wrong.”

The standards in college and career readiness have not changed. The district shows positive trends in the area of advanced placement classes, as the opportunities for students to take dual-credit courses has increased. Sisemore said that they should see results in college and career readiness continue to rise moving forward.

According to Sisemore, attendance is a concern for the district. In 2018, the district was at 86.1% for attendance, and in 2019, that percentage dropped to 83.3%. This decrease has been steady for the last few years. The state standard is 90% of students attending school 90% of the time. School principals are working to implement different incentives across the district to help increase the number of students in class.

The state calculates a four, five and seven-year graduation rate, though Sisemore says the most important rate to look at is the four-year rate. This is the number of students who should have been seniors last year that graduated. In 2018, the district’s graduation rate was at 86%. In 2019, the rate increased slightly to 86.4%. Although Sisemore said that this is not what the district wants, the state shows Grandview on-track in comparison to other districts.

“How do we continue to improve year after year when things continue to change for us? Now we finally have two consecutive years of the exact same test results to be able to show,” said Rodrequez. “We learned a lot last year. But, we got the results last year in February, and then our students took another test in April. We’re still learning a lot about the standards, but we’re very pleased that we now have two years, and this year will finally be the third year in a row that we can start measuring. We actually have an entire year to learn from the information that we received.”

The 2019 APR will be complete upon the release of science data on November 23, which was not available last week. Statewide, while data in English language arts and mathematics remained fairly stable between the 2018 and 2019 data, four and five-year graduation rates for nearly all subgroups continued to see an increase. Gaps continued to close specifically with English learners in academics, continuing a trend of recent years with increased scores for that demographic.