School board primary for state looms
Incumbent State School Board Member Janet Waugh, who represents most of the Baldwin City district, is hopeful that this year's elections will reverse the board's recent conservative majority that has caused embarrassment for the state.
But, in order for that to happen, Waugh needs to win her Aug. 1 primary race against Jesse Hall, a fellow Democrat. The winner of the primary gains the school board position because there isn't a Republican challenger.
"Naturally, I'm very hopeful we will regain control," said Waugh, who lives in Kansas City, Kan., as does Hall. "I'm getting a lot of positive feedback from all over the state and even outside the state and nation. I got the neatest e-mail from a guy in Australia, who is a resident of Kansas, and feels this race is the most important one in Kansas. He's in my district and is supporting me.
"I'm cautiously optimistic," she said. "This election is not something anyone can take for granted. We all have to work hard and make sure everyone knows the issues."
The conservative majority has removed evolution from Kansas classrooms and altered programs for sex education, among other items. The conservatives have a 6-4 advantage. Waugh doesn't mince words about the need for that to change.
"It is time to return the board to a more moderate viewpoint," she said. "The last few years have been extremely difficult with the conservative majority. Instead of focusing our attention on the crucial issues facing Kansas such as continuous improvement, closing the gap, raising graduation rates, increasing test scores and making sure all students achieve at high levels, the board has spent it's time debating issues that will do little to help schools and students.
"We've become the laughingstock not only of the nation, but the world and it's time we returned to making sure we are offering the best education possible for all students," said Waugh. "The state board needs to be the leader in helping districts use best practices so they can make sure we prepare all students for the 21st century, able to compete in a global economy, lifelong learners and contributing citizens."
To this point, Hall hasn't attended any of the forums for state board candidates. He has stated that he supports the conservative majority's actions.
He said he grew tired of complaining about the education system and decided to run for office and try to effect change.
He said he supported the science standards adopted by the 6-4 majority that criticize evolution.
"The way it was set up, evolution was the only thing that could be taught. That doesn't allow a child to step outside the box so that they themselves learn how to think," Hall said.
Opponents of the new science standards say they bring intelligent design -- the theory that a master designer formed life -- into science class.
Hall also supports changes to sex education put in place by the board's 6-4 majority.
Most states and school districts, including Lawrence, have an opt-out policy that allows parents to sign a form if they want their children removed from sex education class. The state education board reversed this process, requiring school districts to receive parental permission for students to remain in sex education classes. This so-called "opt-in" policy means some students won't get the class simply because their parents are inattentive to their school needs, according to health care experts.
Back to basics
Hall said he works with students at risk of failing as a school interventionist and parent liaison for Central Middle School in Kansas City, Mo. Kansas needs to try different ways to reach at-risk students to reduce the dropout rate, he said.
He said schools need to focus on teaching the basics: reading, writing and math.
And while much of the debate on the state education board has revolved around evolution, sex education and the hiring of Bob Corkins as education commissioner, Hall said voters he spoke with want the board to move on to other issues.
Hall said he hadn't attended any political forums yet and mostly had been campaigning door to door.