My name is Brian Koon and I have lived in the North Area since 2004, when my wife Beth and I bought our first home. We chose to live in Johnson County, and the Shawnee Mission District in particular, because of the outstanding quality of public schools. When we started our family, we were proud to send our oldest to kindergarten in Shawnee Mission Public Schools. Today, my son, now a fourth grader, and daughter, a second grader, both attend Crestview Elementary. I’m running for Shawnee Mission School Board because I want what’s best for my children, and all our children.
My journey as a public education advocate began in 2014. I sat in the gallery of the Kansas House and watched while the Legislature made its first funding cuts to public schools, and made it legal for districts to fire teachers without showing cause – all in the dead of night. From that moment on, my life changed, and for the first time I worked to elect pro-public education candidates to the state legislature. 2015 marked the beginning of my support role with the March to Topeka, a 60 mile walk to the Capitol to raise awareness about funding cuts to public education in Kansas. Later that year when Shawnee Mission drastically cut back on classroom aides in response to the funding cuts previously mentioned, I volunteered in my son’s classroom to help take up the slack, and I began to see for the first time how underfunded Kansas classrooms were. One of my assignments was to glue two pieces of 8.5” x 11” graph paper together so students could use the size of graph paper the lesson required; it was shocking to realize that the district couldn’t afford the proper size of graph paper necessary to support a kindergarten lesson. In 2016 I continued to work as a volunteer classroom aide for my son’s first grade class, and also worked to elect even more public education advocates to the statehouse.
I was fired up to fight for Kansas schools because of the shocking effects of underfunding I had seen firsthand. In both 2016 and 2017, I went to Topeka as a pro-public education lobbyist and opposed a host of anti-education bills. During the special legislative session I spoke out against the proposed Constitutional Amendment that would have significantly weakened our State Supreme Court’s ability to enforce our State Constitution, including matters of public education funding. During both the 2016 and 2017 Legislative Sessions, I lobbied in favor of restoring statewide due process rights to teachers (Shawnee Mission teachers have successfully negotiated this into their contract, but that’s still not true for all teachers statewide). Since 2017, I have worked as an English Language Learners’ Aide, teaching English to immigrants and refugees in a Title 1 school, kindergarten through fifth grade. I am a proud member of the Teachers’ Union, the Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), and have been since 2017. In 2018 I worked to elect a record number of pro-public education candidates to the Statehouse and Governor’s office. This year I’m running for School Board.
The Shawnee Mission School District is an excellent school system, blessed with some of the most dedicated and masterful professionals in the country. If elected, my job as a board member is to support students, teachers, and patrons, and to help collaboratively find solutions to the challenges our district faces. I prefer to reframe issues in terms of how a challenge can be overcome with additional support. I seek office to better support our teachers, who, after all, have the hardest job in public education.
Our district was built over decades on a solid foundation, and it is a treasure we must protect. We do a lot of things right in Shawnee Mission, but there are some things we need to do better. We must keep building up our district. To that end, the following values guide my campaign and, if elected, the goals listed here will serve as a course of action.
Fairness is perhaps the oldest American cultural value, and it’s one that I hold dear. Equity means fairness of treatment and opportunity, and it’s critical for each and every student in the district to receive fair treatment. I affirm the right of every student to be given the resources they need in order to achieve their goals, and to celebrate the differences among people as strengths we may all draw from.
Our children deserve the best education possible, with smaller class sizes, excellent teachers and support staff, schools safe from bullying and violence of all kinds, a rich and varied selection of specials and electives, where each student has their social, emotional, and academic needs met by caring professionals. Students and Teachers with disabilities, differences, and minority statuses, are not simply to be accommodated, but incorporated into the fabric of our district. All means all.
Teachers and Support Staff
Our educational professionals need the support and respect they deserve, as well as compensation befitting their contribution to society and educational attainment. We need to keep, maintain, and enlarge, the number of teachers and support staff who do the hard work of educating our children, in order to reduce class sizes and allow teachers to focus more on each student. Listening to what teachers need and supporting them is the role of administrators; listening to – and really hearing – all voices including dissenting voices of students and employees, is critical to the good functioning of this district.
Open Communication and Transparency
Open communication and responsiveness is critical for elected officials and district employees alike. Transparency of process is critical to ensure that students, employees, parents, and patrons, can be certain that their best interests are being represented.
Evidence Based Decision Making
In order to make rational, reality-based decisions, students, teachers, administrators, and elected officials, must base their decisions on evidence, not opinion. Education based on well supported evidence is the only kind of education that can benefit our children in the future as they grow into adults.
Closing the Achievement Gap
The existence of this gap is not a problem unique to Shawnee Mission, but our gap is significant and the difference is disturbing; in short, any gap is too large. This is a challenge that will require a coordinated response over the long term, but we must begin now. Students are our future, and they depend upon us finding solutions today.
Ending the Disciplinary Differential
In Shawnee Mission, we are disciplining African American students at a significantly higher rate than white students. As a conscientious person who has never had to face the kind of entrenched racism that exists in our country, I find this difference intolerable.
I perceive a gap in cross-cultural education among Shawnee Mission employees, and going forward, training can certainly reduce the difference in discipline. I believe in-depth professional development could help to alleviate some of the problem.
The gap is so significant, however, and the futures of our young people are at stake. I believe the board needs to address this issue with a policy decision to curtail this problem immediately.
I propose that a summary of Out of School Suspensions with relevant demographic date, be publicly reported at least quarterly, at an appropriate board meeting, and by the appropriate staff member.
Taken together, I believe these measures could begin to reduce the inequitable difference in disciplinary action between students. Tracking our progress with this issue will be critical to the success of our district, and I look forward to working with stakeholders on these and other measures. This is an issue that must be monitored on a permanent and ongoing basis.
Creating Sustainable Revenue Streams to Support Inclusive Nutrition Policies
Hungry children struggle to learn, are more likely to act out or be irritable, and consequently require disproportionately more resources and disciplinary measures than children who aren’t hungry. With this in mind, I support funding for students to purchase regular lunches even while in debt. If elected, creating a long term funding mechanism for students’ lunch debt will be a priority. Whether by allocating additional funding for anticipated lunch debt from district funds, fundraising from patrons and charities, or some other measure, hungry students simply deserve to have their basic needs met and I believe the district has a responsibility to fulfill those needs.
Libraries are the heart of a school, and are a unique special in that they knit together all other specials and classroom learning, as well as teach research and media source verification skills. Library is the only special that touches every class in school. At least, that’s what the library special has been in the past.
In the last several years, libraries and librarians have taken a backseat with regard to funding. The effect of these cuts has been negative and it’s time to restore the library special program to what it once was.
I propose a district-wide report to be published, showing the funds allocated to each individual library budget for the purpose of buying books. We need to ensure that each school’s library budget is commensurate to its population and needs. Transparency in funding levels will help ensure fair distribution.
Going forward, I propose that only certified Librarians be hired for the Librarian position. We wouldn’t hire unqualified principals just to save a little money, and doing so with the library special or any other teaching position is no different.
I further suggest the most effective way to free up certified Librarians time, is to bring back the Library Aide position. Aides can handle much of the low demand but time consuming re-shelving work, to free up the Librarian – a person with a Masters’ Degree – to spend more time as a teacher utilizing their higher level of education. It makes no sense to pay someone Masters’ wages to spend a significant percentage of their time doing an aide’s work.