Today is a day for endorsement and indictment.
First the endorsements, although I am aching to get to the indictment. (Does the headline give you a hint of where I’m headed?)
On Tuesday, we will have what could be the most important Kansas City School Board election in decades.
Five of the existing nine board seats are up for election, but come 2019, the board will be reduced to seven members. As a prelude to that change, Tuesday’s winners will serve five years instead of the usual four, so they will be in there a long time and will have significant opportunity to take the district up — or down.
My focus is on the two at-large seats that are up for grabs. (“At-large” means the winners will be elected by voters throughout the district.)
Four candidates are vying for the two open district-wide seats, and I hope you will give strong consideration to the candidates I think offer the most hope for district improvement.
My recommendations are 55-year-old Pattie Mansur and 60-year-old Amy Hartsfield. Both have been endorsed by Freedom Inc., the political organization I worked closely with last year to trounce Jackson County’s proposed half-cent sales tax for “translational medical research.”
Mansur also has the endorsement of The Kansas City Star.
Mansur is communications director for a charitable foundation that supports health services for low-income children and adults. She and her husband, Mike Mansur, public information officer for the Jackson County prosecutor’s office, have three children, two of whom graduated from KC public schools. Their youngest child is a sophomore in high school.
Pattie Mansur has served as a parent leader at three public schools and on numerous school district planning committees, with her focus being on student achievement and parental involvement.
Mansur has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and an MBA, with an emphasis in marketing, from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She and her family live in the Brookside area.
Hartsfield works as a counselor and assessment consultant at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Shawnee. She also does volunteer work with a program that provides meals, tutoring services and other educational opportunities for Kansas City Public School students.
She and her husband, Rev. Wallace Hartsfield II, spent many years in Atlanta before returning here in 2008. At that time, her husband succeeded his father, the legendary Rev. Wallace S. Hartsfield, as senior pastor at Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church, 2310 E. Linwood. (The Hartsfields live a few blocks from the church.)
While in Atlanta, Amy Hartsfield was an intake counselor for the Georgia Department of Mental Health.
An ordained minister herself, Hartsfield has a bachelor’s degree in biology from Barnard College in New York and a master of divinity degree and a doctor of theology degree from the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta.
The Hartsfields have two grown children and two young grandchildren, whom Amy Hartsfield would like to see attend KC public schools.
As you can see, Mansur and Hartsfield have tremendous qualifications to serve on the school board, and I think they could spearhead an era of new and inspired leadership for the Kansas City Public School District.
Now the indictment…
I’m sure most of you have heard by now that a 14-year-old girl with autism was raped repeatedly — over the course of a month — at Southwest Early College Campus.
I’m sure that most of you also are aware that another girl — a 17-year-old — was raped at the school last August. In that incident, two boys dragged the girl through the halls in the middle of the school day and assaulted her in a small, second-floor room.
In the wake of the most recent assaults, six staff members, including the principal, have been placed on administrative leave, and prosecutors have charged a 14 year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl with one count of rape and one count of sodomy.
The Star has reported that the victim was attacked by the boy repeatedly over the past month in an area out of view of security cameras, while the girl stood by as a lookout.
Today, I spoke with both Mansur and Hartsfield about the latest scandal and how it reflects on the district as a whole.
“I was stunned. I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ How does this happen a second time?”
The latest rapes, she said, reflect a set of failures at both the building and the district level that lead her to believe that Southwest “is just left to its own devices.”
In other words, the place has been virtually devoid of sound administration.
“It seems that the conditions in the school were being ignored over a long period of time,” Mansur said. “Where were the adults responsible for this school?”
The ultimate responsibility for the debacle, she said, lies with District Superintendent Steve Green because he makes the staffing decisions.
While Green does not deserve to be fired, Mansur said, he must be held to a higher level of accountability. His top priority now, she said, should be to conduct a thorough review of leadership at all Kansas City public school buildings, with the goal of establishing “a pipeline of really strong administrators” whose primary charge is to establish a safe, respectful and positive climate at each and every school.
Hartsfield, while not assigning as much blame to Green, agreed that the district’s top priority now should be a rigorous assessment of leadership at every school, with a view toward identifying the buildings with the most “difficulties and challenges.”
Administrators, she said, should know “where every student should be at specific times.”
(Allow me to offer an aside: How is possible that one or more students are unaccounted for long enough and often enough to sexually assault a girl many times during the course of a month?)
Like Mansur, Hartsfield said it was imperative that the district establish a safe environment for its students.
“That’s our responsibility,” she said. “Once we take them in (to the district), we have to develop the capacity to provide safety for them.”
She also pointed out that some students, such as the girl with autism, need more oversight and protection than others.
It’s a sorry commentary on the district and on Green as the top administrator that at least one Kansas City public school — and probably a few more — still feel unsafe when you walk through the doors.
It will be up to the next school board to demand that Green insure that every school has an environment where parents don’t have to worry about their children becoming crime victims while in their school buildings.
Is that too much to ask?