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OLATHE, Kan. — Ahead of the general election on Nov. 2, FOX4 is working to help voters get a better idea where candidates stand on issues impacting residents in the metro.

FOX4 sent out a questionnaire to candidates in more than 50 races in Johnson County. 

Incumbent Kristin Schultz will compete against Robert Kuhn for voter support to represent the 2nd District on the Olathe School Board. 

FOX4 did not receive a response from Kuhn. Here’s a look at what Schultz had to say:  

Q: What do you feel is the biggest issue facing the district and what plans do you have to address it? 

Schultz: The impacts of COVID-19 reverberate throughout our district: students’ academic progress, social development, and mental health have all been affected, and identifying the most vulnerable of them is essential to addressing their needs. The same is true for staff, who have experienced greater demands on their ability to instruct and encourage their students and their colleagues. Every family, workplace, and individual has been stressed in some way by the last 19 months, and those effects show up in the school environment, challenging the efficacy of processes that worked in the past.

The Olathe School District and our Board of Education have a strategic plan in place, designed upon an institutional core framework and our Portrait of a Graduate. These components work synergistically to inform how any given action relates to the outcomes that our community partners, families, and professionals determined are necessary for graduates to be successful once they leave us. It will be the map we rely on to guide us through solutions to the many issues resulting from our COVID-19 experience.

Q: Do you feel the district’s COVID response has been adequate? If elected, what metric would you use in deciding district COVID precautions in the future? 

Schultz: I do. Threading the needle of delivering academic experiences through the portal of a community health crisis has required our board and administration to be flexible while focusing on the core expectations of public education. It’s fair to say our teaching professionals met or exceeded the ‘adequate’ threshold. Our elementary students had very little disruption last year; middle and high school students experienced more of the challenges of hybrid and remote academic and social lives. Now that students and teachers are back in buildings, the important triage work of identifying needs and proficiencies is in full swing, putting professionals in position to steward students toward the thresholds that they’re ready for, and the benchmarks they’re expected to meet.

The last 19 months have shown that COVID precautions are a moving target, so tethering our precautions to any single metric is impractical. The rate of vaccination is a valuable marker. I expect the board to continue using updated information from public health and academic professionals to guide our decisions, and that board members will work constructively and cooperatively to reach outcomes appropriate for our district, regardless of individual preference. I’m proud of the collegial relationships of our current board; even when members disagreed, it never became disagreeable. There was support for each other and for action outcomes. That provides stability for our superintendent, his leadership team, and the professionals who are meeting the needs of our students each day. 

Q: How can the district support the mental health of students and staff?

Schultz: Beginning more than five years ago, the Olathe Public Schools Foundation board approved shared funding of a licensed, practicing clinical therapist in one of our high schools. The placement of a therapist onsite has since expanded to other Olathe schools and we’ve seen neighboring districts adopt the same strategy. 

Reducing barriers to access is one important strategy to encourage mental health in the school environment. Students and staff arrive each morning with the psychological effects of their home and external environment, and that shapes the experience they have while in school. Some are prepared and focused; others are distracted by trauma. 

Teachers, support staff, and administrators are all continuously working to identify and triage the needs of students who are experiencing significant challenges away from their school environment. We also have student leaders taking an active role in the #ZeroReasonsWhy initiative promoting mental health throughout Johnson County schools. Our Director of Social, Emotional Learning and Mental Health works collaboratively with our Director of Safety Services to ensure all aspects of behavioral health are understood and approached with student safety and care in mind.

Addressing the emotional wellness of students and staff is an ongoing challenge for districts, and our district’s strength in building collaborations with outside organizations and community members has provided essential support in this area.