Mental health, staffing among top concerns for Olathe School Board candidate

Education

OLATHE, Kan. — With the general election less than a month away, 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. 

In the race to represent the 3rd district, Brian Connell is challenging incumbent Brian Geary for a seat on the Olathe School Board. 

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

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

Geary: Besides the obvious in dealing with the COVID pandemic effects, I’d say the biggest issue facing the district going forward is staffing. 

Our parents and students are used to certain class sizes and student to teacher ratios, but there aren’t as many people going into the teaching profession for a variety of reasons and our district is continuing to grow. Something will ultimately have to give, either in class sizes or finding ways to attract more teaching candidates.

This not only includes teachers, but support staff; including, food service workers, para-professionals, specialists, etc. All of these jobs play a major role in providing a quality education to our students. In order to address this issue, we can continue to work with our HR department on ways to incent and provide good benefits to our employees to retain them. In addition, finding ways to get individuals interested in becoming teachers that may be coming from the professional world into the schools easier without having to go through a full 4-year education program or ways to co-teach sooner.

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? 

Geary: As previously mentioned, this is the biggest issue any district has faced in many, many years…navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. I feel like the district’s response in most ways was adequate. The ultimate goal was getting our students educated, keeping them safe (health wise), and keeping our teachers and staff safe. For most students and staff, this was met.  

We were able to keep many of the extracurricular activities going in some way, as this is such an important part of many students’ identity and social outlet. There were a few areas of communication that could have been much better. 

The metric I would use in the future will continue to be the health professionals. As we have learned more and more about this virus from the health professionals, we have eased restrictions slowly; from all remote learning, to hybrid, to all in-person learning with masks at all times, to all in-person learning with masks while indoors only or eating. 

In addition, all students and community members are allowed into extracurricular activities. One thing I have learned in this “process” is that no data point or statistic is able to tell you the whole story. Easing back into things will be important as the COVID virus remains around us and we find ways to live with it through vaccinations or community herd immunity or whatever comes next.

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

Geary: This has been a very important item for me for many years, not just during and after the COVID pandemic, and will continue to be. This is also not just in the short-term with preventative health measures, but how we assess our students and make sure they are learning and developing at the rate that they should be, not just in the classroom, but mentally and making sure they know there are supports available to them.

Continuing to educate our students and staff on what to look for from people that can identify mental health breaks through things they are saying or ways they are acting is very important. Making mental health something we can talk about, just like we do a heart attack or cancer, without categorizing people, is and should be a priority for the district.  

There have been many partnerships formed in this process with community organizations and having trained professionals in our buildings more regularly to provide assistance to students and staff as needed. Student-led organizations within each school and/or the community as a whole will continue to be important to provide an outlet for discussing feelings as well and what’s going on with others who may be dealing with similar issues.

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