With focus on staff retention, De Soto school board president seeks re-election

Education

DE SOTO, Kan. — With the general election less than three weeks 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. 

De Soto School Board President Danielle Heikes, who currently represents the Member 6 area, is seeking another term. Heikes is competing with Crystal Duke to represent the Member 4 area. 

FOX4 did not receive a response from Duke. Here is a look at what Heikes had to say: 

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?  

Heikes: I have served on the USD 232 school board for the past six years. The pandemic has been, and continues to be, the greatest challenge I have faced while serving on the school board. That said, I am very proud of our district’s response to COVID.

We were the first school district in our county to return students to in-person learning last year while keeping our students and staff safe. We implemented many mitigation protocols, closely monitored our district and community data, made adjustments to our response plan as warranted, and have placed priority on in-person learning this year. We continue to evaluate our response and precautions, and adjust our strategy based on new data and guidance received from sources such as the CDC, American Academy of Pediatrics, KDHE, JCDHE, and Children’s Mercy. This evaluation and response review will continue throughout the lifecycle of this pandemic.

I don’t look at one specific metric when voting on our COVID precautions and policies. Rather, I consider many different metrics and data, including our district positivity rate, our district isolation and exclusion data, data regarding current community spread, guidance from sources mentioned above, and data from other similar school districts in the state. Based on all of these data points and sources, I make decisions and vote to ensure all of our students and staff are maximizing learning potential in a safe manner and environment. 

Q: How can the district address learning loss students may have experienced during the pandemic? What initiatives would you support to prevent students from falling behind? 

Heikes: Our district has many incredible programs in place to address each and every student’s individual learning needs, including the learning loss experienced as a result of the pandemic. These programs include the Kansas Multi-Tier System of Support (MTSS) which is a system built on prevention, early intervention, and various supports to ensure all students are learning the curriculum. The district also expanded summer school opportunities last year, and will continue the summer school expansion going forward.

The district has hired additional support staff and purchased additional support resources to address learning loss. Further, the district currently is planning for future interventions needed for academic and social emotions needs. I fully support all of these initiatives and look forward to being involved in the planning and approval process for future intervention programs.

Q: What plans do you have to help the district attract and maintain qualified staff?  

Heikes: Attracting quality, talented teachers and staff members, and retaining the incredible teachers and staff on our team today are top priorities of mine. I also believe this is one of the top challenges facing our district currently. Most industries nation-wide are experiencing staff shortages as a result of the pandemic, and education is no different. Our school district is rated #2 in the state of Kansas because of our incredible record of excellence and we owe much of that excellence to our teachers and staff!

We can ensure we continue attracting and retaining qualified staff through programs such as the retention bonus the school board recently approved for all employees in the district; increased tuition reimbursement for our teachers, and possibly expanding the program to all staff, to enable the financial opportunity for staff to expand their education and advance their careers; and ongoing analysis of, and adjustments to our salary and compensation plans to remain competitive in the market and demonstrate appreciation of our teachers and staff.

Additionally, I would like the district to implement staff “pulse” surveys to gauge teacher and staff satisfaction and create action plans based on feedback received. Teacher and staff satisfaction frequently is not tied solely to compensation. Culture, belonging, appreciation, and value are important components of retaining staff as well. “Pulse” surveys, and resulting action plans, could assist in ensuring our staff receive the support and resources they need, thus resulting in their desire to remain on the USD 232 team.

Q: What changes, if any, would you like to see in the district budget?

Heikes: Public school budgets are an interesting and complex topic. Budget funding comes from a variety of sources, but the primary sources include the federal government (Title I and some Special Education funding), state government based on enrollment numbers and Special Education, and by levying taxes. The four funding buckets have specific spending allowances associated with them. Various bonds and grants also provide possible funding sources. USD 232’s budget is very stable and we are extremely fortunate to have sufficient funding for our staff salaries, programming, and buildings. 

Given that I place high value on our teachers and staff, as indicated above, I am always interested in analyzing and reviewing teacher and staff salaries, and doing everything in our power to maximize salaries to the highest extent possible. The district’s administrative team also is committed to our teachers and staff and is continuously analyzing salaries and compensation to ensure we remain competitive and look for opportunities to increase teacher and staff pay. This is not a change to the budget, but rather, being fiscally responsible with our current budget while ensuring all needs are met.

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