When Community Comes First

It should come as no surprise that school safety has driven more than a few discussions, deliberations and decisions in the past few weeks and months. In Eudora, our leaders have made safety a top priority for a period of years, even if safety concerns and the challenges we face have changed over time.

As superintendent — but also as a dad — I find that it’s impossible not to be personally affected by the violence we’ve seen in schools over the past several months. And as I hear from the parents and patrons in our district, I get a sense that feelings of fear, uncertainty and helplessness really are universal right now.

Fortunately, Eudora has a history of working together to brainstorm, share, reflect and explore local solutions to problems, large and small. And I’m proud to say that we showed up again to do this at a community meeting Monday night.

More than 100 parents, patrons, employees and community partners engaged in thoughtful discussion for 90 minutes. Not only did conversations address the role of schools in safety — they also included dialogue with leaders from Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department and the Eudora Police Department. After all, it requires investment from all of us to ensure safe schools and a safe community.

Group discussion with EMS Principal Jeremy ThomasAs I listened to conversations happening in each of the three areas, I heard people sharing what they believe is going well — and what could use more attention. I heard discussions ranging from social media and school entrances, to the barriers that exist for students and families who could benefit from mental health services.


What I didn’t hear was arguing, debating or name calling. Our students, families and employees deserve so much more than the echo chamber of debates we watch play out on the news and our social media feeds. The only impassioned agenda I heard in the EHS gymnasium on Monday night was genuine concern for making our schools and community safer for everyone. I’m proud of Eudora.

Group discussion with Nicole Rains, representing Bert Nash Community Mental Health CenterAs I reflect on what we accomplished last night — and the feedback we will be compiling and reporting to our community in the coming weeks — I was inspired by the notion that strong partners and good neighbors are how we ensure a safe community. And I was reminded that local solutions exist for virtually any problem we face, when we set aside our differences and put our community first.

Thanks to all the people who participated in our community meeting. You once again help illustrate how powerful a local community can be when people show up ready to think, listen, and work together.

Celebrating School Board Appreciation Month

While they are often behind the scenes and rarely have the opportunity to wander the halls of our schools from day to day, it’s impossible to difficult to imagine Eudora Schools without our elected board of education. Why is that?IMG_0945

  • They care about our students and employees. In Eudora, we are incredibly fortunate to have a board made up of individuals who are able to put aside politics and truly put the needs of our students and employees first.
  • They listen to the community. Not a meeting goes by without mention of this. Our school board members represent our taxpayers with thought and great care.They allow freedom and creativity. Eudora Schools is a special place, thanks in large part to school board members who allow us to try new things, consider new ideas and encourage the principals, directors, teachers and staff to do the same.
  • They are good stewards. Financial business of a school district — taxes, mill rates, budget lines and (unfortunately) budget cuts — is not glamorous. But our board members take this work very seriously and make sure that tax dollars are benefitting our students, our employees, and the community.
  • The seven members — Mark Chrislip, Joe Hurla, Mike Kelso, Bryan Maring, Joe Pyle, Lynn Reazin and Eric Votaw– serve for free. (Not including the ham sandwich and bag of chips that are provided a few hours into an evening business meeting!) They truly serve because they care about our community and want to make our schools the very best they can be.
  • There are countless other reasons why we are lucky to have such a thoughtful, caring group of board members — too numerous to list.

    January is School Board Appreciation Month, and it’s a great time to recognize the service that these elected volunteers provide to our schools and community, 365 days of the year. Please help me say THANK YOU!

    Board and artwork

    Student artwork gift to the board, created by fifth graders in Mrs. Peavey’s art class. It will be on permanent display in the board room.

  • Artwork presentation

Celebrate American Education Week in Eudora

Going back to 1921, American Education Week has one of the oldest traditions of honoring the people who make public schools great to build support in local communities and across the nation.

In Eudora, this week offers us a great opportunity to recognize the hard work that takes place in our schools each day. Think of the people who transport and feed our students. Who comfort them when they’re sick or hurting. Think of the people who teach our students to read, add and subtract and follow the scientific method. Think of the people who encourage students’ passion to learn and create through music, art, sport and exploration. Think of the parents and community members who invest in our students and in our schools.

This week, I hope you’ll join me in thanking these people — the people who make our schools great. Here are three simple ways you can make a difference during American Education Week:

  • Write a note to someone in our schools — anyone I’ve mentioned above — and let them know that you appreciate their dedication to our students.
  • Sign up to work as a volunteer in our schools. Whether a regular assignment or a one-time shift, an hour or two of your time makes a difference.
  • Learn more about the Eudora Schools Foundation, becoming even more visible in our community this week. They are working toward a goal of $30,000 this year to help them fund innovative academic initiatives through classroom grants, student enrichment programs, staff development and recognition. Their success will help ensure student success — today and long into the future.

We are so fortunate in Eudora to have great schools AND a supportive community. Thank you for joining me in celebrating both during American Education Week!thankateacher

Classroom Excellence

When I think of all the important work that is done everyday by our staff, I am amazed. We have tremendous people who work hard to ensure that our students have the best possible education. Innovation and creativity play an important role in ensuring that our students are engaged in that learning process.


image3Today I had the great fortune to be a part of the Eudora Schools Foundation Prize Patrol, awarding a record $10,000 in classroom excellence grants to teachers in all three of our schools. With an eye to innovation, our teachers wrote grant proposals outlining how students could benefit from the awards. We had awards for science kits, sensory tools, novel sets, STEM supplies (Science, Technology,Engineering, and Math), audio-visual equipment and period costumes and props just to name a few.

img_2386All of the awards today were made possible through generous and thoughtful support of our community. Whether $5 or $5,000, these gifts make a difference to our kids and teachers, and to our schools. I feel fortunate and blessed to be living in a community that understands the tremendous importance that education has on a child’s life. img_2387


Today’s fun would not have been possible without the inspired leadership and ambitious vision of the Eudora Schools Foundation. The foundation board is made up of volunteers who work tirelessly to support our students and staff. Shanda Hurla is the executive director and Kania Shain is the president of our board. For more information on the great work of the foundation, please go to www.eudoraschools.org/foundation or contact Shanda at 785-542-4819. Being part of the success of the Foundation means being part of the success of our schools. Thank you for saying “yes” to both! image1

A Kansas Storm

I grew up in central Kansas, where (for better or for worse) dark stormy skies were more likely to draw me outside with my dad — than send me for cover in the basement. I’ve seen big storms, I’ve cleaned up the mess they leave, and I’ve helped rebuild in the weeks and months after. It’s part of the Kansas experience that has shaped me.

Over the past 22 years, I’ve worked in Kansas public schools. Over two decades in any profession, there will be highs and lows. Times when you can’t imagine yourself doing anything different — and times when you wonder if you’ll be able to make it another six months. But one thing I love about a career in schools is this: Hope is always there. Every fall we welcome new faces to our classrooms. Every spring we watch our graduates spread their wings. There is always something new, something worthwhile, something to remind us that the work we do in our schools matters. Our kids and our families matter.

When I contrast the reasons I love working in Kansas public schools, with the stream of news out of Topeka, it’s hard for me to reconcile. It’s hard to make sense of how the Kansas Legislature had months — February, March, April — to write a Constitutional funding law, and didn’t. To know that they had a day in early June to follow the court’s orders, and didn’t. To see our elected officials walk away from their unfinished business, knowing full well that our state’s school system could be shut down if the work wasn’t done by June 30.

As a school superintendent, I get stopped by people at ballgames and the grocery store — a quirk of the job that I have always loved. But the lingering threat of a school shut-down has meant far more difficult questions. “Will there be school in August?” “Will I get paid in July?” “Will my family have to move to a state where schools are in session?” The hardest thing about these questions is that I just don’t have answers. We have no way of knowing what the legislature and governor will do — or when.

So in the meantime, we wait. We wait with hope that someone will step up and provide the leadership necessary for a solution. Undoubtedly, leadership is not a yoke for everyone. It carries a weight that some do not want. So in Kansas, here we are. And here we wait.

In Eudora and in districts across the state, we’re planning for what would happen in a shut-down. We plan for all kinds of emergency situations that could happen in our district, but we hope won’t. But no amount of planning can change the fact that Kansas is in uncharted, dangerous territory. A statewide closure of public schools is unprecedented. But every day that passes without honest work toward constitutional law for funding, brings us closer to this reality. This is the painful uncertainty that our Eudora families, employees and community members feel.

When I look around our state today, I can’t help but think of standing on the porch with my dad as a kid, with a storm rolling in. Right now, imagine you’re on your front porch. A massive tornado is on the ground, and it’s headed right for you. As you watch it get closer, all you know is that you might take a direct hit, or you might not. But watching and waiting is terrifying because the reality sets in that either way, there will be damage.tornado-541911_1280

The only difference between that tornado and the school finance events in Kansas is that we can act to control this storm; we can minimize the man-made destruction from Topeka. Are we prepared to speak up as Kansans and demand that leaders in Topeka change the course of this storm? The time is now.


What can you do?  Tell elected officials you expect the Kansas Legislature to pass a constitutional school funding bill as soon as possible.

  • Click here for your Kansas senator and representative
  • Click here for Governor Brownback’s contact information

Act now to vote in August

Kansans know that our state’s public schools are pulling through a very difficult time. So it never surprises me when I’m asked the question, “What can I do to help?”

My answer is simple: VOTE. We live in a wonderful state that’s been made strong by generations of voting Kansans. In our democracy, your vote is your voice.

We all know that there will be a big election in November — but Kansans have a critical opportunity to vote in the August primaries. Are you concerned about the future funding of our schools? The funding of the KPERS retirement system? The future of Kansas public education? VOTE in the August primaries. Here’s what you need to do:


  • Today: Make sure you’re registered to vote by clicking here. If you’ve moved or changed your name, you must re-register.
  • This week: Apply for mail ballot for the August Primary. Summer is a busy time for families and employees — a mail ballot allows you to vote from home, when it’s convenient for you. Click here to apply TODAY to receive a ballot by mail. Complete the form before you leave work for the summer (be sure to fill in “Primary August 2” on Section 5 of the form), and you’ll be set to make your vote count in August.
  • Before NOON on Wednesday, June 1: Go to your county election office and select the party affiliation (Republican or Democrat) for the primary you want to vote in on Aug. 2. Click here for a printable voter application and party designation form or find online registration information here. If you aren’t sure which primary you want to vote in yet, change your registration to Unaffiliated before this deadline. You can then request a Republican OR Democratic ballot at your polling place on Aug. 2. (If you do this, you will need to complete paperwork at the poll to affiliate with the party whose ballot you select.) If you are doing a mail-in ballot, you must designate your party affiliation before noon on June 1.
  • Before Tuesday, August 2: Find out who will be on the Republican and Democratic primary ballots — and learn their positions on the issues that are important to you. Review voting records, campaign literature, websites and personal conversations or e-mails to decide which candidates best match your views.
  • On or before Tuesday, August 2:  CAST YOUR VOTE! In person advance voting begins 20 days before the Aug. 2 primary.

If you select a party affiliation before June 1, or at your polling place on Aug. 2, you can always change your affiliation after the primary by contacting your county election office. And remember, your party affiliation never affects your voting options in a November general election.

POLLING PLACE 3Whether by mail or in person, THANK YOU for voting in the August primary. By casting a ballot, you will join the generations of great Kansans before us who helped build this state — and help ensure a strong Kansas for the generations to come.

Easy Choices, Hard Choices, Right Choices

Life is filled with choices — some easy, others less so. When I was a student, I could choose to do my homework in a timely manner. If I did, I’d retain my eligibility for sports and maybe even stay in my parents’ good graces. Sometimes the consequences of choices are harder to see in the moment. Shortly after getting my first car, I met a Kansas Highway Patrol trooper who saw my speeding as a bit of a problem. Short-term choice that got me to school on time actually ended with a less pleasant long-term consequence – citation for speeding plus the loss of driving privileges.

The State of Kansas is out of money. As you’ve probably seen in the news, Kansas has, yet again, failed to generate the money needed to meet its obligations. The tax policy changes passed by the legislature in 2012 with the promise of creating growth, have not delivered. And again, Gov. Brownback and the Kansas Legislature are proposing cuts to spending and transfers from one state fund to another. Like transfers from a savings account to a checking account, this is a temporary band-aid because there is no more money coming in to replace it. But for the people making these decisions, a temporary fix may seem easier right now than a lasting solution.

SclassroomOne choice offered by the governor is to cut spending on K-12 schools by about $57 million dollars, or $124 per student. (See below for an outline of the three options Gov. Brownback proposed.) In Eudora, this translates to a cut for the 2016-17 school of about $210,000. What does $210,000 translate to? Well, it’s the same as of 4.5 teaching positions. It’s the cost of all extracurricular activities. It’s the money it will take to replace the two buses and van that we need to transport students next year. We have no easy choices here.

Right now, our community is being forced into yet another a situation that has nothing to do with anything in Eudora. Legislative decisions on tax policy have created cash flow problems for every school and community in Kansas. The governor proposed three choices (details are below). All three of these are temporary fixes — easy choices today, but ones that have long-reaching negative consequences for the people of Kansas. Where is the hard — but right — choice to correct the tax policy that has created this state budget crisis? Where is the hard — but right — choice to fix the state’s revenue problem and begin adequately funding state services again?

Our community understands the importance of a quality education, and our locally elected school board has made hard choices, over many years, to round out local property tax increases with increases in fees, reductions in expenses and cuts to services and programs. It is time now for our elected officials to make the hard — but right — choices. Set aside partisan, election year politics. Restore stable revenue sources that fund state services. And choose to put our state back on stable financial ground.

And it’s time now for you — for all of us — to reach out to our elected officials and let them know what’s important to you, and what’s at stake in Eudora. Go to openstates.org to find contact information for the people elected to represent you in Topeka.

Governor’s Proposed Options:

Option 1

  • Transfer $70 million from State Highway Fund to State General Fund in FY16 and $115 million in FY17
  • Carry forward a 3% reduction in aid to Universities in FY16
  • Securitize future tobacco settlement payments in excess of $42 million for about $158 million in FY17

Option 2

  • Transfer $70 million from State Highway Fund to State General Fund in FY16 and $115 million in FY17
  • Carry forward a 3% reduction in aid to Universities in FY16
  • Reduce expenditures or transfer $25 million in targeted efficiency savings
  • Delay FY16 fourth quarter KPERS payment that would not be made until FY18

Option 3

  • Transfer $70 million from State Highway Fund to State General Fund in FY16 and $115 million in FY17
  • 3-5% expenditure reductions would be made to most state agencies for FY17 totaling $139 million
  • $57,262.285 reduction from the Kansas Department of Education


Click here to view the Governor’s budget amendment.



Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Christmas Fireplace

I am certain that each of us has memories of our childhood that today we remember as though it were yesterday. Christmas and New Years seem to provide us with some of the most vivid. I am reminded of the times as a child when I walked into my grandparents homes to find Christmas trees cut fresh from the pasture and draped in tinsel and lights. The smell of cedar and baked goods permeated every space in the house. Everything seemed so simple then (unless you were trying to use the nutcracker to open walnuts).

Looking back today, I think it’s really the “not so obvious” things that I miss the most. I remember the time spent with family, often with aunts, uncles and cousins that we didn’t see very often — and the disappointment when it was time for them to leave, knowing it could be another year before we would get together again. It was a time of “doing for others” simply because that’s what we do here in Kansas…scooping out a neighbor’s snowy driveway, helping to rake the last of the fallen leaves, or delivering homemade treats to a neighbor. It was the sweet aroma of one grandfather’s pipe and the joyful music from my other grandfather’s harmonica.  

This year, I would like to extend a sincere Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you. No matter your family’s traditions and celebrations, I hope you’ll remember what matters most — kindness to others and time with the people who mean the most to you. May these blessings rekindle your favorite memories and experiences, so special this time of year.

Have a safe and wonderful break — and we’ll see you in 2016!


Creating a Roadmap for our Future


One of the strengths behind every successful organization is the ability to plan for the future.  This can be challenging (since the perfect “crystal ball” has yet to be perfected), but it can also be quite rewarding.

The Eudora Board of Education assembled a group of stakeholders last week to help create the next strategic plan for the school district.  The group was mad up of a cross-section of employees and district parents,  as well as community members who don’t currently have kids in school. That day, dozen of volunteers took time to reflect on the old plan while looking to the future.


The work we did last week further built upon a foundation first laid out by the board in 2009.  That foundation was a set of core values —  collaboration, class size, personalized education and early childhood programs — that board members believed were key to define what we do as a district.

These core values then inspired the district’s first strategic plan, adopted in January 2010. Nearly six years later, the board is now working on the 2015-2017 plan with five target areas: organizational strength, academic excellence, whole child education, technology and community partnerships.  At our meeting last week, our stakeholders worked together to determine action items that should be considered under each target area.StrategicPlan-GroupRot

It was a great day, filled with new ideas and excellent conversations about our future as a district, among a group of supportive, dedicated and thoughtful people. Just one more impressive example of the incredible support Eudora Schools gets from our community.



Small Town Americana



Nothing speaks to small town Americana quite like a homecoming parade and pep rally.  Our backdrop was a picture perfect fall evening in CPA Park.  Friends, family, and neighbors joined together for a pep rally in downtown Eudora.


Where else can you find that the world seems to stop for a moment, (not to mention traffic through downtown?) It was an impressive display of students (some younger and some older), floats, and the Cardinal Regiment Marching Band all driven to support their teammates and classmates.


Our teams were out in full force.  Each with an opportunity to celebrate their accomplishments to date with the promise of future victories against area foes.


In the end, we found ourselves bound arm in arm singing our school alma mater and school fight song.  Small town pride.  A slice of small town Americana.