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2024 election: Meet the North Kansas City school board candidates

Top row from left: North Kansas City school board candidates Jan Kauk, Tammy McFerran, Joe Jacobs and Jane Rinehart. Bottom row from left: Candidates Brock Foley, Aryn Peters, Tirdad Daei, Susan Hines and Roy Copeland III.
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Top row from left: North Kansas City school board candidates Jan Kauk, Tammy McFerran, Joe Jacobs and Jane Rinehart. Bottom row from left: Candidates Brock Foley, Aryn Peters, Tirdad Daei, Susan Hines and Roy Copeland III.

Here’s what nine North Kansas City school board candidates think about mental health, cellphones in school and removing books from libraries.

This guide is part of a series on 2024 school board elections from KCUR and The Beacon Kansas City, members of the KC Media Collective.

Most North Kansas City Schools Board of Education candidates say they’re generally happy with the direction the district is heading.

But almost all say they’d like to see schools do more to support students’ mental health, and they differ on how cautiously the district should approach technology such as cellphones and artificial intelligence in the classroom.

Voters will see two groups of candidates on their April 2 ballots.

Jan Kauk, the current board president, and Tammy McFerran are competing to finish out the remaining year of Dan Wartick’s spot on the board. He resigned from the board in August.

Seven other candidates — incumbents Jane Rinehart and Susan Hines and challengers Joe Jacobs, Brock Foley, Aryn Peters, Tirdad Daei and Roy Copeland III — are competing for three open seats to serve a full three-year term.

Hines, Jacobs, Kauk and Rinehart, who are all current or former school board members, are endorsed by the district’s teachers union.

All nine candidates responded to our questions about their background, priorities and positions. Here’s what they had to say.

Responses have been edited for grammar, Associated Press style and clarity.

Meet the candidates: One-year term

Jan Kauk

Occupation: Retired nonprofit consultant.

Background and qualifications: I have served 14 years on the NKC Schools Board of Education and am currently serving as board president. I have attained “distinguished certification,” the highest award earned by members of the Missouri School Boards’ Association. Endorsed by North Kansas City National Education Association (teachers union).

Favorite school event: Touring schools and seeing the vision of the district in action in the classroom. The experience and dedication of teachers and student engagement is evident when students are actively learning.

Tammy McFerran

Occupation: I am an audit, compliance and project consultant for financial institutions.

Background and qualifications: I have been active in various schools through volunteering in classrooms and support of extracurricular activities such as orchestra, choir and track as well as Parent Teacher Organizations.

Favorite school event: Book fairs, extracurricular activities like concerts and plays.

Meet the candidates: Three-year term

Joe Jacobs

Occupation: Director administrative services/facilities, Evergy (formerly Kansas City Power and Light) — retired

Background and qualifications: I served on the NKC Schools Board of Education for many years before not running for reelection. My experiences with the school district as a student, teacher, board leader and neighbor give me a unique perspective to help guide NKC Schools. As a board leader, the district became a model school district.

Favorite school event: Theater. Sports. Multicultural fairs. I enjoy any student related event that showcases the talents, intelligence and diversity of NKC Schools students.

Jane Rinehart

Occupation: Retired teacher from the Kansas City, Missouri, school district, taught and coached debate at Central High School.

Background and qualifications: Currently serving on the NKC Schools board, former teacher with the Kansas City, Missouri, school district.

Favorite school event: Debate events.

Brock Foley

Occupation: Attorney, self-employed

Background and qualifications: Foley did not respond to this section. In responses to a Ballotpedia questionnaire this year, he said he has a bachelor’s degree and law degree from Brigham Young University, owns a legal practice focused on estate planning and small businesses, and is the father of four current or future district students.

Favorite school event: My kids love the homecoming parade, and we have a lot of fun attending that each year.

Aryn Peters

Occupation: Manager, client engagement, TruHome Solutions LLC

Background and qualifications: I have 10+ years teaching experience, my master’s in education and specialist in secondary leadership and administration. I attended NKC Schools growing up. I graduated from Oak Park. I have three children in the district currently.

Favorite school event: My favorite school-related events are always end-of-year cumulative celebrations. As a mother, I enjoy participating in these events with my own kids and their classmates. As a former educator, I loved graduation. Being part of the culmination of hard work that a student has accomplished was always a privilege. Graduation is a testament to the staff and resources the district and schools have provided to help these students be successful and ready to embark on the next chapters of their lives.

Tirdad Daei

Occupation: Senior instructional systems specialist — U.S. Army

Background and qualifications: Sixteen years with the U.S. Army, second highest medal. Member of the Policy and Governance Oversight Committee of Army University and the National Security Education Consortium. Third-degree black belt in judo, Class C national coaching certificate, regional referee.

Favorite school event: As a nominee for the North Kansas City school board, I cherish the book fair as my favorite school event. It’s a wonderful occasion where students explore the magic of literature, fostering a love for reading and learning. The book fair ignites imagination and encourages lifelong literacy.

Susan Hines

Occupation: Talent and learning partner at Siemens Corp.

Background and qualifications: A snapshot of my qualifications includes teaching English as a second language, executive leadership in standardized testing, coaching, facilitation, and leadership and management.

Favorite school event: I love the beginning of each school board meeting where we recognize and appreciate students and staff for their incredible accomplishments and acts of service.

Roy Copeland III

Occupation: I am a State Farm agent owner. My employer is Roy Copeland III State Farm.

Background and qualifications: Copeland did not respond to this question. His campaign website says he is a parent of two district students and has been involved in his daughters’ schools since 2014. He is a member of an elementary school PTA and of the NKC Schools Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Advisory Council.

Favorite school event: My daughters are very active in their schools. I enjoy attending all of their events – Parent Teacher Association meetings, academic celebrations, birthday lunches, basketball and volleyball games, swim meets and parent nights at their schools.

Multiple-choice questions

School funding

One-year term

Kauk: Our community is generous within our school district, but often the state and emerging legislative bills threaten public school funding. The most urgent need is to increase teacher salaries and add mental health support in the schools.

McFerran: It is important that spending keeps up with the district’s need to provide a superior education. I believe spending is adequate at this time but could quickly fall behind if financial decisions aren’t made strategically.

Three-year term

Jacobs: Voters have been very supportive of school funding through levy and bond ballot issues. NKC Schools and the school board have managed those funds well and allocated funds throughout the school system in a fair and equitable way, supporting student instruction and programs and teacher and staff salaries.

Rinehart: Managing resources can solve a lot of funding issues.

Foley: The North Kansas City school district is in the unique position of being well-funded and that is a big part of why it is such a great school district. We are fortunate to be a part of a community that values its schools.

Peters: It is important to understand the capacity of our taxpayers and understand the critical component of good decision-making. We need to be constantly assessing and reviewing the needs of the students and the schools so we can adjust as appropriate.

Daei: In my district, allocating more funds to schools is crucial for hiring and retaining quality teachers. Investing in our educators ensures a stable and supportive learning environment, fostering student success and community growth.

Hines: The state of Missouri needs to increase funding for schools. Our state consistently ranks one of the lowest in school funding.

Copeland: Our district administrators and board have repeatedly demonstrated their high level of investment in our schools. They have worked to create equity in schools throughout the district by building several innovative new school buildings.

Controversial books

One-year term

Kauk: NKC Schools has policies in place to protect the rights of all parents to manage their own children’s access to books. Our library specialists honor that right but also encourage book offerings that serve as windows and mirrors for ALL students.

McFerran: Parents are primarily responsible for their children, including taking an active role in their education. The district hires exceptional teachers whose primary responsibility is to provide a superior education. Finding a middle ground would be ideal.

Three-year term

Jacobs: NKC Schools has a committee that reviews and selects books. There is a review process for parents who believe their student should not be required to read certain materials. Parents can also sign a waiver requesting their student opt out of using a book or material. (NKC Schools follows all Missouri laws regarding book selections.)

Rinehart: We have a media director for a reason. It is their job to determine appropriateness of book selection. School librarians should not be subject to fines and imprisonment for books in their collection.

Foley: Again, the North Kansas City school district is well-run and I have been very pleased with the way it has navigated many of the political flashpoints. I have nothing but admiration for the way the district has handled this particular issue.

Peters: There is legislation that drives what books should be allowed, or not, in schools. The board must support district staff as they uphold the policies and procedures to support these laws. Parents can request books not be available to their child.

Daei: Fostering dialogue and considering diverse perspectives are crucial in addressing book content concerns. Upholding intellectual freedom while ensuring age-appropriate materials for students is paramount.

Hines: In fall of 2021, the North Kansas City district and board listened to public comments from high school students and the community and reviewed its policy on removing books. I agree with the final decision to return the books to the library.

Copeland: The district has an effective process in place to determine if a book should be permanently removed from the libraries in the district. This process allows parents the ability to restrict any book of their choosing for their own child.

Transgender students

One-year term

Kauk: As NKC Schools renovates bathrooms, for safety and security reasons, we have built gender-neutral stalls with common wash areas. Teachers may easily monitor these spaces that protect the privacy and dignity of all students. The new Kansas City International Airport also follows this innovative design.

McFerran: Students should have the ability to use names and pronouns they feel best suit them. Efforts should be made to remodel restrooms so they are gender-neutral while providing complete privacy for the user.

Three-year term

Jacobs: When any student feels disrespected or unsafe, school principals, teachers and staff are available to help them find a solution. When necessary, parents are engaged to develop workable, collaborative solutions for their child. Plans are in place to make NKC Schools more safe and secure and to provide a variety of bathroom alternatives for all students.

Rinehart: Schools need to be concerned with treating all students with respect and dignity. Gender-neutral bathrooms have been around for a number of years. Any woman at a sporting event will explain that gender neutral bathrooms would solve a lot of issues.

Foley: I am pleased that, from my view, NKC schools are doing a great job at making our schools as welcoming and accommodating as possible.

Peters: Schools should be welcoming and inclusive. Names and pronouns are a personal choice. Gender-neutral bathrooms can be found in the district as facilities are updated. My daughter uses these facilities and has no complaints.

Daei: As a Christian, I prioritize respecting individuals’ dignity and privacy, especially students’. Policies should ensure a safe environment, by legal guidelines. Focus should be on providing excellent education, not ever-changing political policies.

Hines: An MIT research study found that creating and promoting a culture of inclusion and belonging for students “...is associated with higher academic performance, persistence, and is protective for mental health.” While we can always do more to ensure that students feel like they belong, NKC Schools visibly supports and promotes gender diversity and identity.

Copeland: In our district, students are currently allowed to use the names and pronouns by which they identify. I support the district’s current policy and practice.

Mental health

One-year term

Kauk: NKC Schools is focused on offering mental health services to students with trained professionals and triaged care in place. Pre-K-12 support includes peer support training, crisis teams, social emotional curriculum, on-site interventionalists and differentiated instruction for students with mental health needs to name a few efforts. We can always do more!

McFerran: The stresses of today take a toll on families and students. Students can’t learn if they are anxious, scared or simply “not in a good place” mentally. Teaching students how to manage their mental health is important for their success.

Three-year term

Jacobs: Students enter classrooms with a variety of issues. It’s important to focus funding and programming for student mental health. NKC Schools provides good student mental service programming. While there is no one solution, the district has to provide safe, inclusive and respectful learning environments for all students so they can learn at the highest level possible.

Rinehart: We have many programs addressing student mental health. Schools cannot do everything. Identifying students who need additional support is always a challenge. We are lucky in Clay County to have resources, but early detection is paramount.

Foley: While I think there could be some changes in response and approach, my school district has been very proactive in supporting student mental health. I am running because I have additional ideas and approaches that would help in this crucial fight.

Peters: Student mental health can’t be ignored because of its direct impact on student learning. The district has started partnerships with organizations to assist. It is imperative we have plans and support in place for our students, families and staff.

Daei: My school district and its school board should be more involved in supporting student mental health.

Hines: We are still unpacking and learning about how the pandemic affected our student mental health. While we are moving in the right direction for providing additional mental health support for students, we can and should continue to pursue more and better ways to help students.

Copeland: Due to the significant rise in student mental health needs, the district needs to continue to seek various strategies, resources and prompt access to provide mental health support for students with the need for these services.

Social emotional learning

One-year term

Kauk: This is an opportunity to not only do more but to be effective and consistent in how we offer social emotional learning with our diverse and mobile student population. We are focused on helping ALL children belong. We have an opportunity to link parents into our training to ensure that there is consistency and support for students to experience school and home as safe, consistent places to learn and grow.

McFerran: Emotional intelligence is crucial to success in school, a career and life. To ensure students’ future success, social emotional learning should take place throughout the day and potentially be added as a non-core class such as art or music.

Three-year term

Jacobs: NKC Schools’ Portrait of a Graduate incorporates social emotional learning concepts. The seven key transferable competencies in this model include adaptability, communication, collaboration, empathy, integrity and empathy. These social emotional traits are very important to include in classroom learning and will provide key competencies for student success during their NKC Schools experience and beyond graduation.

Rinehart: We already do a lot of this in our classrooms. While we can offer the programs, I think that determining a good balance is up to the individual instructors.

Foley: The more soft skills our students are able to develop during their schooling the better. I would argue one of the great societal contributions of public schooling is the opportunity for students to learn how to live in a society with other people.

Peters: Students need their basic needs met and to feel safe. As part of a comprehensive education, preparing strong members of society helps our community grow and improve, key in social emotional learning. But there must be a balance so teachers can teach the curriculum, too.

Daei: My school district should balance social emotional learning in classrooms to nurture students’ well-being and resilience while ensuring learning remains a priority. It’s about fostering growth while maintaining academic focus.

Hines: Our district has seen a positive impact from the social emotional learning techniques and approaches already adopted. We are on a journey and should continue to pursue more training and ways to apply social emotional learning in classrooms. Research shows that social emotional learning supports improved academic performance and future-readiness.

Copeland: The district has a comprehensive districtwide process in place for supporting and teaching social emotional learning and lessons in the classrooms.


One-year term

Kauk: Artificial intelligence policies will help our students utilize AI in the workplace. Every student has their own tablet for learning. Cellphone use is presently restricted, which I support. However, it is difficult to universally enforce this practice in the classroom.

McFerran: The job market today requires the ability to utilize cellphones and artificial intelligence and access technology. Anything in a textbook can be found electronically, so integrating these devices into the classroom is a win.

Three-year term

Jacobs: Cellphones, internet use and AI are useful tools to integrate into the classroom to assist and enhance student learning. These innovative tools are reframing how students successfully learn. For safe use, the district deploys online tools to monitor and restrict student use/access of the internet and other technologies. NKC Schools also has a cellphone policy.

Rinehart: Restricting phones left up to the school principal. Finding productive ways to use AI and not have it used to write papers for students. Many students lack the business technological skills needed in the workplace.

Foley: Cellphones are huge distractions to learning and give students an escape from the awkward social interactions they should be experiencing at this age. We live in a tech-driven world, but there is great value in taking a break from technology at school.

Peters: I believe it is irresponsible not to be a proponent of technology. But it is also important to educate students on using technology in a productive and responsible, respectable way. This can be maintained with policies and procedures in place.

Daei: My school district should integrate technology into classrooms to balance traditional methods, encouraging creativity and pushing learning boundaries without overshadowing students’ ability to think critically and solve problems individually.

Hines: The ability to leverage these technologies for learning is a future-readiness critical skill; however, we need to spend as much time and energy on teaching our kids how to make good decisions about technology use.

Copeland: Technology is a given reality now and will continue to be so in the future. The district should continue to seek ways to use technology as a productive resource in the school learning and instructional environment.

Open-ended questions

If elected to the school board, what would you do to improve outcomes for students in your district? How well do you believe students are currently learning and achieving academically in your district?

One-year term

Kauk: Define clear goals to engage students in real-world learning and increase the number of Pre-K students who are ready to learn. Differentiated instruction is important. We exceed the state average and track success through ACT scores, C/C credentials or credits at graduation and rigorous coursework.

McFerran: I would listen. Administration is very knowledgeable about how to run a school district. However, I think the teachers, the professionals in our classrooms, may have some great ideas on how to motivate and improve learning outcomes.

Three-year term

Jacobs: My experiences as a school board member give me a unique perspective to help guide NKC Schools. I can use that experience to help implement standards-based learning. I can also use my professional expertise constructing/improving facilities to help develop the 10-year facilities plan. NKC Schools is outpacing most districts in recovering academically post-pandemic. Student achievement to meet state standards is moving in a positive direction.

Rinehart: I’m currently on the school board on both the governance team and the student learning team. Monthly, we go over current data regarding student achievement. Directing resources to those underperforming schools/students can improve outcomes.

Foley: One of the biggest challenges facing our young people today is mental health. Our students cannot be well prepared for adult life, or to participate in society as good citizens, if they are crippled by depression or anxiety. Student mental health and wellness is critical to student success.

Peters: We must always be looking at continuous improvement models. It is important to use data-driven decision making as we plan the best way forward for our students. Ensuring we have additional academic support for all our diverse student learners is imperative.

Daei: Student-centered policies, foster inclusive learning environments and advocate for resources that enhance academic achievement, focusing on back-to-basics education and preparing future leaders of our community and country in all areas of interest.

Hines: As mentioned previously, increasing students’' senses of belonging will improve outcomes for students. Regarding learning and achievement, I have confidence that our district administration has identified how to move learning and achievement in the right direction.

Copeland: As a board member, my role is to support the work of administration and ensure that resources are allocated to positively impact their work with our students. I believe that as a district we need to continue to review and address student achievement data and close subgroup achievement gaps.

What is your biggest concern about the school board’s recent decisions or actions?

One-year term

Kauk: Our district’s decisions have been strategic. My greater concern is the assault on public education in Jefferson City. Without adequate support of public schools, I believe our nation will be at risk and our children will be left behind. Public education is critical for a robust workforce/society.

McFerran: To improve and standardize outcomes, standards-based learning has been adopted. I agree that rigor is important, but I’m concerned students will struggle meeting required minimums and teachers won’t have the bandwidth to provide the “extra” attention needed to keep them from falling further behind.

Three-year term

Jacobs: As NKC Schools shifts to standards-based learning, school board experience matters. My knowledge of the process will help me ask the right questions and ensure implementation is not rushed and allows time for understanding and feedback from teachers, staff and parents. While implementing standards-based learning, it’s imperative NKC Schools keeps focused on educating its very diverse student base using existing curriculum in a positive, successful way.

Rinehart: Allocation of resources and academic achievement, teacher burnout, teacher salaries.

Foley: I am glad my children attend NKC schools and I am pleased with their direction. I am running because I have unique ideas that will continue to improve and strengthen an already amazing school district. In NKC, let’s build on our success and continue to provide a fantastic education to our students!

Peters: The board continues a clear focus on student experience and achievement K-12. There is a collaborative model that supports capacity and sustainability of the district and work for students. I have no specific concerns, but know education is ever-evolving, so we must always be ready to collaborate.

Daei: With 102 languages spoken, enhancing cross-cultural competencies in the strategic plan. Addressing barriers like race, gender, mental health, special needs and hunger. Forecasting revenue sources and fundraising local businesses to reduce dependence on tax revenue. Help underperforming schools.

Hines: I am proud of our board and the healthy relationship we have with our district administration, so I don’t have big concerns about decisions and actions. I would, however, like for the board to be more representative of the community we serve.

Copeland: I do not have current concerns about the school board’s recent decisions or actions.

More 2024 school board election guides

Maria Benevento is the education reporter at The Kansas City Beacon. She is a Report for America corps member.
More than ever, education lies at the intersection of equity, housing, funding, and other diverse issues facing Kansas City’s students, families and teachers. As KCUR’s education reporter, I’ll break down the policies driving these issues in schools and report what’s happening in our region's classrooms. You can reach me at jodifortino@kcur.org.
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