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2024 election: Meet the Lee's Summit school board candidates

Top row from left: Lee’s Summit school board candidates Reuben Mitchell and Juanice Williams. Bottom row from left: Candidates Rodrick Sparks and Dan Blake. Not pictured: Stacie Myers and Bill Haley.
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Top row from left: Lee’s Summit school board candidates Reuben Mitchell and Juanice Williams. Bottom row from left: Candidates Rodrick Sparks and Dan Blake. Not pictured: Stacie Myers and Bill Haley.

Candidates for two open seats on the Lee's Summit school board talk about the district's finances, cellphone in the classrooms and mental health services for students.

The Lee’s Summit School District has long had a reputation for high-achieving students — but it’s made headlines in recent years for divisive school board elections.

Hot button issues like book bans and how race and LGBTQ issues are handled in schools took center stage in recent campaigns, reflecting a national trend of increasingly partisan contests for seats on school boards.

Three conservative candidates critical of the district’s diversity efforts have recently taken spots on the Lee’s Summit board. A victory for even one conservative candidate on April 2 could change the makeup of the board and potentially roll back recent diversity initiatives.

The school board previously struggled to agree on how to best proceed with diversity training and an equity plan to close achievement gaps for students of color.

Tackling the learning gap is a priority for some of the six candidates running for two spots on the Lee’s Summit School Board.

Rodrick Sparks, the current board president, will be running to keep his seat. He’s joined by challengers Stacie Myers, Reuben Mitchell, Juanice Williams, Bill Haley and Dan Blake.

Here’s a look at what the candidates had to say about selected issues, as well as information on their backgrounds, priorities and positions. Some of the responses have been lightly edited for clarity and consistency.

Meet the candidates

Reuben Mitchell

Occupation: Data analyst with the federal government

Background and qualifications: I have 19 years of experience as a civil servant working on diverse teams to tackle complex problems impacting national goals.

Favorite school event: I have really enjoyed the robotic events with my boys, who are always making their own creations after each event.

Juanice Williams

Occupation: University of Central Missouri-faculty and coordinator of field education for the social work program

Background and qualifications: I have been a social worker for 20 years. I began my career at the Missouri Children’s Division, was a school social worker in the Independence School District, and then moved on to UCM. I am a certified mental health first aid trainer

Favorite school event: Graduation

Rodrick Sparks

Occupation: Escrow assistant at Security 1st Title

Background and qualifications: I am fortunate to have had the privilege of serving our community for the past three years, with the added responsibility of serving as board president over the past year. My dedication to ongoing education as a board member is evident in my achievement of the distinguished certification, the highest level recognized by the Missouri School Boards’ Association.

Favorite school event: My favorite school-related event is undoubtedly graduation. It's a momentous occasion that marks the culmination of years of hard work, growth, and achievement. Seeing my students crossing the stage, receiving their diplomas, and celebrating this significant milestone together is a memory they should cherish. Graduation represents not only academic success but also the beginning of new opportunities and adventures beyond the school environment.

Dan Blake

Occupation: Account Manager — Burns & McDonnell

Background and qualifications: Mechanical Engineer and Business Leader

Leadership — I have previous board experience on a national engineering board as acting VP. I lead a $100 million engineering and construction business. Diplomatic with actionable results.

Favorite school event: Graduation: I believe in preparing our students for the job market by empowering them to live successful lives post-graduation.

Bill Haley

Bill Haley, who did not respond to requests to complete the questionnaire, is the father of two Lee’s Summit graduates and a grandfather.

His experience includes 14 years as a small business owner. According to his campaign Facebook page, Haley is the owner of the ammunition manufacturing company On Target Ammunition.

His campaign website states his platform is a “back to basics” approach that includes strengthening science, technology, engineringing and language. It also states his priority to ensure fiscal responsibility, retain quality educators and minimize the achievement gap.

Stacie Myers

Stacie Myers, who declined to participate in the candidate guide, is a longtime educator and Lee’s Summit resident. Local media outlet Link 2 Lee's Summit said Myers taught for 21 years at Lee’s Summit North and Lee’s Summit West before retiring.

Myers’ campaign literature describes her as a “public education advocate.” She stated on her campaign Facebook page that “teaching isn’t a spectator sport.”

“You’ve got to be authentic, do the work, connect with kids, have courageous conversations with parents & do it all over again the next day,” Myers said. “Students need to feel like they belong, are valued, & you care. A strong Board of Education is the foundation. Relationships matter.”

The Lee’s Summit teacher’s union endorsed Myers and Sparks for spots on the school board.

Multiple-choice questions

School funding

Mitchell: Our budget is quite large that is mostly taken up with salaries and benefits. It is not simply a matter of spending the right amount because there are almost infinite expenditures to quibble over. With that said, there is always room for improvement.

Williams: My district should be better stewards of the money we already receive. Our Title 1 schools lost their full-time reading and math specialists, to each split between two schools. Those schools have the students most at risk to fail.

Sparks: Did not answer

Blake: 81% of our budget is spent on salaries but we overwork our teachers by asking them to be security guards, nurses, mental health coaches, etc. Money should be prioritized on staff to help offset this issue. It would solve literacy and behavior issues.

Controversial Books

Mitchell: I am not aware of any books that have been pulled from LSR7 recently. There are some parents whose children are able to access books they do not feel they are mature enough to properly handle the content. Perhaps something can be done for those parents.

Williams: My district has responded adequately to the challenges, but it is very costly to the district each time these same challenges arise.

Sparks: In LSR7, we entrust our knowledgeable library professionals to assess our books' appropriateness. While our district has faced book challenges, our board consistently upholds policy standards in addressing concerns. Our commitment to open dialogue ensures transparency and fairness, fostering an environment that values intellectual freedom and diverse perspectives within our educational community.

Blake: The district has an appeal process for parents to initiate. I am opposed to censorship and zero books have been removed but we must have age appropriate books in the library. Sexually explicit content should not be available to children.

Trans students

Mitchell: A couple of my family members are transgender so I’m familiar with the complexities of this issue. The depth of this topic requires more space and personal interactions to fully explore and include those who are affected for the best possible answer.

Williams: All students should feel safe and accepted

Sparks: I strongly advocate for fostering an inclusive environment in our school district, where students feel comfortable using names, pronouns and bathrooms that align with their gender identity. It is crucial, however, to maintain a focus on the safety and well-being of all students in every decision we make, ensuring that our commitment to inclusivity is balanced with considerations for the broader welfare of the school system.

Blake: Students should feel welcome as they are but proper conversations should be had with the parents to make any special accommodations. This should be handled one on one rather than sweeping district policy.

Mental health

Mitchell: My family has been affected by a tragic loss brought on by mental health issues. It is a complex problem that isn't easily wrapped up in a short answer. But we all want our kids to be happy and healthy to give them the best shot at success.

Williams: Students' MH concerns have been on the rise and my district continues to contract out services instead of having embedded programs.

Sparks: Addressing the mental health of all our students is paramount. I advocate for implementing comprehensive programs that prioritize mental well-being and provide accessible resources. If we foster a supportive environment and work to raise awareness, we can create a school community that actively promotes and supports the mental health of every student.

Blake: Supporting mental health is important but it should be done by professionals and not another check-list item for already overworked teachers. We must hire these professionals to teach students how to articulate feelings when students are in need.

Social-emotional learning

Mitchell: Reenforcing good behaviors has become harder and harder but our teachers have adapted to this complex landscape and I trust them to have their finger on the pulse of their own classroom over any national program.

Williams: It seems the district does a good job with this.

Sparks: Incorporating more social-emotional learning (SEL) in the classroom is crucial for several reasons. Firstly, SEL equips students with essential life skills such as self-awareness, empathy, and effective communication, fostering emotional intelligence. This, in turn, enhances their ability to navigate relationships and collaborate successfully. Additionally, SEL contributes to a positive school climate, reducing behavioral issues and promoting a supportive learning environment.

Blake: SEL can be a good thing. It teaches students how to articulate feelings and communicate. We have to balance the financial requirements with the workload already assumed by each teacher.


Mitchell: Technology is the future and we need to prepare kids to be able to operate in that environment if we don't want them left behind. However, technology is a double-edged sword that plays a key part in poor behavior and mental health.

Williams: As a faculty in higher ed, we have learned the more we teach students about AI and the proper way to use it, the less likely they are to misuse it and instead treat it as a tool to be used in addition to their knowledge.

Sparks: Integrating AI into today's learning experience offers numerous benefits for school districts. AI can provide personalized learning experiences tailored to individual student needs, promoting better comprehension and engagement. By embracing AI, school districts can enhance educational efficiency, adaptability, and ultimately prepare students for the evolving demands of the 21st century.

Blake: I believe technology should be embraced in the school only after the basics have been mastered. We use technology in the workplace and the sooner students are up to speed the more prepared they will be for graduation.

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?

Mitchell: I would like to see some focus brought to under-performing students. We have some very high-performing kids who routinely earn awards across multiple disciplines. But there are some who continue to struggle and require different interventions.

Williams: Comprehensive mental health program, embedded social workers to help students and families. Title 1 schools should have full-time support and that should never be negotiated. If we meet these gaps then students are in better positions to learn.

Sparks: If granted the opportunity for reelection to the Board of Education, my dedication persists in prioritizing academic success within our district. LSR7's mission is to prepare each student for success in life by fostering readiness for various future paths—whether higher education, vocational training, military service, or immediate entry into the workforce. Despite our district’s high achievements, I am committed to ongoing improvements in the learning experience for all our students.

Blake: My first priority is to improve literacy. All students must be proficient by 3rd grade or they will be behind. It leads to behavior issues which is a direct link to over 677 out-of -school suspensions in 2023 alone. We improve by going to a "structured" approach in lieu of the "balanced" approach.

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

Mitchell: I’m not overly concerned with the board’s most recent decisions. I would like to see the board bring attention to the kids who are being left behind and are struggling to keep up. I would also like to see some focus on the finances where possible to redirect funds into supporting teachers.

Williams: I don’t know that it is necessarily the school board’s decision, but choosing to receive money from the state last year that was earmarked to provide mental health support to students and then contracting those services out was the biggest concern that led me to run.

Sparks: I have no concerns regarding recent board decisions. However, I am thrilled about the adoption of a student representative policy. This policy empowers high school juniors and seniors by providing them direct access to the board of education. It is a commendable step toward incorporating student perspectives and voices into our decision-making processes, fostering a more inclusive and representative governance structure.

Blake: I think we have a great BOE but we can always improve. We will benefit from my deep experience in large capital project execution as the city grows and the demands of the budget are stretched more and more.

More 2024 school board election guides

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.
Maria Benevento is the education reporter at The Kansas City Beacon. She is a Report for America corps member.
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