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Blue Valley, Shawnee Mission school board voters favor 'pro public education,' diversity slates

Blue Valley school board races are nonpartisan but demonstrated a clear ideological divide.
File photo
Shawnee Mission Post
Blue Valley school board races are nonpartisan but demonstrated a clear ideological divide in November 2023.

Candidates for the Blue Valley Board of Education who campaigned as the “pro-public education” slate won their races. Shawnee Mission School District board candidates who voiced strong support for the district’s approach to diversity and equity also won comfortably.

Incumbents on the Blue Valley Board of Education in Johnson County, Kansas, kept their seats, and one newcomer on their informal slate called “The A+ Team” will join them.

All four members of “The A+ Team,“ a slate that campaigned as the “pro-public education” candidates of the election, each garnered the most votes in their respective races, according to unofficial final results from the Johnson County Election Office on Tuesday night.

While the races were nonpartisan, this year’s Blue Valley school board races demonstrated a clear ideological divide between the two groups, which continue a recent trend of more overt partisanship in these historically lower profile local races.

On Tuesday night, the winning candidates widely agreed their victories signaled a desire among voters for a “straightforward” and non-divisive approach from the school board.

All election results are unofficial until the vote canvass at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 14.

Blue Valley A+ Team

Incumbent candidates Jodie Dietz, Patrick Hurley and Jan Kessinger joined current Blue Valley Recreation Commission Chairman Clay Norkey in the group.

The group’s goals, as outlined in their campaign, centered around four alliterative focus areas: promoting and supporting Blue Valley’s “Academics, Arts, Athletics, and Activities in a safe and secure environment.”

  • In the Position 1 race, Kessinger earned 57% of the total votes.
  • In the Position 2 race, Hurley led with 55% of the total votes.
  • Dietz led in the Position 3 race with 57% of the total votes.
  • In the At-Large race, Norkey took the lead with 57% of the total votes.

On Tuesday night, Kessinger told the Shawnee Mission Post the fact that all four “A+ Team” candidates led the way showed a desire from voters to continue the Blue Valley School District’s “continuous path of success.”

“I’d also say that the voters turned away from partisan efforts and extremism, and in a big way, embraced nonpartisan leadership for the good of all the students and the teachers,” he said. “This election shows that Blue Valley School District should stay the course.”

Hurley echoed the sentiment that Tuesday’s unofficial results show a desire from voters to see school board issues become less divisive and more consistent.

“At the end of the day, those of us who believe, who are aware, who understand how the school district works, how kids get educated, (we) kind of stood up and basically said, ‘This is how we move forward,'” he said. “I think that the community said, ‘You’re right. This is the group that needs to be there.'”

In her next term, Dietz said the first priorities for her and her fellow board members will be to focus on teacher support, special education, safety and mental health.

“I really appreciate our community paying attention and and getting out and voting,” she said. “I think we’re all well equipped to be able to continue to lead the district forward.”

As Norkey begins his first term on the board, he said he looks forward to focusing on teacher recruitment and retention, as well as student success.

“We definitely felt the community support behind us,” he said. “I’m really excited about making sure that we provide the very best education that we can here in our community.”

All four candidates running on the “Blue Valley Excellence” slate would have been new to the Blue Valley Board of Education.

The group prioritized a “back to basics” academic approach that steers away from “gender ideology and critical race theory.”

Some of the slate’s other focuses included arming the district’s elementary schools, fully funding special education services through the state, and cutting back on in-school mental health support spending.

None of the four Blue Valley Excellence candidates immediately responded to Post requests for comment on Tuesday night.

Shawnee Mission diversity defenders coast to wins

Clockwise from top left: David Westbrook, Jamie Borgman, Mario Garcia III and Jessica Hembree.
File photos
Shawnee Mission Post
Clockwise from top left: David Westbrook, Jamie Borgman, Mario Garcia III and Jessica Hembree.

Shawnee Mission school board candidates — including two incumbents — who voiced strong support for the district’s current approach to diversity and equity won comfortably on Tuesday.

David Westbrook and Mario Garcia III were elected to fill positions left open by outgoing board members, while incumbents Jessica Hembree (representing the SM South area) and Jamie Borgman (representing the SM Northwest area) held onto their spots.

Unofficial final results Tuesday night from the Johnson County Election Office show they all won by comfortable margins exceeding 60%.

Westbrook, a member of the district’s original Committee on Excellence, a former public relations director for the Shawnee Mission district and a former chair of the Overland Park Chamber of Commerce, won the at-large seat being vacated by Brad Stratton.

He out-polled data analyst Logan Austin 68% to 32%.

Westbrook said he was “delighted” by the message the voters sent.

“The community clearly wants the school district to continue its devotion to innovation and to meeting the needs of all our kids.”

He said his campaign message was “a vote for me is a vote for strong public schools,” and that the election outcome proved the voters agree.

In the district’s SM North area, Garcia, a manager of philanthropic giving for Children’s Mercy Hospital, had the winning vote total to replace outgoing board member Sara Goodburn.

Garcia defeated Ron Occhiogrosso, a science teacher at Holy Trinity Catholic school, by an unofficial margin of 75% to 25%.

“I am excited that the school community I came from has entrusted me with this opportunity to represent them,” Garcia said. “There’s a lot of work to be done and I am excited to do it.”

Two incumbents won easily. SM South area incumbent Hembree received 5,831 votes, beating Mark Tallent by an unofficial margin of 75% to 25%. Tallent did not appear to run an active campaign, never putting up a campaign website and not appearing at the Post’s candidate forum.

Hembree said she was pleased that voters supported inclusiveness.

“Diversity, equity and inclusion was the biggest talking point among detractors,” she said. “I’m grateful the community wouldn’t stand for that and that the voters stood up for all students.”

Borgman, who currently represents the SM Northwest area, also won a second term, outpolling retired U.S. Navy veteran Lynn McLarty 61% to 39% on Tuesday night.

Borgman said she looks forward to the work ahead shaping a new strategic plan.

Student achievement, teacher retention, library book content and diversity, equity and inclusion were among the top issues mentioned by voters in the district.

This story and other Johnson County Election results were originally published on the Shawnee Mission Post.

Lucie Krisman is a reporter for The Shawnee Mission Post.
Roxie Hammill is a freelance journalist in Kansas City. Contact her at roxieham@gmail.com.
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