Editor's Note: This is the 10th story in an 11-part series focusing on local candidates running for election. The City Commission candidates ran Thursday. The School Board candidates will run Friday and Saturday.
If you would like a PDF of our entire Voters Guide, email us at email@example.com. Printed copies of the Voters Guide will be available to read at Zeb's next week.
Name: Claire Harding
Race: School Board
What is your current job? Substitute teacher
What is your current community involvement?
Research and Extension Council that’s specifically representative of the 4-H & Youth Programs Development Committee.
Our kids are in Scouts, so that’s kind of why I’m involved there.
I’m on the site council for the elementary school and the PTO. I just got off a six-and-a-half-year term with the Schools Foundation Board.
I’m a member of the middle school Booster Club. I’ve done the concession stand with them.
Why are you running for election?
I care about Eudora kids. I think that when schools are successful, so are our communities, so that’s a big piece of it. But everything that I’ve done as a volunteer, as a substitute, it’s because I care about our Eudora students.
I think that our board is doing a fine job and has been the past, well, last year was a big year, but for a long time I’ve been paying attention to what the School Board is doing, not just in the pandemic years, and they’re doing a fine job, but I think that’s the next step for me because of the experience that I bring of actually being in classrooms.
So that’s a piece, too: some positivity and really focusing on teamwork and collaboration to work toward healing our community by being leaders in that way.
Earlier this year, residents participated in surveys and focus groups about what they wanted in a new superintendent. We’re going to ask you some questions related to this same data since they relate to leadership vision for the district. One of the top priorities was creating more competitive salary and benefits packages to attract and retain staff members. How do you think the School Board should approach this issue?
I think a more competitive benefits package and compensation as far as salary is important. I think that needs to be examined, but lots of teachers are leaving, so it’s not just recruiting, it’s keeping the amazing and highly qualified staff that we have.
I believe that that starts with digging into the data. Why did people leave? Why did more teachers leave in the last five years than they did the previous 15? It’s asking the right questions and then making a plan. The mechanism of the School Board moves slowly to create change, but I do think that that’s necessary to answer the question as to why people are leaving Eudora.
I know that this year, in the negotiated agreement with teachers, salaries and benefits were raised. I think that’s a step in the right direction, and I don’t want it to stop there. We need to go beyond just paychecks and build relationships. When someone tells us there’s a problem or through the administrators we find out there’s a problem, then it’s problem-solving. So asking the right questions, making a plan and working to solve that.
Another priority that residents noted was upkeep of buildings. What capital improvements do you think are needed across the district?
Well, right now I know they’re working on the HVAC – the heating and cooling systems – that’s absolute. We have the aging middle school building, so it’s not just the systems of heating and cooling, it’s also, “What are we doing about the floors? Is this the right space for us?”
I think we’re going to have to look at expanding, if that’s just another gymnasium building for our sports teams, for our youth sports teams that can also use – it’s not just about high school or middle school sports, but our local sports systems, programs, clubs; but then also making sure that we’re managing our space correctly. Is the elementary school going to be OK for now, but how are we using that space well? So I think it’s, again, it’s a combination of problems that we have to solve.
Improving diversity and equity in the district was also noted as important. What role do you think the School Board should play in this?
Participating in the newly – being formed right now – Diversity Equity & Inclusion team that staff and students are going to be on. The board needs to make that a priority: to have smart representation on that team … but not lose sight of that in hiring decisions.
And I think it’s really important when we’re – I’m talking a lot about solving problems, but the people who are the most impacted by our policy decisions and by our just general financial decisions, that we’re getting the right people in the room: who it most impacts.
How do you hope to improve the educational experience for students?
One of my areas of concentration is making sure that students feel like they belong – that there’s opportunities, there’s activities for all the students, not just the ones that want to be in sports and band, and I think we are on the right track. We’re doing a great job.
At the high school last year, they formed the Cardinal Corps. It’s high school students from all of the walks of the high school being leaders and talking about culture and making sure that everybody feels like they are a Cardinal, they are important, they are recognized, they are seen there, not just because they get straight As and they play football or they’re second chair in band and they play the trumpet.
At the elementary school, they have Cardinal Clubs on Friday afternoons where it’s different fun things to do.
I think building relationships across grade levels, even across buildings, is a way to make kids feel like they’re taken care of, someone cares about them, they’re seen as who they are. The middle school is doing a great job. They have an adult and student mentorship program called Link-Up that’s wonderful. I think more of these things can contribute to the success of our high school graduates.
I think that Eudora does a pretty good job of recognizing that success will look different for all students and helping them find that pathway to success. The outside of academics, clubs and opportunities to get involved, help with that, but then it’s also keeping qualified teachers on staff and supporting those teachers to do the work that they’re doing.
Not only community members but School Board members themselves said they wanted a next superintendent who is a proactive thinker. But the board plays a key role in this as well. What vision do you personally have for the district?
I think I’ve outlined it a little bit when I talk about ensuring the success of every high school graduate by helping them find their individual plan of study and focusing on social and emotional wellness so that our students can graduate, not just with academic skills and cognitive skills, but the ability to be a good employee and know how to be a problem-solver and all of those highly employable – like all good employees you want to have employees but also citizens.
I think that we can do a better job in Eudora of expecting more of our students in the “giving back to the community” piece. Citizenship can start when you’re 12. It can start before that. Learning about your role in your community and that transfers to your role in the larger world – state, county, all of it.
So my vision for Eudora is that all students feel like they belong here. The Cardinal culture is not just a thing that we talk about, but is really real, and we continue to just be good at educating students about caring about them.
Keep our teachers here. That’s another vision statement.
What do you think are the biggest strengths of the school district?
Our staff, absolutely. We have just incredible educators, highly qualified, ready on day one. We’re just so well-staffed, and this isn’t just the educators. It’s our para support staff, it’s the front office staff, it’s our administrators. Our grounds crew is amazing, our lunch staff. Everybody is really committed to making the school day a good one for our kids. That’s No. 1.
No. 2, I mentioned it before, the community support of our schools. That’s where we come together … Eudora is our schools. That’s where the most widely-felt sense of community is, in my experience.
The third thing would be our Eudora Schools Foundation. What they’re able to do with their private donors and the grants that they find and apply for and receive – it’s just amazing, definitely on-par with a larger school district – a school district that’s much larger than ours as far as the private money that they bring in to get teachers what they need and enrich the student experience.
What do you think are the biggest challenges?
I mentioned earlier teacher loss. Really need to do some work to find out what’s going on because that’s where students – that’s relationship building. It starts there, and we have so many good ones. It’s just heartbreaking to know that some are leaving, and I don’t know all the reasons why, so that needs to be resolved.
Another problem, I would say, is we’re already doing a lot of good things to strengthen students’ social and emotional health. That sense of belonging that I mentioned with the initiatives I already outlined – continuing that focus because being ready when you graduate and being ready to have a job, that’s not all that it takes to be a successful human. Knowing that there are people that care about you and want to see you succeed, and those intrinsic things, the inside stuff, the “I’m going to be able to handle this. I know people that are in my corner,” those things are important.
We can do more of that, especially peer-to-peer. I love to see some high school students in peer-mentor relationships with our younger students. They help a lot, but how can we foster those relationships? The other area of improvement for Eudora Schools? Getting teachers what they need! This includes professional development, classroom supplies and the supports and time they need to continue to grow their knowledge and expand their skills. We reward their professionalism and acknowledge their worth when we provide them with the necessary tools.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I think a School Board member – it doesn’t take classroom experience to do a good job, but I do think that because I have that perspective – I’ve subbed in every grade level at the elementary school, I’ve been a para and a special ed teacher.
You really get a good sense of how teachers can be supported better … you can really appreciate and further understand in a deeper way than someone who hasn’t been there, so I think I really want to get our teachers what they need. I think that Eudora’s doing a fine job. I think we can do better, and I want to help make that happen. Our kids deserve it, our teachers deserve it.
Just having someone understand, and I’m qualified in that way that I don’t know that anyone else running right now is qualified. Because I’ve been a PTO volunteer and a foundation board member and all the things that I’ve done – it’s always been about making our schools better.