Shortly after I filed to run for JCPS school board, I received the following email from Courier Journal’s Education Reporter, Olivia Krauth:
Working on a piece about the trend of more conservative, parents’ rights-style candidates in this year’s school board races and wanted to see if you had any thoughts since you’re also a parent-activist but with different political takes.
You’ve been organizing for years – why was this the time to run for school board?
Can you think of other activists who ran for school board in the past?
I replied with the following, and since she didn’t publish it, I thought it would be worth sharing with potential voters:
It’s hard to answer this question because I haven’t always been an activist. I’ve always been that homeroom mom, field trip chaperone, or fundraising queen. I organized monthly teacher appreciation lunches in Indiana. In Texas, I sold enough bricks to pay for a running track and enough Entertainment coupon books to send an entire 5th grade team, including their teachers to SeaWorld to spend the night in sleeping bags under the aquarium as a night light and to enjoy private swim and feeding time with the beluga whales. I have been a member of my kids’ PTAs in — I think — 7 or 8 other districts before moving to Louisville.
When my youngest son chose to attend the Academy @ Shawnee’s aviation magnet in 2012, I noticed the school didn’t even have a recruitment website. So I built one. Not just for the aviation magnet but for the whole school. Then I did one for the Challenger Learning Center, an amazing STEM field trip destination that was installed on the campus as a recruiting tool. And then they asked me to make one for the new middle school. So I did. For free. I did so because marketing is my profession and there was a dire need. How are we going to move the needle on the state’s lowest performing school (which Shawnee was at the time), if we can’t recruit high-flying students?
During my son’s first year there, I learned Shawnee didn’t have a PTSA. As a result, students in need were not eligible for PTA scholarships. So, I formed one. Our students received thousands of dollars of PTA scholarships the following year. Our PTSA applied for and received tens of thousands of dollars in community grants, as well.
When a new “plan” was being crammed down the throats of the Shawnee community, and our nationally heralded, changemaker principal was not allowed to stay on and finish what he started, teachers, parents, and community leaders came to our newly formed PTSA for advocacy. What would eventually become Dear JCPS was born. We organized speakers at a key board meeting and begged them to put “principal before plan.” They agreed to put the plan on hold and by December, we finally got our new principal.
I had heard a Shawnee SBDM member’s son was graduating, so I asked what I needed to do to take her place. Since no one else stepped up to run, I was invited to the meetings, participated in CSIPs and voted on budgets, policies, procedures and curriculum, even though we all knew the principal had final say. I continued to serve for 18 months until that principal was caught with (explicit/redacted) and even though our SBDM was “advisory only,” we were told we would go through the motions to select the next principal and Hargens would have final say. I looked forward to the process. I soon found out a call had taken place with Hargens, but I was not invited. Why? My name was not included in the formal documents that are usually sent to the state when SBDM members are replaced. This was a surprise not only to me but to everyone on the principal selection committee, including the woman who had been the school’s and SBDM’s secretary.
Meanwhile, because I did such a bang-up job for my school’s PTSA, even receiving an award from 15th District PTA for the newsletter I put together for the school, I was recruited by them to fill an unexpired term of the communications VP who left abruptly. (I was never allowed to ask who that was or contact them for their records, so I started from scratch.)
Existing parent teacher organizations in town not only turned out to be inadequate, but at odds with many of their members, especially in high minority, high poverty JCPS schools. While every effort was made to bring change from within, our families and teachers couldn’t wait. Parents and teachers and others came to us to amplify their concerns when PTA and JCTA would not, or when JCPS would gaslight them, retaliate against them, lie (or worse) to cover their tracks.
After attending an eye-opening Network for Public Education (Diane Ravitch’s organization) conference in the spring of 2016, I realized JCPS was not unique in their dysfunction. Efforts to undermine public schools and create opportunities for charters, vouchers, state takeovers, and possibly even bankrupt school districts, were purposefully driven by privatizers and outsiders. Kentucky was the largest of six states that did not yet have charter school legislation, so in an effort to #StopChartersInKY, we formed Save Our Schools KY.
Over the course of three years, I served in a total of three executive 15th District PTA board roles, while simultaneously running Dear JCPS and Save Our Schools Kentucky. (This isn’t even half of our experiences with PTA or JCTA, but I’ll save that for another time.) Two months before the end of my second term, I received a call from the 15th District PTA President, Heather Wampler. Due to the rally I had organized in front of Van Hoose calling for Superintendent Hargens’ resignation, Wampler told me Hargens wanted me off the PTA board. I asked if she knew I’d be gone in two months, and she said “yes, she didn’t care. She wants you gone now.” She went on to worry that Hargens could ban PTAs from entering JCPS schools and take away their clothes closet, and for that reason, she asked me if I would resign. Seeing this move as the perfect PR debacle to cement Hargens’ fate, I said no. I told her they would have to vote me off. And they did. They called an emergency board meeting and presented a slew of ginned up charges. In fact, they went so far as to collude with the then-Maupin principal, assistant sup and his assistant to manufacture “evidence” for my removal, should the stain of my “disloyalty” not be persuasive enough.
During this time, I had also become an employee for the district/school. For two years, I was the school’s academic coordinator. I administered Quick Recall matches, organized practices and coached the teams. The aviation instructor mentioned he had been trying to get his students involved in a wing design competition for several years, but it never took off. As academic coordinator, I took the initiative to also organize and chair a wing design team (no extra pay, just extra work and opportunities for the students). We came in 7th place in our first international competition and several of our students got first place in individual competitions. Unfortunately, I was ”let go” from this position when Hargens finally brought in the replacement principal, Venita Benboe (even though I had already renewed my contract for the school year and attended mandatory trainings, for which I was never paid). She had the Athletic Director call me to tell me they had “decided to go in a different direction.”
So I’m not just a parent-activist. I’m also a PTA mom, volunteer, taxpayer, former JCPS employee, and a product of public schooling myself. I was even a candidate for KY Senate in 2016, for many of the same reasons I’m running now: I didn’t think my current elected official in that role was doing enough to push back on the dangerous, violent and deadly disinformation, or worse, they were “in on it.” I didn’t become an activist until all of these other channels to improve student outcomes, in a district that serves historically marginalized communities, had been blocked, attacked, or worse.
You mentioned the parents’ rights-style candidates. Thanks to KERA, for the past 30 years, Kentucky has had parents’ rights and an entire democratic process to exercise those rights as part of Site-Based Decision Making (SBDM) councils. That is, until they were stripped away by Senate Bill 1 just two months ago. Prior to that, in 2019, the stage for their dismantling was set by Senate Bill 250. My pro-charter Senator, Julie Raque Adams, sponsored the anti-JCPS, anti-SBDM precursor bill, with help from JCTA’s Brent McKim, Greater Louisville Inc, ousted JCPS School Board Chair and Humana heir, David Jones, Jr. and his “non-profit,” formerly known as SCALA.
Where were these “‘parents’ rights” folks then? Why aren’t any of them running against Senator Raque Adams who set these chain of events in motion? Why do they want to run for school board, unless they’ve been recruited or have been lying in wait to take advantage of the recently subverted democratic process of curriculum selection, arming teachers and banning books? They project the notion that teaching truth, accurate history and facts are “indoctrination,” when it’s they who truly want to indoctrinate our students with whitewashed history and religious pseudoscience so they can force their dangerous, biased and bigoted views onto everyone else.
Their hypocrisy is glaring. Either they truly don’t have a grasp on how the democratic process works, or they do and they just don’t care. Either way, they have demonstrated their disregard for the health and safety of our most vulnerable and marginalized communities, and they need to wait their turn. There are impacted community members with much greater concerns who have been waiting decades for their chance to be heard and have their needs addressed.
So, why am I running now?
These are unprecedented times. When I voted for my school board member four years ago, I thought he seemed capable enough of standing up to the bullies. But after a deadly pandemic, the high-profile murder of one of our very own graduates by LMPD, and the death by 1,000 cuts out of Frankfort, I realized he didn’t have what it takes. I saw him support policies that took parental rights and parental voice away. I saw him vote for facilities and resources to be allocated equally instead of equitably. I watched him misrepresent conversations with teachers regarding back to school. And when radicals started disrupting our school board meetings, he caved to the pressure of their deadly back-to-school demands, prematurely putting students and teachers’ lives at risk. When the Coalition for the People’s Agenda Education Committee members brainstormed for 18 months and brought 11 well-researched and easily implemented suggestions to the board around student assignment, he and other board members ignored us, repeatedly. And this was after he had told me he agreed with some of the recommendations and he would look into others. Similar efforts were made time and again, only to be repeatedly ignored. When I asked for his help with open records requests to advocate for Black JCPS employees who experienced discrimination and harms of structural racism, he went on the attack, spreading lies about my intentions and even went so far as to block me on social media. I realized the only way the impacted community was ever going to get any traction with these ideas was to have a seat at the table. And the best way to get a seat at the table is to run for school board.
But it was the public school massacre in Uvalde, Texas, that was the event that forced me to realize I could no longer sit around and wait for someone else to do something. The ramped up rhetoric espoused by those who want to deny the well-researched solutions that we’ve been proposing for years, is blatantly tied to the same people who are being investigated for acts of treason and domestic terrorism by the January 6 Committee. We must protect every seat from traitors posing as patriots. Our current board member has demonstrated he does not have what it takes to keep these “liberty” candidates at bay. They’ve already seen him flinch.
They say, “It takes a village.” Well, I’m a PTA-mom-turned-activist-turned-candidate because the people we entrusted/elected to keep us safe are falling down on the job and leaving our entire village exposed. I am a Momma Bear, and I don’t play when it comes to our children. I am the only candidate in the race with a decade-long proven track record of holding people accountable and creating difficult, necessary change in JCPS and across the state. There’s too much at stake, and we may not get another chance to save our public schools. That’s why I am stepping up to run for JCPS School Board, District 3.
I am also writing a book that will go into greater detail about all of the allegations I make above, along with documentation and proof. If you would like for me to share any of that evidence with you in the meantime, please let me know.