Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Meet the school board candidates: Kyleen Carroll

Posted By on Wed, Feb 3, 2010 at 9:00 AM

As recently as 2006, there was so little interest -- or confidence -- in the Kansas City, Missouri, School Board that not one person challenged the incumbents and the election was canceled. This year, the race is packed with candidates vying for at-large and sub-district seats. From now until the election on April 6th, we're profiling each of the candidates, starting from the top of the ballot.

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Kyleen Carroll grew up in California, but she's seen the inside of Kansas City's classrooms. A new graduate from the University of Arizona, she started teaching seventh grade social studies at the Kansas City Middle School for the Arts in 2007. Her enthusiasm, she says, was met immediately with resistance.

"Here I was a young professional, who, for all intents and purposes was willing to give up all my time to do what needed to get done, and they weren't supporting that," she says of the school district. "When I was knocking on doors trying to make sure I could provide for my students, I had people knocking down my door saying, 'You shouldn't expect that. We already have an agenda. We do things a certain way.' Logic doesn't exist in this school district. Common sense is not part of the process."

Making ends meet for the students was tough, she says. She didn't get a pacing guide to keep her kids on track. When she asked for the mandated curriculum materials, she says, she got a box of raggedy books, pages ripped out, pieces missing. "It was the same textbook I used in the classroom in Arizona, when I taught sixth graders," she says.

Because curriculum resources were lacking, she says, she tried to get creative. She understood when officials told her there was a strict vetting process for outside speakers. She didn't get why she had to stick to an approved list of possible visitors.

"I was basically impressed with the level of professionals we have working for the school district, but what I was unimpressed with was our inability to tap in to our resources and utilize them effectively," she says.

That's why she's running for school board.

Carroll was born in Long Beach, California. Her parents both worked in food services and Carroll counts her daycare mom, a woman of Mexican and Native American descent, as virtual family. She remembers her classrooms as diverse; her friends were Filipino, Japanese, Latino and African American. Her teachers inspired her to pursue a career in education. "I grew up wanting to go to school," she says.

At the University of Arizona, she studied education and public administration. Outside of class, she volunteered with after-school reading programs in the local Tucson school district, which was in danger of a state take-over. She led Alternative Spring Break trips to Mexico, bypassing booze and beaches to instead help paint and rehab schools south of the border. Before she graduated, her student teaching gig was at Sierra Middle School. "Tucson has a very strong Hispanic community, and in my classroom, there was a 90 percent ESL [English as a Second Language] rate," she says. "So there was the struggle of having to work with making AYP [Adequate Yearly Progress] when the majority of the students are speaking English as a foreign language."

When her husband-to-be, Christopher Carroll, got a job with Cerner, she moved to Kansas City. But after two years teaching in the school district, in several different buildings, she was disillusioned. "I was on the precipice," she says. "As a professional, I wasn't able to utilize my skills. I was going backwards. But before I could make the decision for myself, the school district cut a bunch of teachers and I was on that list, because I didn't have tenure and I was in an untested field."

During the 2008 presidential election, Carroll had volunteered for the Obama campaign. One message from election season still resonated with her when she was cut from the district in 2009. "One thing he focused on the entire time was staying local to your politics, that the best way to help your country is by helping your community," she says. So, she decided to vie for a school board seat.

Carroll had offers from friends to help her gather signatures to get on the ballot but she declined. She wanted to talk to voters herself, even when it meant standing outside the grocery store in sub-zero weather day after day after day. "When you start talking to people about our educational system, you find out they're working two or three jobs, not to pay for their mortgage, but because they're trying to put their kid in a private school," she says. "Some of these parents don't trust the school district. They don't trust the safety, number one. The number one issue is safety. And the second is that culture of excellence; that the ability for their kids to apply to universities outside of Missouri and maybe even Ivy league schools is not there."

Those are concerns she's bringing to table in the school board race. "It's not about what I want," she says. Her top priorities are improving safety and ensuring quality facilities for all students -- because that's what she's heard from concerned parents, students and community members. Her buzzword: "value." "Voters need to have a value," she explains. "That means they need to be able to see that all student are appreciated, that they're at the core of everything we're doing. You do that by providing them with the proper resources and the very best options to be successful."

Even more than value, though, Carroll constantly comes back to professionalism. She thinks the board needs more of it. "I think it's embarrassing," she says. "If you're consider moving to Kansas City for a job and you go into a board meeting and see people making snide remarks or not holding up the best professionalism, that's a key message, a reflection of the school district. We are adults and we've got a problem if that's the way we're running things."

She says she respects the years of services current board members have put in, but, if elected, the 25-year-old won't defer to more tenured members if she disagrees on policy issues. She likes what she sees in new superintendent, John Covington, and the direction of the district under his tenure. "This isn't about politics for me," she says. "You don't have to be entrenched in politics to get the work done. I see value in the aspect that I'm not from Kansas City, that I have a fresh perspective."

Her Web site, www.kyleencarroll.com, goes live on Friday.


This week's candidate events:
Thursday, February 4
Kansas City Youth Commission
All-candidate Public Forum
Penn Valley Community College
, main campus
6-8 p.m.
For more information: 816-513-1378, thalia_cherry@kcmo.org

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