Editorials

Endorsement: Joseph Shepard would offer fresh perspective on Wichita school board

The Wichita school board sets priorities for the state’s largest school district and handles the largest share of tax dollars in our area — about $740 million a year.

It’s important that the members who sit on the volunteer board represent the district’s widely diverse makeup and interests, so the candidate we endorse in the Aug. 6 primary for the at-large seat is Joseph Shepard.

Shepard, director of multicultural engagement and campus life at Newman University, says he is running because he believes public schools are the social and economic cornerstone of the community. He’s troubled, though, that many students and families say the district isn’t listening to their concerns.

At 26, Shepard would be one of the youngest people ever elected to the Wichita board. But with a master’s degree in public administration and experience serving in elected office, including two terms as student body president at Wichita State University, he would provide a passionate voice and much-needed perspective.

“I recognize that a lot of people say I’m young, but that is what’s missing,” Shepard told the Eagle editorial board. “We need more young voices when talking about the educational needs of our young people.”

Shepard commended current and previous board members — including incumbent Sheril Logan, one of his opponents — for guiding the district through several years of brutal budget cuts and for staying focused on students’ needs.

He agrees with the district’s five-year strategic plan, which seeks to increase the high school graduation rate, increase third-grade reading proficiency, boost college- and career-readiness programs, and ensure that schools are trusted as safe places.

But he questions the board’s commitment to the latter pledge, given recent testimony that some schools aren’t doing enough to protect LGBTQ students and staff.

“As an LGBTQ man, I could easily see how people . . . felt the board was being dismissive,” said Shepard, who identifies as bisexual.

“We’ve been saying for years, ‘This is a problem.’ But where is the action? Where is the policy? . . . People feel that these meetings are a kind of ‘check the box’ type thing, and once the box is checked we’re moving on, we’re not engaging. We’re not having the tough conversations.”

BEHIND OUR REPORTING

Who decides the endorsements?

Members of The Wichita Eagle editorial board interview political candidates. The editorial board is separate from The Eagle’s news department. Members of The Eagle editorial board are: Eagle general manager Dale Seiwert, executive editor Michael Roehrman and editorial page writer Suzanne Perez Tobias. Read more by clicking the arrow in the upper right.

What does the endorsement process entail?

The Eagle editorial board meets with political candidates. The interviews are largely focused on public policy, and each lasts about an hour. Board members do additional reporting and research to learn as much as possible about the candidates. The editorial board then convenes to discuss the candidates in each race. Board members seek to reach a consensus on the endorsements, but not every decision is unanimous.

Is the editorial board partisan?

No. In making endorsements, members of the editorial board consider which candidates are well prepared to represent their constituents — not whether they agree with us or belong to a particular political party. We evaluate candidates’ relevant experience, their readiness for office, their knowledge of key issues and their understanding of public policy.

Why are endorsements unsigned?

Endorsements reflect the collective views of The Eagle’s editorial board — not just the opinion of one writer. Board members all discuss and contribute ideas to each endorsement editorial.

As student body president at WSU, Shepard pushed back against university leaders whom he said were perpetuating a “culture of fear” and not involving students in their decision-making process. He also lobbied for greater transparency and public discussions of university business.

If elected to the Wichita school board, he says he would hold regular town-hall meetings and live-stream them on social media to gather input from students, parents, teachers and community members.

“Even though we might not like what people say, as leaders we have to be comfortable with people empowering their voice, and we need to encourage that,” he said.

Two other candidates in the school board primary — Logan, the incumbent, and Trish Hileman, a mother of five and community activist — also would be excellent choices for the at-large seat. During our group interview, the Eagle editorial board was impressed with all three candidates’ commitment to service and their passion for public schools.

Logan, 74, has served on the board since 2011, including three stints as president. Earlier, she worked as an assistant superintendent for middle schools and in other roles for the school district.

Hileman, 44, lost the 2017 District 2 race to Julie Hedrick but has continued to attend school board meetings and gather input from parents and community members.

With five children in the district, including two with special needs, Hileman would provide a valuable parent perspective on the board. She also has advocated for greater transparency and community engagement.

Brent Davis also is on the ballot but did not respond to requests to participate in The Eagle’s endorsement process.

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