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Communication issues up for discussion in Johnson County Community College Board of Trustees election

Hiring a new president to replace the retiring Joe Sopcich will be among the tasks facing the members of the Johnson County Community College Board of Trustees in the months to come. But there might be other challenges, too, such as addressing the concerns raised by faculty and staff members in a recent survey about a lack of trust in the college’s leadership.

Two incumbents, Greg Musil and Nancy Ingram, are running for reelection. If the results from last August’s primary repeat, they would be joined on the board by Jameia Haines, an 18-year resident of the county. However, three other candidates – Lori Bell, Laura Smith-Everett and Colleen Cunningham – are also on the ballot and running on a platform of improving transparency and communication.

A couple of big events have stirred heat. The dissolution of the school’s track program, which led to the demolition of the school’s track, prompted an unsuccessful effort to extend the sport’s three-decades-long tenure at the college. Another incident involved Sopich being overheard disputing the impact of a $1 hike in the college’s tuition to $94 per credit hour for Johnson County residents.

Read more about each of the candidates in their own words below.

Update: Click here for the unofficial results from Tuesday’s vote.

Your Local Candidates: In Their Own Words Nov. 5 2019 Kansas local election

Johnson County Community College Board of Trustees

Editor’s note: To help readers make their voting choices in the Nov. 5 general election for local offices, The Journal, the Kansas Leadership Center’s quarterly magazine, sent out a survey to more than 250 candidates in communities where our magazine’s readership is the largest. What follows is information from your local candidates, in their own words.

Lori Bell, candidate for Johnson County Community College Board of Trustees

Please provide a brief introduction and a description of why you are running for office.

My name is Lori Bell and my primary motivation is that I myself attended three community colleges after my time in the U.S. Air Force. I believe the community college system is set up to help non-traditional university students. JCCC has programs currently geared towards the tier of students with higher GPAs. These students take advantage of JCCC while in high school but then end up going to state colleges and universities. There is a subset of students in Johnson County that should be served better by JCCC.

Should you be elected, what is the single most important issue that you would like to see improvement on during your term in office? Please write a few sentences explaining your choice.

Transparency and communications from the community college to the faculty, neighboring community and students around decision making. I attended the July board meeting where the results of a recent employee engagement survey were read aloud. I am certain that the Board approved the cost of completing such a survey and yet some board members dismissed the results. These surveys cost tens of thousands of dollars in direct cost, and the indirect cost of time spent evaluating these surveys can be significant. If the board approved this study to later ignore the study results, it is a significant waste of taxpayer dollars.

As an office holder, how would you try to mobilize efforts to address the important issue you identified above? If you have a sense of specific steps you might take, please share those.

With President (Joseph M.) Sopcich stepping down as president of JCCC, I believe the board has an opportunity to begin building bridges with the faculty. We can do so by respecting their time and work, allowing them to be part of the process, and listen to the members of the faculty when they try to talk to us.

Colleen Cunningham, candidate for Johnson County Community College Board of Trustees

Please provide a brief introduction and a description of why you are running for office.

I grew up in a low-income family in Iowa, but had access to strong public schools. Because of that access, I was able to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology, with minors in sociology: social work, and music. I worked with teenagers and young adults with disabilities for a few years before going on to graduate school where I studied special education, and educational policy and leadership studies. After completing my master’s degree in education, I moved to Overland Park to teach. I met my husband, we started our family, and I began volunteering with a variety of organizations in Johnson County. As our youngest has gotten a bit more independent, I began looking into additional ways I can give back to our community. In particular, I wanted to give back in the field of education, because I understand firsthand how investing in education pays dividends for our community. My background as a K-12 and college instructor, my passion for education, as well as my graduate work in special education and education policy, makes me uniquely qualified to serve on the board of trustees.

Should you be elected, what is the single most important issue that you would like to see improvement on during your term in office? Please write a few sentences explaining your choice.

The most important issue that I’d like to see improvement on at JCCC is transparency/communication. JCCC is an amazing resource in our community, yet since beginning my campaign, I have heard many criticisms from various community stakeholders over a breakdown of communication and transparency from administrators. These have included: removal of the track, concerns over neighborhood encroachment, and the elimination of the Brown & Gold Club. This issue is also reflected in the results of the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) report, which indicate a decline in faculty/staff trust in school administration. Each of these constituencies takes issue not necessarily with the decisions that have been made, but with the process by which these decisions were reached and subsequently communicated to stakeholders.

As an office holder, how would you try to mobilize efforts to address the important issue you identified above? If you have a sense of specific steps you might take, please share those.

I’d start by listening. As a trustee I would plan to attend meetings on campus, when permitted, with student groups, staff and faculty groups, and so on, in order to proactively learn about issues that might be cropping up. I also plan to hold listening sessions at frequent intervals across the county, so that community stakeholders can provide feedback, ask questions, and offer ideas. In the event of disagreement between these stakeholders and other trustees, I would research the issue, work to convince the other trustees that a compromise solution had backing from stakeholders, show how it benefits the community, and work to secure a majority of support.

Jameia Haines, candidate for Johnson County Community College Board of Trustees

Please provide a brief introduction and a description of why you are running for office.

Johnson County has been home to my husband Chad and I for 18 years, and we’re proud to raise our family here. We have two teenage daughters who attend Shawnee Mission South High School. I’m passionate about public education and have been active with PTA since our daughters have been in school. I am a real estate attorney with a locally owned small business, where I have been employed for 18 years. I am running for the Johnson County Community College Board of Trustees because I care about the College and believe that it is a vital part of our community. The college is an outstanding institution and I would like to be a part of its mission to help students succeed. As a member of the business community and parent of two high school students participating in the College Now program, I understand the value of relevant educational offerings that prepare students for jobs of the future and are responsive to the workforce needs of our community.

Should you be elected, what is the single most important issue that you would like to see improvement on during your term in office? Please write a few sentences explaining your choice.

As JCCC celebrates its 50th Anniversary, we need to think about what workforce training looks like in the next 50 years. Skills development and programming must continue to be responsive to the workforce needs of our community.

As an office holder, how would you try to mobilize efforts to address the important issue you identified above? If you have a sense of specific steps you might take, please share those.

In order to ensure a positive impact on our students and community, I would work to support the college’s efforts to emphasize career and technical education programs. There are a number of jobs needed in our community within these skilled trades areas such as: automotive, electrical, heating, ventilation and air conditioning technology, as well as plumbing. I would support innovative programming and effective policies that ensure the college’s educational offerings are relevant and responsive to workforce needs.

Nancy Ingram, candidate for Johnson County Community College Board of Trustees

Please provide a brief introduction and a description of why you are running for office.

I am seeking re-election to the JCCC Board of Trustees because I believe quality education has been the most powerful driver of growth in Johnson County. A great deal of my background has been tied to education, both professionally and in my personal time. My most recent experience at Olathe Health related to institutional complexity and how our essential community institutions work to serve and identify the needs of many diverging groups. I found the needs of Johnson County Community College in much the same way. The experience I bring will serve the College well as we begin the search for a new president, the most important role a trustee serves.

Should you be elected, what is the single most important issue that you would like to see improvement on during your term in office? Please write a few sentences explaining your choice.

Relationships, internal and external, are the single most important issue I believe we must respond to as we approach the next 50 years. I feel confident we will move forward as “one,” but the need to be responsive to this voiced concern is of particular importance to me. I see room for improvement with the internal relationships, first and foremost.

As an office holder, how would you try to mobilize efforts to address the important issue you identified above? If you have a sense of specific steps you might take, please share those.

Internal relationships and trust are imperative in moving the institution forward. Relationships matter. Although our role as trustees is not involved in the day to day “micromanagement” of the college, we can ask good questions about the diversity of the involvement of those who are involved in the decision-making processes. I would like to see us begin meetings with our mission statement, simply as a point of reference. Although that appears rather elementary, I believe we may have to take a few steps backward in order to move forward with the multitude of changes our campus will experience with a new president and several additional, vital positions. We need to articulate our respect for one another. We must not make assumptions, but be very clear of the expectations in moving forward together, with student success continuing to be our driving force.

Greg Musil, candidate for Johnson County Community College Board of Trustees

Please provide a brief introduction and a description of why you are running for office.

I am a 32-year resident of Johnson County and believe that the secret sauce in this county’s success is good people doing good service, in charitable, civic and public life. There is a consistent spirit of cooperation and collaboration, recognizing the interdependent nature of business, education, culture and spiritual life. I have tried to always remember that and to be a part of the effort to maintain and improve my community. It’s in my small-town, farm-raised blood and it’s equally effective in the “big city.” People make a difference, but only when they care, they try, they listen, they question and they exercise good judgment.

Should you be elected, what is the single most important issue that you would like to see improvement on during your term in office? Please write a few sentences explaining your choice.

The single most important issue to me is to create collaboration and a consensus that recognizes that all stakeholders (and there are many) are important and that recognition of that means no single constituency “gets its way” or is favored. The overriding goal must be how to make our students successful, and that may mean change or innovation or alteration of how things are done today (or have been done in the past). As with other governmental bodies today, we have been dividing ourselves into smaller groups, and then identifying more with those groups than with the college as a whole. I pledge to do a better job myself of recognizing the relevant groups who deserve a voice and a place at the table while keeping in mind a student-first focus.

As an office holder, how would you try to mobilize efforts to address the important issue you identified above? If you have a sense of specific steps you might take, please share those.

The most effective way I know is to build individual and small group relationships that can lead to better understanding, more candid discussions and a level of trustworthiness on the part of all involved. I will continue and expand efforts to reach out and welcome those discussions as well as to continue to expressly and as specifically as possible explain those particular judgment calls that a board member or leader has to make, especially when it’s clear that the decision will not be considered favorable by one or more interests.

Laura Smith-Everett, candidate for Johnson County Community College Board of Trustees

Please provide a brief introduction and a description of why you are running for office.

I’m an educator who has worked for 17 years in schools that serve marginalized communities. I’m currently an ELL teacher teaching children whose first language is not English. As a mother, I have an 11-year-old who will graduate from high school facing daunting college costs. I have a 6-year-old that will graduate high-school at the time that the world’s temperature is expected to reach an irreversible height. I have 3-year-old who has been hospitalized more than the rest of our family combined. He motivates me everyday to remain positive and remember everyone isn’t made the same. Johnson County Community College is the gem of our community. It’s an institution that this community has invested heavily into. Throughout my teaching career equity and inclusion have been issues I am most passionate about. I believe the governing body of an educational institution, as fantastic as our community college, should have an educator’s perspective on it when making critical decisions for our students and faculty. I wish to be a strong voice for our young people building a foundation for success, no matter their economic background.

Should you be elected, what is the single most important issue that you would like to see improvement on during your term in office? Please write a few sentences explaining your choice.

Communication and transparency: I have grown concerned about the board’s policies and the obligation they have to carry out the wishes of the community in an open and transparent manner. From decisions to cancel the track program to lack of faculty trust and confrontations with the neighborhoods surrounding the college, the board has not done its due diligence to openly communicate with the Johnson County community. The purpose of a board of trustees is to ensure a transparency between community and institution. There is much work to do in this area to earn back the trust of the community.

As an office holder, how would you try to mobilize efforts to address the important issue you identified above? If you have a sense of specific steps you might take, please share those.

It starts with a simple principle: It must be asked at every juncture which stakeholders were included in making the decisions being decided, and how the policy will be communicated. I pledge to continually push for transparency and clear communication with all decisions.

Related resources:

Here’s a forum featuring Johnson County Community College Board of Trustees candidates from the Shawnee Mission Post.

Admin-faculty tensions, sports programs, non-partisan board: JCCC board candidates talk issues at SM Post forum

Candidates seeking seats on the Johnson County Board of Trustees in November’s elections covered a host of issues at the forum we held Tuesday evening in the Hudson Auditorium on the JCCC campus. (Incumbent trustee Nancy Ingram was not able to attend due to her previous commitment to attend a conference on behalf of the college).

 

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