School board candidates answers The Thunderbeat’s questions

The Thunderbeat staff generated questions for the school board candidates. Their answers follow with slight grammatical edits when needed.

Why are you running for school board? 

Jim Moudry: We are in a battle for the heart and soul of America – and our schools are ground zero. 

A recent poll by Young America’s Foundation found anti-American sentiment on the rise among our young people. According to a survey of students: When asked whether they consider themselves to be patriotic, only 58 percent of high school students said yes, and this went down to only 35 percent of college students. 

We must counter the following teachings: 

  • Abortion-on-demand until the day of birth… 
  • An LGBT agenda that tramples religious freedom and indoctrinates students as young as preschool… 
  • A radical, revisionist view of America taught in our nation’s schools with the aim of rewriting our nation’s history and undermining the biblical worldview 

… and the list goes on. 

To build a better future for our children and grandchildren, we must push back against radical indoctrination that seeks to erase our nation’s history and undermine our Judeo-Christian principles – all under the guise of education. 

I want to make sure our children are provided the best quality, unbiased education possible to enable them to be contributing members of our community.  I will stand against the ongoing anti-American and anti-Christian bias infiltrating our school systems. Our vision for America must include teaching our children history without bias and engendering respect for the United States Constitution, which protects and upholds our values and freedoms. I will do all I can to ensure our schools teach liberty and the Judeo-Christian principles that our nation was founded on. 

This is why I am running for the Bellevue Board of Education.

Scott Eby: Being a lifelong resident of Bellevue, graduating from Bellevue, and my children graduating from Bellevue Public Schools, I have always believed in being involved with the community and want to be a part of trying to improve the place we live. I believe that a strong school district draws people into our city. They in turn not only help existing businesses flourish, but also bring in new business and development.

Kristy Kiviniemi: I want to serve on the School Board because it presents a valuable opportunity for me to contribute and work to improve student achievement.  Additional reasons I would like to serve, and what I believe I can contribute include:

  • Collaborating as a team and being respectful of other board members to keep the focus on the children while working together to support the BPS strategic plan.
  • Having three children attending Bellevue Public Schools, I have a personal interest in the success of Bellevue Public Schools. Having children currently enrolled, will allow me to offer different experiences and perspectives that will benefit our district and community.
  • Each of my children have different interests and needs from their public school education and extracurricular activities, the same as many other children out there. I recognize that not every child’s path is the same and we need to continue to foster an environment for all children to be and feel successful.  
  • Growing up in Bellevue and raising my own family in Bellevue, I have built relationships in the community and can represent many different groups to ensure that others have a voice in making educational and administrative decisions. I will be able to represent the voice of parents, teachers and children.
  • I also strongly believe in quality public education for both current and future students. I want to support the ongoing success and growth of Bellevue Public Schools as we continue to seek and develop opportunities for every child to be successful.

Sarah Centineo: When I started, I was interested in the school board, and I have a senior and a freshman now. I noticed that there was a real issue with communication and it seemed like between building administration, the teachers in the buildings, and then also with district administration, others, including parents, were having some of the same issues I was. It seemed like there was just a real lack of quality leadership, and the more I dug into it, the more I thought that if I wanted to see positive, permanent change, I needed to be a part of the solution. So that’s how I started my first term. 

I’ve never thought I would do political office, that was never a goal of mine. But I also know that now that I’ve been on the board for almost four years, I’m the current school board president, I also am involved in the Nebraska Association for School Boards, so I meet regularly with my counterparts from all different districts around Nebraska, and we work collaboratively together to protect our public education at the state level. I think it’s really important that we have local board members that are willing to advocate for public education, especially because we’re a military impacted district, so it’s a little bit different and we’re very unique in that aspect.

Also, so we can give the best educational opportunities within our limited resources that we can for our students, as it builds our communities. So through all of doing that, I really feel like I’m in a position where I can continue to make a lot of positive change, and elevate where we are as a district on the state level. I have built up good relationships with state legislators, and some of the lobbyists and all of those things. So I feel like I’m in a good position to advocate for us at that level. 

I really like our current central administration, Dr. Rippe, Dr. Moore, Dr. Smith, all of the staff; I feel like they’re such a good team. It’s so easy to talk to them with information, and they’re honest, even when it’s not great news. I really think that’s reflected in a lot of the positive responses we get from our students and staff now when we do surveys, and just overall, I think that we’ve improved our district of the last four years, and I want to continue doing that.

Since COVID-19, what would you as a board member want to see for protocols for future pandemic or catastrophic events? 

Jim Moudry: As a school board we must ensure that comprehensive continuity and disaster recovery plans are in place to cover a wide array of catastrophic events (tornadoes, floods, blizzards, pandemics, etc.). These plans need to be put together in coordination with the community, parents, school staff, city and county agencies, as appropriate. Each type of event will require different preparation, action plans, and protocols. We need to be prepared for as many of these types of events as possible, laying in a stock of needed supplies. Once plans and protocols are in place, school staff, faculty, administrators, community organizations, and students need to be trained on the plans, as appropriate. In addition, the plans need to be verified and validated through table-top walkthroughs, simulations, exercises, as appropriate to ensure they work effectively and efficiently and to identify any needed improvements. When such a disaster hits, the better prepared we are the better we will be able to respond and cope with it.

Scott Eby: COVID and other catastrophic events are very hard to plan for because you never know the course of action for an event until you are faced with it. I think the administration has done a very good job of adjusting to remote learning and have put a lot of effort into being able to teach and engage the families affected. 

Kristy Kiviniemi: Protocols for future pandemic or catastrophic events should continue to be developed according to CDC recommendations, DHHS and in partnership with our local leaders in health care. We are very fortunate to have such a strong commitment and high level of engagement from health care partners in our community. My role at Nebraska Medicine allowed me to observe the unique role UNMC/NM played in the development of the return to school protocols and the real time education offered to BPS leaders as they developed a strategy for the start of the 2020-2021 school year. I would like to see ongoing structured collaboration with health care experts in our community to ensure our district remains at the forefront of preparation of any event.  Protocols should be tested regularly and revised according to current risks.  

In addition, I would like to see us refine and strengthen our ability to quickly move to remote learning if faced with another pandemic or catastrophic event. I would like to see us test these protocols as part of our pandemic plan.

Sarah Centineo: In the spring, it was tough, because nobody had ever done this before. So I feel like our fall approach was a lot better. I think the thing that we could do better is partner with the city, I really wish that our local and state government officials would have been more proactive. I think that the relaxing of the measures happening now is going to end up hurting us, and so I wish that I would see the buy-in from our community and with our district, so that we felt like we were all part of the same team.I’ve also been a pediatric nurse for 22 years. I’m also a lawyer. So the health care thing is a big, big deal for me. 

As far as other protocols, like emergency response, it’s hard to write a whole big policy or make policy changes. Every natural disaster is a little bit different and requires a different response. We would have to decide as a board if we would want to, in an emergency situation, grant certain powers to Jeff Rippe, our superintendent, in order to make emergency decisions. That’s probably the one thing I think we should really examine to make sure that we don’t get caught in a position where somebody needs to make a decision.

Do you support President Trump’s “Patriotic Education” proposal?

Jim Moudry: Yes, I support the premise behind his proposal, but am not sure I support it being enforced through a federal mandate. It is a shame the federal government needs to step in to ensure our schools are teaching our true founding principles and the values behind them.

Our education system has been infiltrated by those who seek to destroy our American ideals and we need to fight against their actions.

Scott Eby: I think Trump’s “Patriotic Education” is more of a political move. Currently, the government has no jurisdiction over curriculum in schools and I would not be in favor of them intervening in curriculum. Every school district has its own unique challenges based on its students.

Kristy Kiviniemi: I support the Pledge of Allegiance and our Country’s history as part of our curriculum.

Sarah Centineo: I believe that in public education, your history class should be based on the facts of history, and I think it’s important to get experiences of those events from different participants and different perspectives. There’s an old saying, “history is written by the winners.” It is written by the winners, but we need to do a better job of looking at all of the ways history has happened. For example, I went down to a school board thing to the Alamo in San Antonio. I didn’t know until I went into the Alamo about all the interplay between the role of Native Americans and Native Mexicans, because they were indigenous people in Mexico. It’s a complicated picture, because they all live together in the same space. There were no boundaries, and there was no, somebody drew a magic marker and said, ‘now you’re in the United States, or you’re in Mexico.’ So when there were these invasions, it was really confusing for a lot of people because they were related to people who were on the other side. I just think it’s really important to understand the complexity of history, and it’s different perspectives. So I would not support any kind of programming of curriculum, that would tell us ‘you need to look at it from this perspective’, because I think that’s unfair. I don’t think it’s truthful. 

That being said, our curriculum is almost exclusively done on state and local level, the federal government has really no place in our curriculum. We have these state requirements, and I don’t think that anything that Trump has suggested, or written as an executive order, should override those things.

What, if anything, would you change in the curriculum?

Jim Moudry: I would ensure that Civics and the Constitution are taught to all students in our schools. I would ensure that discussions regarding politics, environmental science, religion, history, sexuality, etc. are balanced and the position of all sides are presented, one position is not pushed to the exclusion of the others, and no one is shut out. I would ensure everyone receives a course in Personal Finance. Industrial arts and home economics are also very important and need to be made available for anyone to pursue.

Scott Eby: I would like to see an increase in AP class offerings for dual credit. I’m also very excited for the new career launch center and the opportunities it will provide for our students. 

Kristy Kiviniemi: At this time, I do not have anything specific I would like to see changed in the curriculum. If elected to the School Board, I would look to staff, parents and students for feedback on curriculum to better understand challenges they face and what areas specifically should be evaluated. In addition, it is important to remember that state standards must be considered when reviewing the curriculum. 

Sarah Centineo: I want to talk about social studies standards, I would really like to see an update. In those, one of the things that we’ve talked about too, is a change, not necessarily like in a particular part of the curriculum, but I think we could do a better job of marrying some of our English and literature, with our social studies curriculum. I think it would make history more interesting, telling more people’s stories, and trying to reach students that way, because I think storytelling is very powerful. So we’re looking at ways that these things can work even in science. Every scientist is a person, they have really interesting backgrounds, so even things like that, where we can marry more of these subjects together. I think we’re going to see a change in education over the next couple of years, which I think is definitely going to be a good thing.

What would you do as a board member to improve the diversity of the teaching staff to match that of the students? 

Jim Moudry: The best qualified teachers should be hired regardless of race, creed, nationality, religion, or sexual preference.  We need to have a diversity of thoughts and ideas.  I will ensure we have policies restricting teachers from imposing their personal viewpoints and positions on students.  All viewpoints, positions, and sides of an issue need to be discussed without violating the free speech of any student.  In this way the diversity of our students can be addressed.  I want students and staff members to know they can bring any problem of this type to me and I will ensure it is brought before the school board, as appropriate, for discussion and action.

Scott Eby: As a board member I need to make sure we have good policies in place to help recruit and retain a diversified teacher base. I also need to make sure BPS is a fair and equitable employer. 

Kristy Kiviniemi:

  • Evaluate where we are focusing our efforts to recruit diverse teaching staff and how effective we have been
  • Evaluate how we can retain top future educators from our top colleges and universities in Nebraska
  • Collaborate with the existing diverse staff to understand what draws teachers to our community
  • Collaborate with students to understand their diverse needs so there can be focused recruiting

Sarah Centineo: The events of this spring with George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and all of the other civil unrest, and honestly, the things that happened here in Omaha with James Scurlock, are the issues that we need to address. These are issues that people who are in positions of power need to address. So, our plan for the district is to have a diversity with intent.

Because we have a larger Hispanic population in Bellevue, that’s our biggest minority. But we have very few Hispanic teachers, so how do we get our students of Hispanic Heritage interested in teaching? It would be great that we grow our own too. So we have to look at all of those things as well.

Do you feel that students should be required to receive vaccinations, more specifically a COVID-19 vaccine if they wish to attend in-person school?

Jim Moudry: I certainly would not favor a Federal mandate requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for students.  That is a State and Local matter and I would prefer the decision be made at the local school board level, with input from local and county health officials.  I am a proponent of individual freedom and liberty, but understand that, at times, government entities must step in to ensure public safety.  I would make any such determination very carefully taking input from all sides; weighing the risks, pros, and cons; go to my Heavenly Father in prayer; and express my position to the Board who will then make the decision.  Once made, I will back the decision of the Board, regardless of my personal opinion.

Scott Eby: I will be in favor of anything that allows our students to attend class and participate in extracurricular activities so they can have a great high school experience. Before I would be able to require a vaccination I would need way more evidence than we currently have from science and medical experts to form an opinion on requiring a vaccine to attend class. 

Kristy Kiviniemi: I believe we should rely on the heath care experts such as the CDC to give guidance on vaccine mandates, just as they do now. I believe the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine will need to be proven before being considered a mandated vaccine. If mandated, I am sure there would be vaccine exemptions in place, similar to other current vaccines.

But again, ultimately that guidance should be left in the hands of health care experts skilled specifically in this area. 

Sarah Centineo: I don’t know about a mandatory code of vaccination because we don’t have one on the market yet. In the just ridiculously politicized way that the pandemic, which is not political at all, has happened, I think that there is a healthy amount of skepticism out there about vaccinations for COVID. I think that we were probably betrayed by causative explanation the same way we treat flu vaccination, which is not mandatory, but we are still mandatory in the United States for measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria all the childhood ones, so we certainly would keep doing that. So that’s where I’m at today on a call for COVID vaccination.  With more information and as science progresses and even as we our knowledge of the disease and how it works progresses, my opinion might change on that.