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Meet the Candidates for Springfield Board of Education

Michele Skalicky

Five people are seeking to fill two open positions on the Springfield Board of Education next month.  And recently, the Springfield Council of PTA’s invited the candidates to share their views at a meeting of the group at Horace Mann Elementary.  KSMU's Michele Skalicky has more.

Michelle Gavel is a preschool teacher and has a background in counseling.  She said if elected, she’ll be a voice for parents, teachers and students from all backgrounds.  She told the group she’s an advocate for cultural and economic diversity.

Credit Michele Skalicky / KSMU
Springfield School Board Candidate Michelle Gavel

"Because I feel that if we're engaged and have all the voices at the table, whether they come from a low income background, different racial backgrounds, they'll need to have representation from everyone so we can make the best possible decisions for our students, our teachers and our district," she said.

She said her priorities would be maintaining competitive salaries for teachers, and she’d love to see more programs to help at-risk children such as early childhood and feeding programs.

Gavel said she has a passion for students and making sure "all students, regardless of background, have access to the same opportunities and resources as everyone."

"I'm a big advocate for that, and I want every child, every student to live up to their potential and have the opportunity to do that.  And that comes with making sure that that voice and that population has representation on the school board," she said.

According to Gavel, the district can find ways to increase funding.  She pointed to the recent decision to allow SPS teachers who live in other districts to send their children to Springfield schools.

Allen Kunkel is director of Missouri State University’s Jordan Valley Innovation Center.  He said he’s running because he believes the investment in public education is the best investment a community can make.

"In terms of individual success but also success of the local economy," he said.

He said, if elected, he’ll continue to work on the mission and vision the current administration and board have established for the district.

Credit Michele Skalicky / KSMU
Springfield School Board Candidate Allen Kunkel

According to Kunkel, budgeting is one of the most important roles of the Board of Education.  He said members must make sure they’re good stewards of the district’s dollars and must decide how to maximize those funds based on the priorities of the district.

"The plan of the administration, the strategic plan, the goals and objectives have been set out.  It gives us a good, clear path on how to make those decisions in terms of fiscal responsibility and where to make the investments," he said.

Kunkel said he's committed to "attracting and retaining talent in the district." And he said the board needs to continue to listen and have conversations with parents, educators, administrators and the business community "in terms of the changes we're making, the pace of change and making sure we're all engaged in that process to make a successful program."

Dr. Alina Lehnert is a leadership and strengths development expert who has spent two decades studying human behavior, talent and leadership.

She said her top priorities if she’s a board member are to advocate for students, staff and families by “maximizing our financial, human and material resources so our children and community succeed.”

Credit Michele Skalicky / KSMU
Springfield School Board Candidate Alina Lehnert

  "So that, whatever the issue is that comes our way, and the issues are going to change from season to season to year to year, but I just want you to know that that's the process you can expect from me," she said.

She said she would prioritize listening to parents, staff, students and the community, she would make sure goals and policies are established, and she would make sure to ask the SPS superintendent “critical questions.”

"How are we communicating this vision?  How are we developing our staff?  How are we communicating internally and externally around this organizational change?" she said.

Lehnert said she understands the complex dynamics regarding organizational change and the importance of internal and external communication. 

She said as the district launches innovative programs, the board needs to look at how the district will provide access so all students can take part. 

Dr. Melissa Penkalsi is a pediatric nurse practitioner.  She says her top priorities if elected to the board will be continuing support for personalized education plans for all students, equal access to technology, the addition of choice programs and “providing the personalized education necessary to prepare our students to be productive citizens.”

Credit Michele Skalicky / KSMU
School Board Candidate Dr. Melissa Penkalski

"Providing the personalized education necessary to prepare our students for productive citizens," she said.

And she said she would address barriers to learning such as homelessness and poverty.

"I want to continue to support local efforts in engaging the entire community in generating solutions to address these social issues."

She said she would “work to promote successful students.”

Dr. Charles Taylor is professor of communication at Drury and director of the university’s MA in Communication and Master of Nonprofit and Civic Leadership programs.  He said he has only one agenda:  “the continuous improvement of the district.”  According to Taylor, the district must work to “maximize the learning opportunities for every student.”

"Regardless of his or her background, regardless of his or her preferred learning style--it could be visual, it could be auditory it could be kinesthetic," he said.

Credit Michele Skalicky / KSMU
Springfield School Board Candidate Dr. Charles Taylor

  Taylor said the district must nurture community partnerships because "the schools simply can’t do it alone."

According to Taylor, they need to be sure SPS is accountable to the taxpayers.  But at the same time, he added, the community needs to be accountable for the quality of education that happens in schools.

"And this is a wonderful community in which collaboration is possible from Every Child Promise to even Care to Learn to the Northwest Project, etc.," he said.

According to Taylor, building those kinds of partnerships in ways that involve everyone across the community will deliver on the promise of Springfield Public Schools, and he’ll work to make sure that happens.

Gerry Lee, chair of the Mayor’s Commission on Children, is running unopposed for the five-year term vacated by Francine Pratt.

Voters will decide who will serve on the Springfield Board of Education on April 5.  View a sample ballot here.

If you'd like to meet the candidates in person, you can do so at a Springfield School Board Candidate Forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Southwest Missouri.  It will be held April 5 at 6:30 pm at the Meyer Alumni Center, 300 S. Jefferson.