Candidate duo hopes you'll like both Kathys

Candidate duo hopes you'll like both Kathys

CHAMPAIGN — They stood in line in the cold together to file for candidacy. Both moved to Champaign from Boston about 12 years ago. They're both centering their campaigns on improving transparency, and they even share a first name.

Why not elect a couple school board members who exhibit some camaraderie?

That's the question Unit 4 mothers and school board hopefuls Kathy Shannon and Kathy Richards plan to ask the community in the months leading up to April's election.

"We have both been active in our kids' education, and we both have strong opinions," said Richards, who has a second-grader at Dr. Howard Elementary and a seventh-grader at Edison Middle School. "Since multiple seats are open on the board, and we share similar goals for Unit 4 moving forward, we decided we could model respectful communication and active listening both in our friendship and on the school board."

The pair met before their children entered elementary school at a group called Mothers and More as a way to meet people who were also new to the district. Since then, the two Kathys have stayed close as active parents, attending district board and school PTA meetings as their kids grow up in Unit 4.

In the last year, the two have become more involved with the conversation surrounding the bond issue referendum for building a new Central High School, both privately and publicly. Richards and Shannon have both addressed the board at different meetings this school year — not one without the other. Each time, "we came and supported one another, showing moral support," Shannon said.

When the two found out five seats were opening up, they didn't even have to think twice about running together, citing issues with the referendum as what propelled them to step out into the public eye.

"I was frustrated with the process of selecting a site for the new Central and I did a lot of complaining in private, but Kathy and I decided we needed to be a part of the conversation instead of complaining," said Shannon, who has children at Central and Edison. "I want to be a part of changing that conversation and broadening it.

"Having my kids in this school system has made me so much more passionate about these issues. For the most part, we have really good schools and we need people to step up. So that's what Kathy and I are hoping to do."

The two say they are running their campaigns on the same set of promises: to restore public trust in the board through more transparency, develop a long-term facility plan that prioritizes infill development when updating and replacing school buildings and expand focus on educational equity.

"I would really like to see the district put a long-term plan in place about facility updates instead of tackling haphazardly as enrollment bumps come up and maybe attack things more proactively," Shannon said. "I'd also like to continue to improve equity in education. The district is moving in the right direction, but more work needs to be done."

The issue of transparency is a big one for Richards, who says she would like to be able to help parents, like herself, who haven't always been involved in the conversation have the opportunity to join discussions.

"There's a lot of ways the current board has done a really good job of being transparent, but so many people have questions about the process: Why was the land purchased? Why are things being done in this order? The information sessions I've gone to have all been run like, 'Here's our conclusion and let us sell you on our proposal,' and nothing about how other people could get involved with the conversation," Richards said.

"I would certainly like to help when new people join the conversation and help point them towards a place to update themselves, like 'Here's how we got here and here's the statistics.' I think currently it's probably a webpage issue, but it's also an attitude. It's hard to welcome everyone, and everyone has their own axes to grind, but I feel like it could be done better and I want to have a part in improving that."

Sections (2):News, Local
Tags (1):2015 election