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Meet the Lawrence school board candidates

There’s just more than four weeks until the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 2 (and the voter registration deadline is Tuesday, Oct. 12 — see key voting dates here).

Six candidates moved on from the August primary; the three who receive the most votes in the general election will take office.

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The Lawrence Times sent out candidate questionnaires during the primary. We wanted to start off with something a little bit different from typical election coverage and give you a chance to learn more about the human side of your candidates. So we asked some standard questions about why they decided to run for office — but also some more fun, lighthearted questions. If a candidate’s answer is not listed for a particular question, they chose to skip it.

Now, approaching the general election, we’ve narrowed the questionnaire down to your current choices on the ballot. We also gave the candidates a chance to update their answers, so some things here have changed. We’ve also included answers from a mini questionnaire we sent just before the primary election, asking about the school district’s mask mandate. (The primary election questionnaire is here, and the mini questionnaire on the mask mandate is here.)

Here’s what the candidates had to say.

Find the Times’ coverage of the Lawrence City Commission and Lawrence school board elections on this page.

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Meet the candidates for Lawrence school board

In alphabetical order by last name:
Kay Emerson (she/her)

Age: 35

Occupation: I am the AmeriCorps Kansas Director for the Kansas Volunteer Commission with the Department of Education. I spend my time supporting AmeriCorps Kansas programs that address the most critical needs in Kansas in hunger, education, COVID-19 relief and recovery, employment, and environmental conservation. I am spending my workdays managing federal and state grants, reading, reviewing, developing policy and procedure, monitoring, and providing technical training.

Lived in Lawrence: I have lived in Lawrence since 2004.

Links: Website; Email

GR Gordon-Ross (he/him)

Age: 47

Occupation: Hospital IT

Lived in Lawrence: 25 Years

Links: Twitter; Instagram; Facebook; Email

Kelly Jones (she/her)

Age: 48

Occupation: I am a KS licensed master-level social worker with over 20 years of social services experience.  Currently, I am the Director of Field Education and Associate Professor of Practice at the KU School of Social Welfare.

Lived in Lawrence: 19 years

Links: Website; Facebook; Email

Nate Morsches (he/him)

Age: 34

Occupation: Entrepreneur. I own RPG on Mass Street.

Lived in Lawrence: 15

Links: Website; Facebook; Email

Andrew Nussbaum (he/him)

Age: 38

Occupation: Social Justice Educator

Lived in Lawrence: Lived in Lawrence from 2001 – 2013 and now again from 2016 – currently.

Links: Email

Elizabeth Stephens (she/her)

Age: 40

Occupation: Sales Executive at Allen Press, and mother of four

Lived in Lawrence: 35 years

Links: Email


Q: Tell us about your educational background?

Kay Emerson: Graduate from the University of Kansas, I have a bachelor’s degree in Psychology with a focus on child development. In addition, I have a Master of Science in Human Services, and graduate from the Kansas Leadership Training three-part course which ends with “Equip to Lead.” I just completed a course with the University of Washington Evans School Public Policy and Governance on Performance-Based Budget Management. I am currently in the process of completing several free community workshops that include Behavioral Health Prevention with DCCCA, and Racial Equity the League of Women Voters of Kansas. In order to support our community, we have to maintain a learner’s mind and stay active in gaining knowledge that will guide us in leadership.

GR Gordon-Ross: I have a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from the University of Kansas (2002)

Kelly Jones: I have an undergraduate degree in Sociology and Criminal Justice from the University of Wisconsin in Madison and a Masters degree in Social Work from the University of Kansas.  

Nate Morsches: Associates Degree in Nursing. Bachelor of Ministry from Antioch School, leadership focus

Andrew Nussbaum: My critical learning experiences rooted in disability justice, community organizing and community care, outside of academic institutions are far more meaningful to me than my resume-ish background. Having named that, I graduated from KU in 2005 with a Bachelor of Science in Education; in 2016, a Master of Arts in Conflict Transformation from the Center for Justice & Peacebuilding and Graduate Certificate in Non-Profit Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship; most recently, in 2019 a Master of Science in Special Education from Baker University.

Elizabeth Stephens: I grew up in Lawrence and attended both St. John’s and public schools. As a student I always struggled and had some adverse experiences that made focusing on my education difficult. Thanks to the adult education program that offered childcare, I was able to complete my GED. I owe a great deal to that program. 

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Q: Tell us a little bit about your family and/or pets?

Kay Emerson: My husband Cody and I met here in Lawrence Kansas and have been married for a little over a decade, we met when I was still in college here at KU. We are a two-parent home, and we both work full-time jobs. As parents, we have two boys one who is 12, and is a 7th grader who loves theatre and is in Model UN. and our toddler, who is a big fan of singing and attends primary school. We now only have one pet, his name is Hutch. As a family, we enjoy doing things like family board game nights, camping, hiking, biking, and watching sports.

GR Gordon-Ross: My wife and I have 5 children. My wife works part-time as an assistant buyer for the KU Bookstore. Our oldest daughter Rebecca (21) is a 2018 LHS graduate and currently us a Junior at Emporia State. Emily (20) is a 2019 LHS graduate and currently work full-time at Munchers. Sam (17) is a 2021 LHS graduate and is preparing to serve a 2 year mission for our church. Alex (14) is a rising sophomore as LHS and is doing summer soccer workouts and attending scout camp. Anna (12) is a rising 8th grader at Billy Mills and is kinda just chillin’ this summer. We currently have 1 cat, Galaxy. We recently lost our other cat Panda to something called Bobcat Fever.

Kelly Jones: I am a mom to two teenagers- one daughter is an LHS junior, the oldest is a freshman in college. My spouse is a KU chemist and an excellent father.  We have a dog, Sam, and a cat, Mitty. Both are perfectly odd. I also have a large extended family (20 aunts and uncles) with dozens of cousins, who make me laugh. My kids joke that I start most sentences with “I have a cousin…”

Nate Morsches: Married for 14 years. I have 4 children in the public school system, two of whom were adopted through foster care. One my adopted children has special needs. We have one very large great dane – Murdoch, two cats – Sokka and Katara, and one bearded dragon – Spike.

Elizabeth Stephens: I am married to my wonderful husband Matt. We have five children ranging from 20 to 5 years old.

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Jump to a question:

• What specific experiences, in your career and/or personal life, make you believe you’re qualified to serve on the school board?

• What do you think are the 3 most pressing concerns facing the Lawrence Public Schools community and why?

• When and why did you decide to run for Lawrence school board?

• What local leadership roles have you held, and how will that experience benefit the Lawrence Public Schools community if you’re elected?

• What do you think you bring to the table that sets you apart from all the other candidates?

• Question asked July 30: What do you think of the district’s now-universal mask mandate based on updated CDC guidelines, and, if elected, based on COVID-19 conditions today (and with the understanding that those conditions could change for better or for worse by November), would you encourage district administrators to lift the mask mandate or keep it in place?

• Just for fun

Q: What specific experiences, in your career and/or personal life, make you believe you’re qualified to serve on the school board?

Kay Emerson: My experience in education expands to close to 20 years. From my time in undergraduate studying child development, assistant teaching at East Heights early education program, volunteering at Ballard Community center, facilitating negotiation discussion with United Way Education Workgroup, developing afterschool programs, clubs to more recent service with the school district COVID -19 Committee and Equity policy adoption. These experiences have allowed me to have vast knowledge about the past, current, and future challenges facing our school district, pathways for progress, and which voices with intentionality are missing from the table.

GR Gordon-Ross: In addition to the 4 years I’ve spent on the USD 497 Board of Education, I believe I have several qualities that allow me to be an effective Board member. I am a product of public schools and my children are a product of the Lawrence Public School system. I’ve been involved in the district since my oldest was in kindergarten and I’ve been able to volunteer and be involved in all aspects of the district. On a professional level I work in health care. We spend much of our time analyzing old data, reviewing new data and researching how other people are accomplishing what we’re trying to accomplish. I’ve tried to take those same skills and apply them into my personal life – learn from the past, embrace the new and never be afraid to acknowledge there are better ways to do what I’m trying to do.

Kelly Jones: The experience that most prepares me to serve on the board is my current term on the board.  I dived into the work and have a solid understanding of board operations. I am a first-generation college graduate with over 20 years of social service experience, taking me into schools, correctional facilities, hospitals, hospices, and hundreds of Douglas County homes. Both personally and professionally, I understand the value of public education. I am running for the school board because I have seen how quality education positively impacts individual kids, families, and the entire community. The bulk of my social work practice has been administrative and advocacy-related. What that means is that in addition to working directly with individuals & their families, I am engaged in community outreach, including equity and inclusion work; nonprofit budgeting; and agency policy and procedure evaluation. I’ve developed a diverse combination of skills that will contribute to strengthening the Lawrence School Board.

Nate Morsches: First of all, I have 4 children in the school system, one of whom is in the special needs program. We love the school system and have benefitted so much from all the resources available to us as a family. As a bi-racial American (Filipino and White), I understand the children who face the difficulty of being accepted by neither ethnic group of their heritage. I know what it means to grow up in a traditional Filipino household in Hawaii eating the same foods and singing the same songs and doing the same dances as the Filipino immigrants around me, but still to be looked at as another Haole (white person) by Filipinos. It doesn’t matter that I slept on the mattress on the living room floor next to the sacks of rice – my skin is lighter than theirs, so I’m not one of them. I also know what it means to be given very rude nicknames by white people in response to my apparent ethnic ambiguity. In High School, when I’d argue about the utter nonsense of being called Muhummad (because I look like I could be Middle Eastern) or Miguel (because I look like I could be Mexican) or Pineapple (because people knew I was from Hawaii), my bullies sometimes even took it to a fistfight. I believe these identity issues make me uniquely qualified to help students who may face the difficulty of the duality of their ethnic heritage. Additionally, I have the immigrant family disposition: the drive to overcome obstacles and achieve greater than the past generations. I am a business owner and community-focused man. I have proven my leadership abilities by taking a new restaurant and making it through the Pandemic, despite being shutdown 6 months after opening, and losing 70% of our revenue each month for a year. We’ve conquered the worst of it, and are grateful to God for all of it. It is because of these experiences that I believe I am qualified to serve on the school board.

Andrew Nussbaum: My life-purpose, in educational spaces, is to amplify the dignity of young adults, interweaving their experiences and personalized learning plans towards visions of wholeness, while concurrently facilitating collaborative approaches and advocating for more just and inclusive learning environments. Nested in this world-viewing and vocational mission, I currently reside in special education, with eleven years of cumulative experience teaching within a secondary setting here in Lawrence Public Schools. As a certified Therapeutic Special Education Teacher for USD 497, since 2017, I utilize a trauma-informed lens and social justice pedagogy to actively engage students in personally relevant transition/IEP goals and the interpersonal skills they need for meaningful life success of their own determination, while fostering a culture of care and well-being. Through this position, and as a ‘teaching for change’ educator at Lawrence Free State High School from 2006-2013, I co-created the Service-Learning Experience (SLE) — equipping young adults with the consciousness and capacity to create community impact — and the Interpersonal Skills Community Program (IPS) — designed to amplify mutual and just relationships amongst the full continuum of general and special education peers. Then in 2013-2016, I moved to Virginia to work and study at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP), earning my Master’s in Conflict Transformation, while working with incarcerated persons, refugees, and middle schoolers.

Elizabeth Stephens: I have spent the majority of my work life working to advocate for and engage with people who live in the margins. My lived experience as a parent and Lawrence native, drive my continued work on various committees such as the Douglas County COVID response Unified Command, where I serve as an Equity Impact Advisor.

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Q: What do you think are the 3 most pressing concerns facing the Lawrence Public Schools community and why? (Be as specific or as broad as you’d like.)

Kay Emerson: Opportunity: Students, families, and staff deserve the time, resources, and information to have equitable experiences within our school district. As a school system, we are responsible for leveraging our resources to ensure that this occurs on all levels. It is not enough that we discuss the cause and the root of our budget deficit is. We must also seek out existing partnerships to help our schools address this issue that exists. I am looking to use my experience in business negotiation, research, and grants management to lead our district to obtain the funding necessary to address our mounting needs. Access: Knowledge is power and Lawrence is a city that is filled with skills, experts, and resources that collectively contribute to the amazing work. We need to build on this and create shared goals on how we as a community will prepare students for life after secondary schooling. My goal as a school board member is to build bridges and create solutions by accessing both what already exists and what has not yet been explored.​ Choice in Learning: Public schools need secure compensation and resources. Choice in learning allows students,  to an education that matches how they learn and supports career pathways that fit them best. I believe strongly that we must go beyond standardized testing to demonstrate that we know what we know. I want to see students have more choices to demonstrate what they learn. My commitment is to elevate those voices and give space for student choice in career pathways to be explored and supported. environment and teaches soft skills necessary for the workforce. My goal as a school member is to protect that choice and give space for your voices to be represented. 

GR Gordon-Ross: The 3 most pressing concerns are the current budget situation, the enrollment imbalance across our elementary schools and inconsistent communication across the district. 1.) The budget situation is going to impact everything we do for 2, maybe 3 years to come until such time as our enrollment numbers recover to the point that our funding from the state returns to the levels it was pre-pandemic. Until then we will continue to see the district (Admin and the Board) having to make some hard choices on how it spends it’s money. 2.) We have an imbalance of enrollment that translates into an imbalance of class size across the district at the elementary level. We can range in class size from as small as 11 to as high as 29. The best way to solve this problem would be a comprehensive boundary examination which the District Boundary Committee is currently doing. The more we can make class size as close to equitable across all of our elementary schools, the better we will be. 3.) Currently today we do not have a clear communication policy that directs how information is communicated to parents that covers everything from District, Building, Teacher, Coach, etc. We use email, text, Group Me, Snap Chat, Twitter, Facebook, etc. to communication sometimes vital information. I believe we need to work to consolidate all of this into a single use platform so parents and students can find the information they need in one place and communicate with whomever they need to in the same place.

Kelly Jones: The three (four) most pressing concerns facing the Lawrence Public Schools communities are 1) our equity work, 2) pandemic recovery, 3) the teacher shortage, and 4) fiscal health (that allows the district to reach staff compensation goals and replenish contingency funds). (Please forgive the length of what follows. This is my passion work and I go on.) Equity Work: Melissa Johnson, Shannon Kimball, and I led the participatory-development process to draft and adopt a district Equity Policy. It builds on ongoing district work, but most substantively- it creates accountability standards and metrics the board must monitor and adhere to. Core to my board practice is the belief that the dedicated application of that policy can sustain academic achievement and overall well-being for Students of Color; LGBTQ+ students; students from families with lower incomes; students with disabilities; and students who are bilingual learners. Under Dr. Lewis (Superintendent of Schools) and Dr. Johnson’s (Executive Director of Inclusion, Engagement, and Belonging) leadership, Lawrence will accelerate academic gains through investments in instructional and academic supports, alongside culturally specific community partnerships. Included in several projects I’m excited about- district leaders are partnering with the Midwest and Plains Equity Center to collect data as part of an equity context analysis and strategic plan (ECAP). The ECAP lays out our approach for several years into our future. The most wide-reaching and systemic challenge is the Opportunity Gap. The Board’s primary work is undoing it; it’s our moral imperative. Five-year-old children with historically marginalized identities walk into our school buildings, take a seat in their classrooms, and three grades later, district data suggests we underserve them. By the 8th grade, the data is indisputable. Year after year, there are more white students than Black and brown students in advanced placement classes, extracurricular activities, and gifted and enrichment programming. Meanwhile, in-school and out-of-school suspension rates show disparities for Students of Color. As a sitting board member, I am accountable for that fact. Along with my board colleagues, we endeavor to ensure that all USD 497 students have access to essential resources that lead to a better quality of life. Pandemic Recovery: Among my second term priorities is supporting the LPS communities in pandemic-related academic and social-emotional recovery. More than ever, Lawrence students need knowledgeable board members focused on teacher-led educational initiatives, like Kansas Can School redesign and substantive social-emotional programming and approaches, like those found in responsive classrooms, restorative practices, and trauma-informed care. This moment in K-12 education history is a hard-won opportunity to realize the district’s strategic plan objectives. Today, educators are well-positioned to leverage evidence-based learning strategies through the federals CARES Act educational funding and other educational stabilization funds. These funds give Dr. Lewis and other LPS district leaders the discretion to decide how to best use the aid based on our local needs, not those prescribed by federal or state authorities. There is warranted hope that disrupting business-as-usual will ultimately narrow the Opportunity Gap for Students of Color and students from low-income households. In Lawrence schools, the 2021 signs of hope are strides made to close the digital divide; increases in allocated staff time for meaningful collaboration and professional development; a renewed focus on early childhood education; and expanded community partnerships- including Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center. Teacher Shortage: Expert teachers are critical to LPS’ success, and we are fortunate to have many in Lawrence. That’s not the case across the state. Some Kansas districts are placing unqualified teachers in positions that they should not be because they can’t find candidates- particularly within special education. Other districts are seeing small teacher candidate pools get smaller. Recent data coming out of the Kansas Department of Education reports significant increases in vacancies across Kansas. USD 497 HR department does an excellent job recruiting educators, but at some point, the shortage pushes up against Lawrence too. At the district level, the board must collaborate with the LEA to identify work environment improvements and compensation goals that best support teacher recruitment and retention. Board members must also advocate at the statehouse for policies that 1) support a long-term, sustained commitment to state funding for KPERS, including changes to make KPERS a more attractive retirement program to support recruitment and retention of highly qualified teachers, administrators, and support staff; and 2) support reinstating the previous working after retirement laws to allow KPERS retired staff to continue working without penalty. Fiscal Health: During the 2018 Listening and Learning Tour, the Lawrence community said loud and clear that teacher and paraeducator compensation is a priority. How do we best address this imperative within our current financial condition? For the 2021-22 academic year, the board navigated 1.8 million dollars in cuts. The district’s financial health is declining. Our contingency reserves are a symptom of that decline. Currently, within the district’s operating budgets, there is not a “reserve” amount. We have expenditures above the budget authority. Our unencumbered balance on June 30, 2021, will be $805,799.98, which is below 1% of our current published General Fund Legal Max. The district’s Finance Director, Kathy Johnson, recommends for a district our size a 6% reserve ($5,105,409). That amount may seem high, but it doesn’t even cover our monthly $6.1million salary expenditure. There is a cash flow problem in simple terms. It is reasonable and right that our classified union, PAL CWA, requests a minimum $15 per/hour starting wage. Our challenge is increasing wages without substantially growing class sizes or cutting programming. In the interim to meeting wage and salary goals for district staff, the board should continue to prioritize 12 months of fringe benefits to offset the disparity. Additionally, board members should work within the Budget and Program Analysis Committee to identify a path that improves fiscal health and increases compensation.

Nate Morsches: Communities around the United States are being torn apart by partisan division. We have got to work hard to gain unity around one single goal – building up our future leaders, our children. We’ve got to do this together, and I have three emphases in those regards: Post-Secondary Education, Mental Well-being of Teachers and Students, and Financial Sustainability for the district. Post-Secondary Education – I was told growing up that after high school, it’s either college or homeless. This damaged my view of the best possibilities for my life for many years. Traditional college is an excellent option for many people, but it is not a good option for many others. Trade school, community college, apprenticeships, certifications or entrepreneurship must not be viewed as lesser options. Depending on the skills and goals of the student, any one of these might be a better option. USD 497 must be able to translate this effectively to the future market stakeholders, our students. Mental Well-being for Teachers and Students – As a frontlines nurse during the Pandemic in the ER and ICU, I have seen a trend of the rapid increase of mental illness. Since February, it’s fair to say that our mental health numbers in the hospital (suicidal ideation, homicidal ideation, alcohol detox, drug detox, depression, anxiety, psychosis, and even domestic abuse) have tripled, and maybe even quadrupled, as a result of social isolation and high stress. Our teachers and students have been through unprecedented times and USD 497 must take care of them mentally as we all recover from the most devastating global catastrophe our generation may ever see. Financial Stability of the District – For many reasons, including but not limited to the Pandemic and the ending of the current bonds, funding for the district is extremely tight. With my experience as an entrepreneur and local business owner, the financial stability of USD 497 is a top priority. Thinking outside the box to come up with new revenue streams is my expertise. In school districts, new revenue streams is equivalent to attracting more students to participate in the public school system so as to increase government funding. USD 497 must create new reasons for students to join our district including non-traditional ideas and increasing the robustness of what we already offer, so our funding increases and the budget becomes sustainable.

Andrew Nussbaum: There is no actual and just excellence without a constant, critical, structural, and all-levels of institutional focus on equity. We, in Lawrence, and in the district, must face, unpack, and unravel many challenges when addressing equity. Improving equity must include (1) acknowledging that the “equity journey” the district has been on over the past thirteen years has not been enough – if and when we look at data comparable to our own past, neighboring school districts and state data our equity outcomes are not excellent, let alone good. Also, we must look at (2) the systems our schools, staff, and students are nested in; the decision-making processes that govern our actions; and how, why and where power is held and by whom. Equity, as an active goal and process, needs to be structural and interpersonal/relational. Too many times our “equity journey” has been focused on the hearts and minds of individual teachers and staff; while important, this has effectively distracted our energy, time, and strategic plans away from finding systems-wide actions to systemic challenges (3) including structural racism, poverty, lack of a living wage for classified staff, and both transphobic and anti-public education legislation in our Statehouse.

Elizabeth Stephens: The COVID-19 pandemic elevated how the inequities in the distribution of resources affects our marginalized youth and their families. We have an opportunity to take hard look at how our current system is set up and how it effects our children’s ability to learn.

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Q: When and why did you decide to run for Lawrence school board?

Kay Emerson: For me, deciding to run for the school board has always been a matter of when. During this last year, watching BIPOC women begin to say “I am enough” has been a very empowering statement in my life. There is always a reason to “why not.” Thus, as I consider my experiences, how long I have been attending meetings, the training from Kansas Leadership Center that has helped me be “Equip to Lead.” In addition, to the support of my husband Cody, my friends, colleagues, and those I have come to know that said, “Kay, you’re perfect for this.” I knew that it was time to show up. So I did, because as Alice Walker says, “We are who we’ve been waiting for.” 

GR Gordon-Ross: I decided to run for school board when I was in Junior High and my mom got elected to the school board in Kearney, MO. She was the first woman to ever be elected and I thought that was pretty cool. I figured it would be an awesome thing to do someday. Fast forward a few years and I decided it was time to give back to the school district that had given my kids a great education and prepared them for the world beyond Lawrence. I decided to run for re-election because I still believe I have work left to do in the areas of technology, boundaries and labor negotiations.

Kelly Jones: Serving others is among my guiding principles. I decided to run for the board in 2017 because I found I’d inadvertently prepared to do so through my district volunteer activities: I knocked on doors for the 2013 & 2017 Yes for Lawrence School Bond Campaigns Get, spent 8 years on the Cordley site council, served on a district-appointed elementary school facilities workgroup, organized farm-to-school lunches, and a few other things, including 10 years volunteering in classrooms. So when I took stock, I was ready to take on the school board member role. Today, I am more prepared than I was in 2017. And honestly, after 20 years in social service- most of it crisis work, what I love about serving on the board is that it allows me to be part of the solution to the social challenges I’ve seen over the years.

Nate Morsches: When as a nurse I saw the rapid increase in mental health patients as a result of social isolation in the Pandemic, and I saw how difficult hybrid schooling was for my children, I realized the incredible number of children, families, and teachers who must be struggling with mental illness. At that point, one of the county commissioners approached me and encouraged me to run. With so many people suffering, and the need for students and teachers to recover well for the entire community’s sake, I knew I needed to run.

Elizabeth Stephens: I decided to run for the Lawrence School Board in May of 2021. I had always thought about getting involved. But questions whether or not I could. Finally, after gaining the support of those around me I decided to go for it. I believe that the lived experience has value and belongs in leadership.


Q: What local leadership roles have you held, and how will that experience benefit the Lawrence Public Schools community if you’re elected? (For incumbents, this could include positions you’ve held while in office.) 

Kay Emerson: I have close to twenty years of involvement in supporting our public schools. Starting with my time as a preschool teacher at East Heights with Headstart back in the early 2000s. My dedication to public education in our community has only grown since that time. Currently, my experience has expanded to volunteer opportunities that involve city-wide decision-making. This includes but is not limited to: Advisor- Health Equity Advisory Board-Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department Commissioner- Human Relations Commission • Chairperson- USD 497 Parents of Color Advisory Team • USD 497 COVID-19 Committee Member • USD 497 District Site Council Members. To see the full listing, visit www.votekemerson.com “Why Kay” page. All of these experience allows for the knowledge and working understanding of current needs across the entire school districts. I am no stranger to building collaboration in the community for school. My past and current experiences understand the importance of bringing people like you, the reader to the table to get things done. We have to remember that despite our difference, the focus on our students, staff, educators must remain our priority in our decision-making.

GR Gordon-Ross: While serving on the School Board I have been privileged to serve on the Facilities and Operations Committee, the Boundary Committee and the LEA/PAL-CWA Negotiations Committee. All of these committee assignments have helped me to gain a greater understanding of how the district operates and some of the innerworkings and what the nitty-gritty needs are. Outside of my Board service, I served as a leader at my church for several years and I’ve also been able to manage several projects at work. Those experiences allowed me to work closely with people, listen to what they had to say and then work to collaboratively solve problems together. I also currently serve as a Boy Scout leader, serving the needs to youth from all over the district.

Kelly Jones: I spent two years on the usd497 board executive committee, serving both as vice president and president. I also serve on the board negotiations team, budget committee, and policy committee. In each of these positions, I committed to equity-centered governance in public education. Here are examples of where it shows up: -Co-wrote the District Equity and Gender Affirming Dress Code policies -Led the board in recognizing the certified staff union, PAL-CWA -Supported staffing a full-time counselor at every elementary school in the district -Collaborated on adopted the Immigration Resolution -Updated the Board Governance Manual to include an equity lens -Supported Restorative Practice expansion in all middle and high Schools

Nate Morsches: I am Leadership Lawrence, Class of 2020, graduate. I sit on the boards of Trinity In-Home Care and the Lawrence Restaurant Association. I also am the President and Co-Founder of RPG on Mass Street. Finally, I was a frontlines nurse in the ER and ICU during the entire Pandemic, taking on leadership roles such as Charge Nurse and House Supervisor. The variety of leadership roles I’ve been honored to take on have helped me understand what it means to make difficult decisions for the betterment of the community. It has helped me learn what personal sacrifices are necessary. Finally, it has helped me know what true love and compassion are in regard to those placed in your charge.

Elizabeth Stephens: I currently serve as an Equity Impact Advisor on the DGCO COVID Unified Command. I also serve on the IDE committee at LMH. 

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Q: What do you think you bring to the table that sets you apart from all the other candidates?

Kay Emerson: One of the exciting parts of campaigning with a large group is knowing our community and learning about how others want to get involved. From experience, as an involved parent and a long-time Lawrence Public Schools volunteer, having engaged and individuals who want to be part of the progress is always a great thing. As a learner, I am naturally curious to find out information that can improve the situation, and this allows me to ask core questions when no one else in the room is moved to speak highly. Suppose we don’t have the okay answers, but how can we figure it out together. I also like to build on information and find the bridges to connect resources to needs. This is helpful when addressing the challenges ahead. Finally, I think about how important it is to get to know each other perspectives regardless of if we agree. Why? Because it allows an opportunity for understanding to face matter together rather than apart. 

GR Gordon-Ross: I think I bring the ability to listen with an open mind to any topic brought before the board without having my mind made up going into the conversation. I value hearing both sides and listening vs speaking just to hear myself talk. I enjoy my committee work and I have an understanding that being a Board member means doing work such as F&O, Boundaries or Negotiations along with meeting on Monday nights. I always try to remember that I represent all of USD497 students, families and staff whenever I vote – not just the loudest voices or the ones I’ve heard the most from.

Kelly Jones: Like teachers, staff, and students returning to in-person learning this Fall, I’ll return strong. When I ran for school board in 2017, I didn’t envision serving as board president during a pandemic. It’s been among the most daunting leadership roles I’ve undertaken. I learned to lead through the crisis by prioritizing immediate and emerging opportunities to heal, repair, and renew.

Nate Morsches: My immigrant family experience, my community-centered approach, and my entrepreneurial skills. My grandfather, Patricio Pascua, lived in the Philippines in the early 1940’s when the Japanese were occupying the nation. A squadron of soldiers came in to his fishing village and murdered his father and brother. He took his fiancee (my grandmother now) and her family to the mountains to protect them for months. They stowed away on a boat and came to Honolulu. He enlisted in the US Navy, and fought against the Japanese in the Pacific Theatre. After all these terrible struggles, he finally ensured the safety of his family in the United States. He then spent the rest of his life building into his community through work, church, and these massive fiestas he would have at his house every Sunday night. He would bring in friends, family, and even people off the street and feed them and provide them with hospitality. It is this model of community building which informs every decision I make as a US citizen in Lawrence today. In fact, it is the purpose of having started my business (as well as my reason for running for school board). I work to build community. And in doing so, I have learned many important skills, such as financial management, especially through catastrophic circumstances. As an entrepreneur, I have had to come up with new streams of revenue and think outside the box to build sustainability of an organization. Moreover, I pay my employees no less than $15/hr. I have figured out how to make it work through creative approaches to the budget and to our payment structure. The school district needs to pay our staff a livable wage, and I can help figure out how to accomplish it. I would apply these skills to the School Board to help build up financial sustainability. I believe I am set apart by my immigrant family experience, my community-centered approach, and my entrepreneurial skills.

Andrew Nussbaum: My 11 years as an educator (general education and special education) in Lawrence Public Schools, USD 497, community organizing experiences and educational background have fostered my personal philosophy and practices that include a deep ability to be both present and adaptive; reflective listening alongside individual and group facilitation; and the sincere interest in a multitude of collaborative relationships, while also holding a deep knowledge of institutional systems and power dynamics. As an educator, I understand that my identity and the students I work with are not exclusive to their disabilities and/or institutional barriers, but the intersecting power dynamics from the identities that we each carry. My learned advocate practitioner principles of disability justice are intersectionality; leadership of those most impacted; recognizing complexity and wholeness; sustainability; interdependence; wisdom on the margins; collective access and supported decision-making.

Elizabeth Stephens: First, I would like to acknowledge the high number of great candidates that are pursuing a seat on the school board this year. One of the things that separate me from the other candidates is my lived experience in Lawrence, both as a parent and a student. 

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Question asked July 30: What do you think of the district’s now-universal mask mandate based on updated CDC guidelines, and, if elected, based on COVID-19 conditions today (and with the understanding that those conditions could change for better or for worse by November), would you encourage district administrators to lift the mask mandate or keep it in place?

Kay Emerson: Supporting students’ preferred method of study is a stand I fully support. We know simply that some students perform best with the in-person instructional model and as a community we should do what we can to protect this choice. It just so happens in this situation we are able to multitask and take care of the overall health of Lawrence and do our part to stop the spread. My thought on USD 497’s decision is that it is based on science and advice from our local, state and federal health professionals and scientists across the country, who are observing areas much more in harm’s way than ours. I will take the opportunity to say I trust the facts and history here that says if we don’t start some way to mitigate the risks it can quickly become worse. To be specific the district has outlined a total of 28 precaution procedures including mask mandate. Within the mask mandate there are a total of nine guidelines that inform our students, staff and families about the general expectations including how to request mask exemption and what may happen in our SPED classrooms. This plan I do support, although I might suggest researching the distance between students, staff to students, and what this may do in some of our learning environments, specifically our elementary buildings. So we can start ahead before the school year starts. The plan put forth is worth supporting because it keeps our schools open and lowers the possibility of the number of disruptions in our learning. Now as to the future, this is up to us the community to decide. I will stand with science when it comes to what to do next as COVID 19 is a moving target and I look forward to seeing the work continue on the district committees that I sit to be able vet out these questions with input from the collective community. Still, I urge our district leaders to continue to take action by make plans and communicate out specifics such as what learning will look like for students in quarantine or if staff are sick. We need to continue to actively plan and make public our contingency plans. We must stay hopeful but we must be prepared.

GR Gordon-Ross: I am in favor of the universal mask mandate. During our board meeting last week, (Superintendent Dr. Anthony) Lewis stated that he would be mindful of recommendations from both national and local health officials. Both the CDC and the Lawrence/Douglas County Health Department updated their recommendations. Dr. Lewis then did what he said he would do which was to review those updates and make the necessary adjustments. LDCHD is our best source of local, specific health advice for what’s happening here – followed by state and national recommendations. I would continue to encourage Dr. Lewis and the administration to follow the advice of local, state and federal agencies when making these decisions and when in doubt, to err on the side of caution.

Kelly Jones: Unity on COVID-19 safety protocols is crucial to keeping our schools safe and fully in-person. I support our district leadership’s dedication to 2021-22 fully in-person schools with safe, inclusive learning environments. They work closely with local health officials and our legal counsel to establish COVID-19 protocols for students, staff, their families, and our community. The current mask protocols adhere to CDC and other health authorities, like the American Academy of Pediatrics, guidelines. The district shared it’s prepared to shift toward more or fewer restrictions based on the specific circumstances of Douglas County. As a board member, that makes sense to me. It also makes the most sense to me that every eligible Lawrencian should be vaccinated. If you are not, please start the vaccine series before the August start of school.

Nate Morsches: Many of you have probably seen my response to the question of support or opposition of the mask mandate at USD 497 in the Lawrence Times. I have changed my position regarding the mask mandate at USD 497 since then. I was in opposition when the question was first asked, but I am now in support of the mask mandate. There are two reasons why I have done this: 1: The COVID cases, hospitalizations, and deaths have increased at a rate where it would be irresponsible of me to continue opposing the mandate. 2: I have heard from my supporters and have come to realize that the community wants and needs this mandate. To address the first point, in my experience as a Registered Nurse, I have seen that the situation at the hospital has become unsustainable. This spike in our COVID patients is more rapid and more severe than any of the prior spikes we’ve had in the past. Considering children, prior forms of the virus did not affect them as strongly as does the Delta variant. In the past few weeks or so, Children’s Mercy has filled up with COVID cases and has on many occasions turned away all transfers. Particularly with the ICU, there’s nowhere to put the kids because not many other places have ICU beds for pediatrics (PICU). For adults, we’re seeing more younger people become severely ill and dying as well. At the time of this writing, there are literally no ICU beds available in all of Kansas City. That has never happened since the beginning of the Pandemic. Take the rapid increase in patients, and add to that a nation-wide nursing staffing shortage, and we find ourselves in a catastrophic situation, which must be mitigated by many things – one of which is a mask mandate in the school district. To address the second point, I have had many people ask me about my prior position, and I just want to tell all of you who are curious or upset: I have heard you. I have always believed in the effectiveness of masks as a COVID risk mitigation strategy, but was cautious in taking the step of actually supporting a mandate. I no longer have that hesitation because I understand better what the community wants. Overwhelmingly, our people in Lawrence believe in the mask mandate and they have voiced that to me personally as well as in many other avenues. I thoroughly appreciate the personal messages, the meetings, and the questions asked over social media. It has given me the opportunity to hear you, and to understand better how to serve you. Even many of those who oppose wearing masks in general (not all, of course) have admitted that the higher priority is keeping the children in-person at school. To those people, if wearing a mask will help keep the kids in school, then they’re willing to deal with the mandate. This is a priority to a much larger group of people than I had originally thought – and not just to those who are opposed to masks. People who are neutral toward masks have also voiced this opinion to me. Learning these points of views more intimately and discussing with the people in the community has been course-altering for me. At the time when I first was asked the question in the Lawrence Times about the mandate, the recommendations from the CDC were very recently changed, the mandate was newly approved, and the spike in COVID in our area had not yet become as severe as I see it now. My original stance was from a standpoint of cautiousness in making quick, major, entire-city-affecting decisions. Now that I know more about this spike, and now that I better understand what the community wants and needs, I have changed my position to support the mask mandate at USD 497. Thank you to the people of Lawrence for giving me the opportunity to understand you. My goal in becoming a member of the School Board has always been about creating unity and I can only do that through listening, learning, and representing you, my community, well.

Andrew Nussbaum: I support the mask mandate and I would encourage district administrators to keep it in place.

Elizabeth Stephens: Great question. I would support the mask mandate in accordance with the CDC recommendations. Although no one is excited to wear a mask, it is a small thing we can all do to keep our community safe and our children in schools.

Just for fun

The Times did not require answers to any of the following questions.

Kay Emerson

Where did you grow up? I grew up in Topeka, KS and attended USD 501 Topeka Public Schools. I graduated from Topeka High School

Favorite color: Purple 

Favorite animal: Pandas  

Sun sign: Taurus 

Favorite hobbies/pastimes: I love volunteering and it just what I do. I believe that in order to understand what going on you have to experience first hand to have the opportunity to learn from others. I really enjoy reading non-fiction.

What’s one of your favorite books, and why? Now is our Time by Stacy Abrams. This book provides practical information about the importance of voting, how legislation passed at the local level help suppress voting rights and what, we as a community can do about it. Stacy’s book really energizes the thought of what can be accomplished when we work together towards progress. 

What’s one of your favorite movies, and why? I am a huge Disney fan, outside of the need for a larger diverse representation. I love how the storyline is always about overcoming challenges in order to be able to achieve the goal.

What’s one of your favorite songs, and why?  My favorite song right now is Lake Street Drive, “Making Do.” As the song shares a story that many of us can relate to, “ making do with what we got.” During the primary, it was such as great experience to get approval from the band themselves to recreate a Lawrence rendition of the song. Over the course of two weeks, I spent time visiting many of our community members, editing and putting together a video that brings us together to say, Lawrence, we are going to make do with what we go and we are going to make it do more than it ever did before. Check out the video here

Do you have another favorite work of art you’d like to share? Sophie-Ntombikayise at the Spencer Art Museum is one of my favorite pieces of art. By reviewing the art it makes me think about what was the struggle, and how much that struggle still exist today. (link)

Name any person living or dead who you would like to take out to dinner. Why, and where would you take them to eat? Growing up, learning about local figures that look like me did not occur too often, outside of sports and music. Therefore, when I came across Gwendolyn Brooks, a famous Black poet from Topeka, I was stunned. She always made time to respond to letters from children in her life and gave talks at the Library of Congress. In an interview, she noted that in today’s society, youths were concerned about how they could make a living vs. how they enjoyed the love of just writing. I want to explore this more with her if I had a chance and ask, “what can we do as a society to help youths to be able to explore their interest in education while supporting them in finding wages that lift them from poverty, as for food, just a cup of coffee and tea with a lovely conversation with an amazing mind. 

Is there anything else you want to share with potential constituents right now that we didn’t ask in this survey? I want to share with our readers that we all have something to bring to the table. Running for the school board is not the only way to help build back our community and schools. Instead if it time, resources, skills. Find what fits you. Leadership is not a position but an activity, and it will take us all to succeed. 

GR Gordon-Ross

Where did you grow up? Kearney, MO

Favorite color: Purple. Hard to admit in this town.

Favorite animal: Duck Billed Platypus – I’ve heard it described once if you were to represent the US Healthcare Billing system as an animal, it would be the Duck Billed Platypus.

Sun sign: Virgo

Favorite hobbies/pastimes: Woodworking, photography, watching my kids activities.

What’s one of your favorite books, and why? Two favorite authors are Tom Clancy and RA Salvatore. I enjoy fantasy and military fiction and I was introduced to both in high school. I’ve such with them and their created characters.

What’s one of your favorite movies, and why? Monty Python and the Holy Grail – it’s a classic and I laugh every time I watch it.

What’s one of your favorite songs, and why?  Find a Way to My Heart – Phil Collins. I’m a very loyal person, sometimes to a fault and I tend to always leave a path open for those that I care about to come back into my life even if they have chosen to leave.

Do you have another favorite work of art you’d like to share? The Prayer at Valley Forge by Arnold Friberg. It’s one of my favorite paintings of a kneeling George Washington in prayer at Valley Forge.

Name any person living or dead who you would like to take out to dinner. Why, and where would you take them to eat? General George Pickett. I would love to talk to him about the Battle of Gettysburg, his role in it and how it’s been portrayed in history. I would take him anywhere he wanted to go just as long as he was willing to talk to me – but if I got to pick, probably Joe’s Kansas City.

Is there anything else you want to share with potential constituents right now that we didn’t ask in this survey? After 4 years serving on the School Board I have learned that being a board member takes a lot of time, energy and commitment to all aspects of board service. When you run for school board, you have to want to spend 2 hours discussing where a comma goes in a board policy, or take an hour to discuss which 10 of the 35 projects on the wish list from the secondary schools we fund with Bond money. To adjust your work day to go have breakfast at an elementary school to meet the kids and see what amazing things they and our staff are doing in the classroom. All of these things are important and no single issue is more important than all the rest of the work that is required of a board member.

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Kelly Jones

Where did you grow up? Yankton, South Dakota 

Favorite color: I had a vintage dress- the threads dissolved. My grandma called the color marigold- so marigold is my favorite color; I can hear her say it. (She used to make me deadhead the marigolds in the garden. We’d collect the seeds for spring starts.)

Favorite animal: The Great Blue Heron that hangs out in Baker Wetlands’ lotus pond. 

Sun sign: Gemini

Favorite hobbies/pastimes: I like to be on a trail- hiking, biking, backpacking, running, bird watching, clearing it, whatever. I just like to be there. 

What’s one of your favorite books, and why? My favorite book tends to be whatever I am currently reading, which in this case is Intimations Six Essays by Zadie Smith. 

What’s one of your favorite movies, and why? Benji. I’m mostly kidding. When I was a kid, the local movie theater gave out discounted movie passes to grade-schoolers. I think we paid under a dollar per show? The theater had air conditioning and I’d have watched anything to get out of the prairie heat. Plus, you got to go unsupervised, no adults, only cousins. In my memory every other week is a new Benji movie; maybe they made hundreds of Benji movies. Who can say? 

What’s one of your favorite songs, and why?  Brittany Howard’s 13th Century Metal. It’s centering- a prescription for a way to live and every inch beautiful. I was supposed to see her in June 2020 in KCMO. I held out that 13th Century Metal would be on the playlist. Then- 2020 happened and there was no playlist. I’m still bitter.

Do you have another favorite work of art you’d like to share? The district gifted me a photo by 2021 LHS graduate Alexia Maune. I am grateful for that photo. (Thank you, Alexia.)

Name any person living or dead who you would like to take out to dinner. Why, and where would you take them to eat? Brittany Howard and Zadie Smith because I just mentioned them so they’re on my mind and it now occurs to me that would be an amazing evening. 

Is there anything else you want to share with potential constituents right now that we didn’t ask in this survey? I’d like to pass on my gratitude to the twelve other candidates running. It’s a testament to our community that we have such high-caliber school board candidates. It shows the value we place on K-12 educations. I trust Lawrence voters to select the right candidate for right now. It would be a privilege to be among them. Sincerely, thank you for the time you have allowed me to serve on the board.

Nate Morsches

Where did you grow up? Honolulu area as a child, Detroit area as a teenager, Lawrence since adulthood

Favorite color: Red

Favorite animal: Lion

Sun sign: Aquarius

Favorite hobbies/pastimes: Writing and fighting. I love creative writing, short stories and poetry. I have some short stories and poetry published out there. In terms of fighting, I used to compete at an amateur level in American boxing and Thai Kickboxing. I stopped when I started having kids. Now that they are school aged, I have begun training in Krav Maga, an Israeli martial art centered on self-defense.

What’s one of your favorite books, and why? Red Rising by Pierce Brown. On the surface it’s an incredible sci-fi story of a laborer who suffers the loss of his wife at the hands of the cruel authorities in place and who then engages and leads a rebellion, eventually starting an interplanetary civil war. On a deeper level, it masterfully demonstrates the complexities of social inequality, brutality, leadership, tradition, politics, the fragility of society, and government structure. Its narrative is compelling and exciting, and its metanarrative speaks to its true value. You don’t often get both things at the same time.

What’s one of your favorite movies, and why? Cinderella Man. A true story. In the middle of the Great Depression, Jimmy Braddock, a previous professional boxer on his way up to the Title saw devastating financial losses and left the industry. He struggled to keep the lights on for his family, and literally had to beg for money. Miraculously, he gets a fight in which he wins, so he gets another fight. He keeps winning and finally gets a shot at the Heavyweight Championship of the world against Max Baer who has killed two men in the ring. At a press conference, a reporter asks, “Jimmy, why do you think you’re gonna win?” Jimmy says, “This time I know what I’m fighting for.” The reporter says, “Oh yeah, Jimmy? What’s that?” Jimmy says, “Milk.” Jimmy Braddock went on to become the hope of his community and he won the Title. This struggle – overcoming great obstacles and making great sacrifices for your family and community – this is the thesis of my life.

What’s one of your favorite songs, and why?  Little Wing by Stevie Ray Vaughan. Without words (it’s an instrumental blues piece, which was actually a remake of Jimi Hendrix’s version), Stevie Ray Vaughan captures the heart of pain and loss, while moving you through the crescendos and decrescendos of reminiscence.

Do you have another favorite work of art you’d like to share? Invictus by William Ernest Henley. This is the poem which kept Nelson Mendela full of hope during his many years in prison. I hope the words speak for themselves: Out of the night that covers me, Black as the pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be For my unconquerable soul. In the fell clutch of circumstance I have not winced nor cried aloud. Under the bludgeonings of chance My head is bloody, but unbowed. Beyond this place of wrath and tears Looms but the Horror of the shade, And yet the menace of the years Finds and shall find me unafraid. It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.

Name any person living or dead who you would like to take out to dinner. Why, and where would you take them to eat? John Adams – Second President of the United States. Not only is he a distant relative on my Father’s side, but he is arguably the primary Founding Father who shaped this entire nation, even if most of the time he was behind the scenes. His incredible self-discipline, writing skills, and pure persuasive ability cause him to be one of my most admired men in history. I would take him to my restaurant, RPG.

Is there anything else you want to share with potential constituents right now that we didn’t ask in this survey? I love the city of Lawrence, and the people in our community. I very much look forward to serving our children and teachers on the school board as we all prepare the next generation for great accomplishments and great service.

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Andrew Nussbaum

Where did you grow up? Grew up, born and raised, in Wichita, KS

Favorite color: Deep earth tones

Favorite animal: My sweet dog, Upendo, and my two cats, Jasper and Purrmino!!

What’s one of your favorite songs, and why? “Unbreak My Heart” from Toni Braxton. This song kept me going during a really hard 7th grade year.

Elizabeth Stephens

Where did you grow up? Lawrence, KS

Favorite color: My favorite color is blue.

Favorite animal: My favorite animal is probably cats. However, not just any cat. My cat Gingi is the best ever!

Sun sign: Scorpio

Favorite hobbies/pastimes: I enjoy yoga, cooking, and traveling.

What’s one of your favorite books, and why? An author named Ishmael Beha, wrote a book called “A Long Way Gone.’ It is the author’s firsthand account of living as a boy soldier in Sierra Leon. It is a story of struggle, violence, and resilience. 

What’s one of your favorite movies, and why? One of my favorite movies is a Disney film called Coco. The colors, sounds, and culture bring me a sense of pride. 

What’s one of your favorite songs, and why? “Tu Solo Tu” sang by Selena is one of my all-time favorites. It is a beautiful love song, and well… Selena. 

Do you have another favorite work of art you’d like to share? None that I can think of. 

Name any person living or dead who you would like to take out to dinner. Why, and where would you take them to eat? I would love to have dinner with Dolly Parton. I feel like we would have a great time at La Tropicana or Slow Ride. Ms. Dolly seems like a woman who has some incredible stories and a great sense of humor! 

Is there anything else you want to share with potential constituents right now that we didn’t ask in this survey? Not at this time. 

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