Voters selected three winners for Lawrence school board Tuesday from a slate that begin with a dozen candidates over the summer. Newcomer Kay Emerson earned the top spot Tuesday night and will take her seat in January, alongside incumbent Kelly Jones in second place, and another newcomer Andrew Nussbaum, who finished third.
With her two sons in tow Tuesday night, Emerson talked with fellow candidates and campaign workers at the Douglas County clerk’s office, discussing next steps. One thing’s for certain: She’ll wear white — a symbol of women’s suffrage — when she’s sworn in.
“I haven’t quite taken in the impact of what this really means. It means a lot. It’s been a very long road. I’m really looking forward to seeing our community staying engaged. It doesn’t take winning an election to know that you can be part of making our schools a better place. I’m a huge believer you can make an impact and lead no matter what position you hold, what color you are, what gender you claim. It’s gonna take us all to do what we need to do, and this is part of the first step. It started when (my son) — who is now 12 — was at the Ballard Center and we didn’t have a cleaning staff. I volunteered to help out. I think about how it’s just one step, one action, one choice at a time, to do what we need to do,” Emerson said.
Jones, one of two incumbents in the race, embraced the opportunity to serve four more years.
“Congratulations to Kay and Andrew and everyone who campaigned,” she said. “We engaged in a six-month community discourse on equity, student opportunity, and staff compensation. Now, our 4-year charge is to transform dialogue into measurable positive change. So here we go; there’s work in the morning.”
Nussbaum shared his gratitude to voters and supporters.
“I’m deeply grateful to our community for choosing me to serve on the school board alongside tonight’s other elected leaders. I especially want to center and celebrate the community of family, friends and loved ones who supported me before and during this journey.
“Since 2006, when I began working at Free State High School I’ve been committed to the young people and workers of USD 497 and with the same hope and passion wanted our campaign to be simply centered around truth telling, amplifying the voices and experiences of my friends, colleagues, coworkers, and all the young people and families who have so powerfully existed within and beyond our school district. As I shift into this new role, my priorities will continue to be the well-being and dignity of our students, ensuring a living wage for all school staff, advocating for more just and inclusive learning communities, holding leaders accountable, and building deep relationships. I’m committed to prioritizing students and families, to supporting the teacher and classified staff unions, and to leading with justice at the forefront.”
Incumbent Gordon-Ross, who finished in fourth place, acknowledged that election campaigns are tough. “I want to start by thanking all the people who had faith and believed in me. We didn’t get there, but the love and support that you have shown me along the way was truly appreciated. I have had a wild ride and learned a lot both personally and professionally and for that I am truly grateful.
“Second, I want to congratulate the winners. I wish you well and will gladly offer any support or help as you set out on your new board service. While I didn’t reach my goal, I plan to stay active within the school district and be involved in any way that I can as I am truly passionate about our students and staff here in Lawrence. Lastly, I wanted to express my gratitude to all of the candidates that chose to throw their hats in this ring. This is not an easy space to navigate and putting yourself out there takes a lot of courage. I’m grateful for having gotten to know all of you and wish you well with any opportunities in the future.”
Fifth-place finisher Elizabeth Stephens and daughter Gabriella Kellison mingled with other candidates and their family members at the clerk’s office while race results trickled in Tuesday night and discussed ways to support the work of the school board. Stephens congratulated the winners.
“I am incredibly grateful to have had the experience of running with some pretty tremendous people who genuinely have the best interest of the youth of Douglas County in their thoughts and in their hearts. I’ve learned a lot through this process and I’m really excited to see the work that this board will do moving forward and I look forward to continuing to help in any way that makes sense,” she said.
Nate Morsches, who finished in sixth place, remained optimistic about what lies ahead for Lawrence Public Schools: “We face a very difficult future ahead of us considering the societal impacts of COVID and the direct issues we face as a community in Lawrence. There is sharp partisan division. We have seen our school district’s enrollment plummet and as a result, we have a financial crisis to navigate. We have a staff which isn’t paid what they deserve. Uncertainty for the future, lack of routine, and social isolation have been defining properties of our experience the past 2 years. Mental illness is ravaging our people, our neighbors.
“But despite all this, I am optimistic. I am optimistic because we the people of Lawrence, Kansas, are people of great hope and perseverance. We are people of resilience. … Though tonight is disappointing to me, having desired to serve the district as a member of the Board of Education, I continue on in hope for the future. I have respected my fellow-candidates highly and believe with fervor that they will take our students above and beyond what they thought possible,” he said in a statement. “I believe in our new school board candidates. I believe in our community. And most of all, I believe in the students and wish them the very best in all their future endeavors.”
Incumbent school board member Melissa Johnson, who held the third seat on the ballot, did not run for reelection.
All seats on the Lawrence Board of Education are at-large positions, meaning members represent the entire school district. Board members serve four-year terms on the seven-member board.
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