Ryan N. Murdock
Occupation: Emergency Management Director for the City of Raymore
Education: Bachelor of Science in Secondary Education - University of Missouri-Columbia (2000)
Years lived in LS: 7
Previous elected offices held: None
Why are you running for school board?
The biggest reason I decided to run is to serve the students of this district and a desire to work for my community. My wife and I have twin boys who are in the 1st grade at Longview Farm Elementary and that means we have a vested interest in seeing this district succeed for decades to come. I will bring a parent perspective (including a special needs perspective as one of our boys is paralyzed from the waist down and requires a wheelchair), a former teacher perspective, and an emergency services perspective. I think all of those put together would make me a very valuable board member.
What other volunteer/civic involvement have you had? What have you learned from that experience?
Currently, I am a parent volunteer at Longview Farm Elementary, a coach with Sporting Lee's Summit and the Lee's Summit Baseball Association. We are also active and/or volunteer with Parenting Children with Special Needs, Midwest Adaptive Sports, and JAKES Club (horseback riding for children with disabilities). Lastly, we are active with Woods Chapel United Methodist Church and Upward Bound basketball. Every time you invest in volunteering you learn something new. But for me, knowing that our family is not alone in the difficulties we face and developing a real sense of community has been incredibly helpful.
If elected, what would be your top priority as a board member?
It is difficult to pick just one priority. But I think ensuring that all students are getting the maximum amount of resources and choices necessary for their success and providing access to those resources would be my priority. Keep in mind retaining and hiring high quality staff (while compensating them competitively) is paramount to that mission.
Where do you stand on technology in the classroom?
First, technology is here to stay whether we like it or not. Technology will continue to play an integral part of our society and students will not only need all the technology necessary to excel, they also need the instruction and skills to use technology efficiently and effectively. This means it is not only the job of the school district to provide students with the best possible technology in all of their classes and activities, but also to teach them to be intelligent consumers of this technology.
What do you foresee being the biggest hurdle facing the district in the upcoming years?
I believe one of the biggest hurdles will be keeping up with the growth of the district and providing all the necessary resources due to this growth. Our district continues to expand, and we know major construction projects are on the horizon (a 4th high school for example). We must maintain that long range vision as we make decisions. It is imperative, as our students deserve the absolute best we have to offer.
What are your plans for returning funding to dwindling and lost extracurricular activities?
First, many of the activities that were lost during the cost containment years have returned. That is a step in the right direction. But, because we know that participation in school activities increases achievement, we need to do everything in our power to provide as many activities as possible. Finding sponsorships, grants, and other funding could be ways to keep or bring back programs. Lee's Summit staff who are willing to sponsor/coach/volunteer are also incredibly important to the success of our extracurricular activities.
How would you make the R7 district as inclusive as possible?
The Lee's Summit school district must be inclusive to all students. This means working hard on issues like bullying, cyber-bullying, and diversity training. But it also means making sure our physical facilities are as accessible as possible, right down to tables, water fountains, and other classroom related details. Additionally, think of all the groups this question really entails! We need to support students and staff who might feel marginalized, and at the same time we need to be inclusive of new families to the district. There are so many aspects to this. But ultimately, you make it inclusive by always listening and being willing to have discussions with all stakeholders in the district.
In your opinion, what are the strength and weakness of our school district?
There are many strengths for our district and here are just a few. We have a dedicated and highly qualified staff. We have a community that is active and supportive of our students and at the same time is willing to ask questions when necessary. We have a student population that is driven and continues to succeed at a high level. And our district is currently in a sound financial position. I believe one weakness our district currently has is not having a coherent communications policy. If we are learning from the past 18 months, then we should know our community is going to expect better and better communication from all levels of the district. I also think we could be doing more to support those students who do not necessarily want to pursue college. Summit Technology is wonderful, but I think we can expand our reach and offer students more tools for their post high school careers.
How do you view the financial management of the district? Would you do anything to change it?
As the district has come out of a cost containment era, the financial management of the district has been relatively sound in my opinion. I have seen the previous budgets and the proposed budget for next year. And, while we do not want to draw down our reserves significantly, I believe our district is in a sound position financially. Would I do anything to change it? I would want to discuss funding strategies with the district finance department and be sure we are maximizing revenue sources and ensuring our budget is going to meet the needs of our students for years to come. One district will need to be willing to engage the City of Lee's Summit in regards to taxes and development as well in order to ensure our district is not losing out on important tax revenue.
Do you believe in an itemized budget?
First, we need to keep in mind that Missouri statute requires a school district to prepare a budget in a very specific way. This does not mean there can't be additional layers to the budget, but a school district must provided itemized expenditures for previous years as they develop a current budget. Additionally, because our school district must outline our budget based on certain criteria, it will continue to be important to get input from our stakeholders as to what priorities should be included. In my opinion, it is important that district stakeholders know what is being purchased with taxpayer funds and that they have had an opportunity to voice any concerns.
Do you believe that a teacher’s evaluation should be based on student test scores?
No, I do not. They could be a small component, but only if you are measuring whether students are improving. As a former teacher, this was always a very important issue. There are too many variables that determine a students performance on standardized tests to make them the basis for teacher evaluations. Parental involvement, socioeconomic status, personal anxiety (bad test takers), differing class instruction and so many other things can lead test scores in one direction or another. Add to that previous grade level instruction and it makes it nearly impossible to base an evaluation on a test score. Now, we can see if students are improving, we can see that teachers are building positive relationships with students, and we can see they are using best practices to teach. Those are good ways to measure the competency of a teacher.
Police Chief Travis Forbes is wanting to implement a program to increase suicide education and awareness. What are your ideas for addressing this topic in all levels of the public school system?
First, I think you utilize Lee's Summit CARES, which already has programs focusing on bullying and suicide prevention. They are a valuable resource to help with education and awareness efforts throughout the district. Second, I would want to speak with the Police Chief about what goals or ideas he had in mind for increasing education and awareness. It is a topic that needs to be addressed at all levels of our schools.
Would your occupation and/or other time investments hinder your ability to service the district? How will you make sure you have adequate time and energy to serve?
The only time my current occupation would hinder me from serving the district would be if an emergency struck the City of Raymore or surrounding areas that required emergency personnel and resources for an extended period of time. I will have no issue with taking the time in the evenings to be fully prepared for meetings and work sessions and will attend district events as much as possible.
In light of the recent and past incidents of teachers and volunteers for inappropriate contact/relations with a student, what steps would you recommend the board take to prevent further issues? Should changes be made to the current background check requirements?
Currently, the Lee's Summit school district has policies in place requiring background checks that encompass searches of the Missouri State Highway Patrol's criminal history database, the Family Care Safety Registry, and the FBI criminal history files (if necessary). They are following state and local law. Volunteers who will be alone with a child are required to complete these same background checks as are coaches and sponsors, even if they are not teaching in the district. All new bus drivers must also undergo a background check. We must do our best to protect our students and keep them safe, and our current board policies are following the law. I would be open to suggestions for improving the policies but know we must work within the framework of our current laws.
How do you plan to address public concerns and improve openness and transparency?
As I have mentioned in other forums and questionnaires, being willing to communicate with our citizens and engage in discussion is an important first step. Then, it would be important for me as a board member to share citizen concerns with the rest of the board. We must ensure the public knows what decisions we are making and why we are making those decisions. We need to continue to encourage the public to attend the open meetings and encourage our citizens to share their concerns. Lastly, we need a true communications policy for the board to ensure everyone is communicating with the public in an effective manner.