USD-440 candidates make their case for votes

by Bill Bush

HALSTEAD—USD-440 Board of Education has four four-year and one two-year unexpired positions up for election in November. 

The positions are currently held by Gary Warner (Pos. 1), Jennifer Brantley (Pos. 2), Shawn Kohr (Pos. 3), Joel Flory (Pos. 7), and Bill Drake (Pos. 6 unexpired). 

Seven people—Chelsea Metoyer (Pos. 1), Steve Ratzlaff (Pos. 1), Tiffani Sneath (Pos. 1), Zachary Mabry (Pos. 2), Reba Lee (Pos. 3), Joel Flory (Pos. 7), and Bill Drake (Pos. 6 unexpired)—have registered to be on the ballot.

Four of the seven registered candidates for the USD-440 Board of Education spoke in a public forum Wednesday at the Halstead High School auditorium. Joel Flory, Chelsea Metoyer, Steve Ratzloff, and Reba Lee were in attendance. Tiffani Sneath, Zachar Mabry, and Bill Drake did not show.

Mabry (Pos. 2) and Drake (Pos. 6) are running unopposed. Sneath is running for position 1 against Metoyer and Ratzlaff.

Chelsea Metoyer (Pos. 1)

Metoyer introduced herself as a small business owner who has lived in the district for four-and-one-half years with three children attending Halstead-Bentley schools.

She said that the schools are the beating heart of the community and that the children’s future is the community’s future, so she wants to do everything she can to give them the best foot forward.

Metoyer said that she and her husband have strived to be parents who the teachers rely on and know they can call whenever they need anything. She attends her children’s events with a camera in hand, and it’s allowed her to get to know many of the children in the district.

One of the biggest challenges for the district will be upkeep, maintenance, and ever-changing technology and advances, according to Metoyer. 

“I want to be on the forefront of making that happen,” she said.

When asked how the district can prepare students for success, no matter their after-graduation path, she said she would love to see growth in partnership with other community organizations and companies.

“How can we get these kids out there and get them some experience and let them find out if that is a path they want to go down?” Metoyer asked. “Who can we partner with? Internships, things of that nature. Let’s open a few more doors and get the community involved more and see where that takes us.”

In her closing comments, Metoyer said that she isn’t from the district, and that gives her a unique perspective.

“We chose this district,” Metoyer said. “We vetted several schools and several communities before we chose Halstead. We went to community events. We sat in your football stands, watched a game with you. We came and visited the schools before we made our choice. This was the place we chose and we did not come to that choice lightly. Our children’s future was at stake, and the reason I’m running is to make sure they have the absolute brightest, best chance for that.”

Steve Ratzlaff (Pos. 1)

Ratzlaff has lived in Halstead for all but four years of his life. He said he put three kids through the Halstead-Bentley schools and currently has two nieces and a grandchild attending the district. He also previously served on the school board.

Ratzlaff said that his nieces and granddaughter are the reasons he’s running for the school board again, along with the fact that school districts are facing changes as the state legislature moves toward school choice.

He said that it’s important that USD-440 adapts to the changing environment.

“We have to go out and out-hustle people when looking for employees, because it is difficult and everybody is looking for the same types of position,” Ratzlaff said. “We might even have to be a little bit creative in what we offer here that maybe don’t get offered in other places.”

In expanding his thoughts on teacher recruitment and retention, he said the best support the district can give to teachers is to be active with the legislatures and to succeed.

“People want to be part of successful things,” Ratzlaff said. “The culture that you build within your school system is critical. I think being adaptive. Being able to move quickly and adapt, I think, is important to employees. They have to feel valued in what they do and where they are.”

When asked about the strengths and weaknesses of the district, Ratzlaff said that the strength was the leadership and their track record, plus being a small community where you could know all of the leaders. He said the area of improvement he thought was with the curriculum, though he acknowledged that isn’t an easy task.

As a board member, he said he would strive to be present, transparent and empathetic.

When Ratzlaff returned to the area after living in Ohio and St. Louis, he said it would have been easier with his job to live in Wichita.

“But this is the place we chose to raise our kids,” Ratzlaff said. “I care greatly and this school system. I wouldn’t be getting involved again if I didn’t.”

Reba Lee (Pos. 3 – unopposed)

Lee told the audience that she is a stay-at-home mom, a small business owner, and served on the Bentley City Council. She also has three children in the district, which is what inspired her to run because she wants to make sure they’re going to a great school district.

She said that her children attended preschool at USD-440. She thinks the program has improved, and she agrees with expanding it. 

In ways other than academically, she noted that the district can help students because some don’t get emotional support at home. She also thinks the district can do more to prepare students for opportunities other than college.

As a board member, Lee said she would be present in both Bentley and Halstead, connected with the local government, talk to teachers and students to know their concerns, and strive to make teachers feel appreciated.

Lee said she loves that when she calls the schools, they know her and her children by name. She had the chance to raise her family in Goddard, which is where she’s from. Instead, she and her husband chose the smaller community of USD-440.

“I’m running for the school board because I love this community,” Lee said. “I’ve learned to love this community over the 10 years we’ve been here raising our children. I Want to be open-minded, and I want to support our school district and our kids and our administration and do better for our community.”

She said that having nice facilities makes students proud of their schools. 

“They’re going to have a lot of pride, and they’re going to take care of it,” Lee said. “Nice schools make your community look good, and it does bring other students in from different districts. A lot of families do want to get out of those bigger districts and come to a smaller district. We were one of those families.”

Joel Flory (Pos. 7 – unopposed)

Flory was born and raised in Halstead and has two children in the district.

He ran for the board when his oldest daughter started school. He said he doesn’t believe you can complain about things if you won’t take action.

“I wanted change, so I ran,” Flory said.

He thinks the biggest strength of the district is the staff, and they proved it during COVID by going above and beyond for the students. He said the weakness is competing with larger districts in the area.

“I would like to see some options in industrial arts come back,” Flory said.

He said it’s important to be visible and approachable as a board member, even when he doesn’t agree with opinions. He said that being able to stand and listen and take away, then explain and take their opinion into account, is critical.

Flory said that preschool is something he will always support and believes the district should expand it as much as possible, even if that means creating a separate facility for the program.

When Flory started on the board, he said he made decisions based on what was best for his girls. During his three years of service, he said he realized that doesn’t always work.

He agreed with the other candidates that students often lack emotional support from home and that teachers and coaches help fill that void.

“It’s a fine line between being supportive and taking on a parent role, so we always need to be conscious of that,” Flory said, “at the same time be open to a student reaching out to staff members, administration and board members.”

He said that staff and the board need to be aware of who to talk to when students reach out with issues so everyone knows how to handle situations.

In closing, Flory said he enjoys the community a lot.

“I have no desire to live anywhere else,” Flory said. “It’s a great school. A great community.”

He said his daughters are why he continues to run, “to ensure they have the best opportunity possible to be successful in their lives. I want to continue to run as long as they’re in the school, because not being a part of that isn’t an option for me.”

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