Sarah Swartz may be a first-time candidate for the Grain Valley School Board, but her connections to Grain Valley run deep.
Swartz attended Grain Valley schools from 5th grade until she graduated from Grain Valley High School (GVHS) in 2002. She married her high school sweetheart, also a Grain Valley grad, and has one son who attends Sni-A-Bar Elementary, where Swartz is the secretary of the school’s PTA. Swartz is also active in her homeowners’ association. Swartz says her decision to run for school board simply stems from her desire to be involved in her community.
“It is something that has always intrigued me. Really, it is just an opportunity to give back to a community I love. I’ve lived here a really long time. I went to school here, and now have a child in the district. I think I could add a different ear to the current board.”
After attending the University of Central Missouri and starting a career in the advertising and public relations industry, Swartz felt called to become a teacher. Swartz taught at GVHS, teaching journalism, photography, and yearbook for five years before moving to William Chrisman High School to teach English. Swartz later earned a counseling degree and now serves as a counselor at William Chrisman.
Pointing to heated issues surrounding public education that tend to make headlines regionally and nationally, Swartz maintains the focus of members of the school board should be on thoughtful, patient leadership, and making sure the district staff entrusted with students “need to know they are appreciated and valued for what they do.”
“When you look nationally, we seem to be super divided right now as a nation. I think this person over here on this extreme is loud, and this person on the other extreme is loud, and most of us live in this middle that is pretty content and happy. We like each other and once we understand each other we work really well together,” Swartz said.
“I’ve had great experiences with my son’s teachers, and any issues he’s had, it has always been resolved and done appropriately. Through my involvement with the school, I feel like I know what is going on, because I have chosen to be involved. I think that what happens often is we make a lot of assumptions about what is going on in our schools without really getting involved or taking time to understand.”
When asked about how she views the role of a board member and the priorities the school board should be focused on in the next few years, recruitment and retention of staff and equitable facilities for all students were top of mind for Swartz.
“The role of the board is very defined. Hold the adults accountable that are in charge. Making sure you have the best staff in place. Making sure you are attracting the best staff to meet the needs of all students, and thoughtfully looking at policies and procedures.”
Swartz says the best practice for board members to navigate tough issues and ensure the community is heard and involved is to carefully consider each issue and not make impulsive decisions.
“Really vetting something out, really taking time to understand fully what is going on and how a decision may impact staff and students. I also think it would be great if we got more student input on issues.”
In terms of priorities, Swartz believes the board should focus on staffing and planning for future growth.
“One of our top priorities should be attracting the best teachers, because ultimately that is who our kids spend their day with all day, every day. I could still tell you the names of all my teachers from kindergarten to sixth grade. They (teachers) are the true foundation of how our kids grow up. We want to make sure we are attracting the best qualified, diverse pool candidates so we are sure we represent our population appropriately.”
“We also need to continue to make sure class sizes are equitable for all students and that we are focused on thoughtful future growth.”
Swartz said that she has noticed that while there is understandable focus on the achievements of high school students during school board meeting recognitions, she would like to see highlights of achievements in all grades more regularly.
“We celebrate all the state finalists, high school scholarship and other award recipients, which is common and understandable. Our early childhood, elementary, and middle schools deserve just as much love as sanctioned high school activities.”
“Our early childhood center is phenomenal. And we know that if we get kids the early interventions they need, their success can be that much greater and much quicker. There are so many great things going on at the elementary and middle school levels that should be celebrated as well.”
Asked if there was anything else she would like to share with residents, Swartz had one plea.
“Vote. Just vote. In a town of more than 15,000 people, it is surprising we have such low voter turnout. Whether I get elected or not, or whether the board looks like who I would choose or not, it is what our community wants. But when we have such a low voter turnout, it is hard to believe that it is a true reflection of what our community wants. I want everyone to vote because I want our board to be a reflection of the people who live here, who love our schools and the community that we have.”
Swartz is one of seven candidates running for Grain Valley School Board, just one of several issues for voters on the April 4, 2023 municipal election ballot. For voter registration information, visit www.jcebmo.org.
Valley News will profile each candidate on the ballot in the weeks leading up to the election, provide a voter guide, and plans a candidate forum in late March. To search for all election related articles, click on “Elections” under the categories on our News page.
Sarah Swartz is one of seven candidates running for Grain Valley School Board.
Photo credit; Grain Valley News staff