Election Preview: Camdenton R-III School Board Candidates

Lake Sun Staff
newsroom@lakesunonline.com
Camdenton R-III School District.

As the April elections draw near, the Lake Sun will be publishing a number of Q&A articles centered around races in the tri-county area.  In this edition, the candidates for the Camdenton R-III School Board will discuss their talking points and vision for the district.  

Below are the responses from candidates Laura Davis (incumbent), Gail Griswold, Brian Butts, Diane S. Peck and Paula Brown.

All answers are unedited. Some candidates did not provide an introduction or photo.

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Laura Davis

Laura Davis

My husband, Jed, and daughter, Kallie, make up a supportive family. I completed post-high school education with a Bachelor’s Degree, Kansas State University, and a Master’s Degree in Speech-Language Pathology, the University of Kansas. I have worked as a speech-language pathologist at Lake Regional Health System for 17 years and am a member of the hospital’s stroke team. Through the years, I have served in organizations such as LOSA soccer as a coach and a manager, Camdenton School’s Band Booster Board as secretary, and the Camdenton Rotary Club where our family also hosted two Rotary Youth Exchange students.  

1. Why are you running for a seat on the Camdenton School Board

I helped oversee the district’s huge goal of ensuring that all students in all classrooms clearly understand grade-level learning standards. From 2016-2018, teachers and administrators worked to ensure that every teacher feels empowered with tools, knowledge, and district support to confidently teach those standards while connecting with their students. Some within the community have been critical of the 2019 Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) test score results showing district scores at or below the state average. But teachers and administrators were driven to work toward improvement in future scores and since then have made learning resource changes, have trained further, and have worked together using this data from two years ago. More importantly they continue working to foster each student’s knowledge and love of learning, and that inspires me. I hope to remain on the board to continue supporting these efforts with a district that provides wide-ranging opportunities to all students.

2. Have you ever held any type of seat on a governing board or public office?

I have served on the Camdenton School Board: 2015-2021 and the Camdenton School District Band Booster Board: 2014-2018. The learning attained in these positions makes me feel that I have so much more to give to my community as a school board member.

3. What makes you qualified for this position?

Six years ago, my willingness to work, my readiness to learn, my ability to listen, and my understanding of a board member’s role made me qualified to lead. I took this responsibility seriously by attending district events, educating myself regarding the board’s role, and listening to teachers, administrators, and staff as the educational experts when setting district policy. In 2016, the board decided to provide a “News from the Board” article in each district newsletter. My role in researching and writing each article required many additional hours above typical board duties. Through this research, I have gained a deep understanding of bonds, budgets, assessed valuations, technology safeguards, overall school safety, and classroom management within the district. If elected, I will put this knowledge to work for the good of the school and the community while continuing to learn every day.

4. What do you feel is the single most challenging issue the Camdenton School District is facing?

The current climate of misrepresentation of district challenges is one of the most pressing issues facing the Camdenton School District and community. If we as a community begin to go directly to teachers or building principals rather than to social media when we have concerns or questions, we will find that district professionals provide accurate information along with real solutions to problems. This leads me to the other district challenge of balancing the budget with local tax revenues that have remained flat for 15 years while yearly healthcare costs have risen steadily over that same period. This combined with the district’s focus on maintaining teacher salaries at the top 10% in the state while providing a multitude of high-quality programs compounds the budget challenge. The only solution is to work together. This level of commitment will benefit students, teachers, and staff along with the entire community. 

5. How do you feel the Camdenton School District performed responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Last summer, a district Covid task force followed posted board safety policies to establish Covid procedures. An August 25th board meeting “Covid Update” agenda item indicated inadequate masking and social distancing in buildings, resulting in a 6-1 board vote that stated students and staff should wear masks when moving about. In November, DESE clarified that masked and/or socially distanced individuals could remain in school after Covid exposure. Consequently, district administrators followed CDC and Camden County Health Department guidance and used the board’s safety policy to enforce masking when not socially distanced. Teachers appreciated the ability to enforce this rule that kept students in classes and activities. Parent and teacher feedback gathered by the board and the district indicated that parents wanted a five day in person option, which was accomplished. Additionally, 89% of teachers indicated that masking when not socially distanced was beneficial to their safety.

6. What is your position on using AMI (Alternative Methods of Instruction) versus snow days?

Due to hourly instructional requirements, making up snow days has, at times, caused school to extend into summer break. AMI days will keep these days contained in the original school calendar. During this challenging pandemic, a silver lining of teachers and students gaining virtual/distance learning skills fosters the ability to provide AMI days in a variety of ways. Teachers stated that AMI days should be used first to keep students in learning mode. This pattern was illustrated this school year with AMI days used early and snow days enjoyed later. On AMI days, students may log in at times convenient to each family. While use of learning packets and internet hot spots helps may accomodate for lack of internet access faced by some students, it does not solve the problem. The district and the community need to continue to work toward finding a solution for lack of home internet access.

7. School districts across the state struggle with maintaining affordable healthcare for staff. As premiums continue to rise, how would you propose the district handle maintaining quality healthcare coverage at an affordable cost?

Yearly cost increases for high tech medical tests/treatments and pharmaceuticals have led to budget shortfalls. Managing rising costs while experiencing 13 years of flattened local revenues, makes it challenging to balance the budget. During the 2019-2020 school year, board members asked whether potential insurance changes such as excluding spouses with access to healthcare coverage from district insurance benefits might solve the problem. These potential changes did not indicate cost-savings and were not pursued. While purchasing Stop Loss insurance helps to keep costs under a specified threshold, clearly defined budgets within programs and buildings is essential to ensuring that these rising health plan costs do not impact the quality of programs within the district. The board and superintendents will continue to work with the Salary and Benefits Committee to ensure that benefits are maintained in order to continue rewarding our high-quality educators.

8. What is your opinion of the Missouri School Board Association?

The Missouri School Board Association (MSBA), with members from 250 schools across the state, provides an opportunity for these boards to compile and share resources. These resources provide boards an understanding of optimal board governance, an ability to establish board policy, and a consortium of legal advice. Through these resources, the Camdenton School District is then able to fine-tune guidance into policies and practices that best fits the school and the community. The MSBA also provides advocacy for public schools that helps state legislators understand and support the benefit that public schools provide in equaling the playing field for all students throughout the state. MSBA believes that all Missouri students, regardless of income or background, have the right to a high-quality education. MSBA resources and advocacy help school boards to properly run public schools while maintaining a quality public education for all students.  

9. How long have you lived in the Camdenton School District and do you have or have you had children attend?

My family moved to Camdenton in March of 2004, and my daughter started Kindergarten at Dogwood Elementary in 2005. I witnessed the value of my daughter receiving her entire K-12 education in the Camdenton District. A Camdenton education pushed her to academic heights typically realized in university graduate school programs. A Camdenton education led her to pursue the arts and exercise. A Camdenton education is leading her to high level success as a biology major with chemistry and GIS minors at Missouri State University. A Camdenton education provided research and knowledge building skills required to secure an internship at TRC San Francisco. While those are my daughter’s dreams and my daughter’s pursuits, I have witnessed students with such a wide variety of dreams achieve success and happiness through a Camdenton education. I am driven to pursue a board role to ensure that all Camdenton students continue to have these opportunities.

Gail Griswold

1. Why are you running for a seat on the Camdenton School Board.

As the mother of three young children, I am concerned about the direction of our district.  In doing my research on DESE's website and understanding the culture of our district, I am compelled to run because our school district is facing many challenges that must be addressed sooner rather than later. Our scores are the lowest in the area. Poor leadership that chooses to tie our kids to their devices rather than traditional methods of teaching are failing our children.  Per DESE’s website our debt has surpassed $86 million.  How does that happen to a district that generates over $55 million a year? Our superintendents are facing a lawsuit from a respected teacher who is accusing them of knowingly putting children at risk by moving a janitor who was caught masturbating in front of kids from building to building rather than firing him. A new direction is overdue. 

2. Have you ever held any type of seat on a governing board or public office?

As a working mother and devoted wife, my time has been spent raising my children and growing my businesses (Shawnee Bluff Winery & Co) in the area. I have been very active in philanthropic organizations and I have helped fundraise every year for various charities around the lake area. I have always considered a position of serving my community and now I feel that it is my time to do so and help guide the school district in a better direction to protect our children and the future of our community.

 3. What makes you qualified for this position? 

I am qualified because as one of only two candidates with children currently in school, I vow to protect the kids of Camdenton as I would protect my own. As a business owner, I am very familiar with reviewing substantial budgets and I will help guide precious resources back to the teachers and students who need them the most in this budget crisis our school faces our school faces as a result of questionable decisions. I am not the status quo kind of person we have seen for far too long in the majority of the members of the Camdenton School Board. I am not afraid to ask the tough questions and I will be a catalyst for erasing bad board policies previously put into place to silence teachers and create a top-heavy administration much like our federal government.

4. What do you feel is the single most challenging issue the Camdenton School District is facing?   

The poor leadership currently guiding our district.  Our superintendents are being sued by an admired and respected teacher for the way they allegedly handled a janitor who had a history of lewd behavior and masturbating in public.  The school board is sharing the same attorney the accused superintendents are using for their legal representation.  Taxpayers are footing the bill for their defense.  I don't feel the board can be adequately objective when they are taking all of their advice from the attorneys of the accused.  This is not in the best interest of our community or of the children of our district.  It would appear the school board has circled the wagons and has lost sight of the big picture.  This case is going to trial.  I know I can be an advocate for the children of our district and an objective board member as this case moves forward.

5. How do you feel the Camdenton School District performed responding to the COVID-19 pandemic?  

 I believe that the district in their initial response in the spring acted accordingly and did a good job based on the data we had at the time.  Also, our district deserves kudos for being committed to seated instruction from the beginning. Our staff has done an amazing job juggling the demands of both online and in-person instruction while dealing with ever-changing quarantine guidelines. Clearly our custodial staff has gone above and beyond in keeping our buildings sanitary and our food service employees should be commended for their work providing meals to our students last spring and throughout the year.  However, I do believe that the school board could have done a better job in communicating and listening to legitimate concerns of the parents and the community.

6. What is your position on using AMI (Alternative Methods of  Instruction) versus snow days? 

I believe that tourism is the engine that drives our area.  We have to be more attentive as a school board to the calendar.  Many older kids work during the summers to pay for their activities during the school year just as many parents’ work is seasonal. For that reason AMI is a good idea to consider as an alternative, but snow days are fun and nostalgic for kids. There are other schools that utilize a system using hours instead of days, which can automatically build in snow days to the calendar, but I would like staff input to see if that calendar system is preferable. I also have concerns of the community access to online learning via the internet. If the internet is required to complete the student’s work at home, many families who do not have access to reliable internet service could be at a disadvantage.

7. School districts across the state struggle with maintaining affordable healthcare for staff. As premiums continue to rise, how would you propose the district handle maintaining quality healthcare coverage at an affordable cost?   

Historically, self-funding has been a good option for the Camdenton district. However, in the ever-changing world of insurance it’s time to invest the time and energy into looking at a variety of solutions. Contracts like this should regularly be subject to formal review and bid through a fair and comprehensive RFP process. Health insurance is arguably the largest benefit provided to our staff and as such, input from our staff concerning their preferences, wants and needs should guide the board’s final decision when choosing amongst coverage options.

8. What is your opinion of the Missouri School Board Association?   

MSBA is lobbyists and attorneys with an agenda.  It does not match that of most of our taxpayers. They are one of the biggest lobbying entities in our Missouri capital.  MSBA lobby for laws that don't reflect the values of our area, and then our school hires them for a handsome fee to write policies generally rubber-stamped by our board.  Through state mandated board training they indoctrinate school boards on "how to be a good board member" with the intent to muzzle and tie the hands of the elected board members who are there to advocate for the taxpayers. They are not who our school board should be taking advice from if our district truly wants local autonomy in this culture of standardizing everything. There are better options out there that I would consider.

9. How long have you lived in the Camdenton School District and do you have or have you had children attend? 

I have lived in the district for 5 years and currently have 3 children at elementary age. When we were moving to the lake area, we specifically chose the Camdenton School District for our 3 children. Over the past few years, I have noticed the school going down hill. The scores are extremely low and the leadership is failing our children. They are not teaching them how to learn, only how to stare at a technology screen. Camdenton's scores don't lie.  My oldest son was at Oak Ridge Elementary the day the janitor was allegedly in the boys’ bathroom doing lewd acts. I constantly think how that could have been my kid. This is not ok. My goal to help turn the ship around and have important conversations that the status quo refuses to have at this time.  I want to be part of a much needed solution.  

Brian Butts

1. Why are you running for a seat on the Camdenton School Board?

I am running because the current Board and Administration does not want input from this Community, Teachers, Staff or Students. They have silenced people who are very important to the learning and development of our children. Every child learns differently. Without input from Teachers and Parents, the people at the top have no idea what methods are working. We have lost many good Teachers to the culture this policy has created; they have left the district and gone elsewhere.

2. Have you ever held any type of seat on a governing board or public office?

I have never held, nor ran for, any public office before. I grew up in a political family. My Grandfather was a State Representative for many years and my Father was a member of this School Board. So, I am very familiar with politics. I never wanted to, or believed I would, pursue a political position. But, I feel compelled to run for this Board. We are at a point where someone has to initiate change, I feel compelled to run because someone has to fix what is broken with our School. “If not me, then who?”

3. What makes you qualified for this position? 

I am proud to say that I graduated from this School system. My parents are proud to have graduated from Camdenton and my Grandfather was very proud to have graduated from Camdenton. I want my children to be able to say the same when they graduate from Camdenton. I am qualified because I know I don’t know everything, I don’t have all the answers, but, I am actually willing to seek advice and listen to people who do. This is the biggest departure from the current Board and Administration. They do not seek counsel from anyone and believe they have all the answers and don’t need to listen to anyone. This approach is obviously not working.

4. What do you feel is the single most challenging issue the Camdenton School District is facing? 

There are many issues facing the District. The debt is out of hand, the performance scores are embarrassing. The culture of the Schools imposed upon the staff is one of division and control. Teachers and staff have no voice and feel as though they must conform or stay silent if they want to keep their jobs. Staff walk on eggshells wondering if they will be the next scapegoat blamed for something the Administration is responsible for. I feel the majority of these issues, though, all point to the designed isolation and elitism of those at the top. This HAS to end!

5. How do you feel the Camdenton School District performed responding to the COVID-19 pandemic? 

I have mixed feeling on the performance. While the District has done better than some others, I am not happy with the manner in which they implemented, interpret and enforce policies. The way they implemented the mask policy was underhanded and deceitful. No one can convince me an emergency meeting at 7:00 am on the second day of school was not planned and orchestrated specifically so they could mislead parents and avoid Community involvement in the decision process. This was slimy, for lack of a better word, and just shows how little they respect any Parents, Students, Teachers or other Stakeholders. They have no authority to enforce the current mask rules or Quarantine protocol. These policies are damaging children mentally and emotionally. Current scientific data and even the CDC offer no justification for these policies risking student health.

6. What is your position on using AMI (Alternative Methods of Instruction) versus snow days? 

I believe they can be a useful tool if used correctly. I feel there should be scheduled make up days used until they run out, then go to AMI days afterward, if required.

7. School districts across the state struggle with maintaining affordable healthcare for staff. As premiums continue to rise, how would you propose the district handle maintaining quality healthcare coverage at an affordable cost? 

I would recommend looking into creating a group of school systems who collaborate and create a Health Insurance conglomerate which provides coverage to the staff. This could provide significant saving to Districts while at the same time provide coverage tailored to majority of employees. Just like students learning, there is no “one size fits all” approach that benefits everyone. The above approach could give Districts the ability to create services designed for people who are employed by Schools.

8. What is your opinion of the Missouri School Board Association?

I honestly don’t have an opinion at this point. I hope to be able to update you soon, though. 

9. How long have you lived in the Camdenton School District and do you have or have you had children attend? 

I have lived in the District my entire life, with the exception of time in the Military and College. We are currently raising 4th generation Lakers and 5th generation Camden County residents. Our children are 12 and 13 years old and currently attend Camdenton Middle School.

Diane S. Peck

1. Why are you running for a seat on the Camdenton School Board

I believe we have a responsibility to actively support our youth in the community 

2. Have you ever held any type of seat on a governing board or public office?

No I have not had the time up till now

3. What makes you qualified for this position? 

Having been in nursing leadership for 30 years I have a lot of experience being an advocate for patients who are like our children that need someone who puts their needs first.  I have had great success in bringing out strengths in teams that work together and setting goals that we achieve.

4. What do you feel is the single most challenging issue the Camdenton School District is facing? 

I would need to have more information to make an accurate assessment of this, I am new to this but what I would bring is a new prospective to the issues with no preconceived notions and can review where we have been, where we are now and where we want to go

5. How do you feel the Camdenton School District performed responding to the COVID-19 pandemic? 

I think it is more pertinent to find out how the students, teachers and parents felt the response measured up

6. What is your position on using AMI (Alternative Methods of  Instruction) versus snow days? 

I don’t believe it is a good idea unless there have been an extensive use of days off for students 

7. School districts across the state struggle with maintaining affordable healthcare for staff. As premiums continue to rise, how would you propose the district handle maintaining quality healthcare coverage at an affordable cost? 

It is imperative to have someone investigating and negotiating for the best plan and the best cost, too often companies just settle because no one takes the time to research it

8. What is your opinion of the Missouri School Board Association?

No opinion at this time till I review the performance 

9. How long have you lived in the Camdenton School District and do you have or have you had children attend? 

12 years total, yes I had 2 girls who attended Hurricane Deck and the middle school at one time

Paula Brown

Paula Brown

Degrees: BA - Art Education (MU); MA – Ed. Curriculum Instruction (MU); MA – Ed. Counseling Psychology (MU); Specialist – Secondary Administration (MSU); and Doctorate – Educational Leadership & Policy Analysis (MU).

Career: Camdenton HS Art instructor; HS Counselor/ Director of Guidance; Assistant Principal; Creator/ Director of Horizons Alternative School; A+ Director; Developed/ Director International Baccalaureate; Middle School Principal; Regional Program Coordinator William Woods University (Central/KC region); and Professor for MSU, Springfield. I also created the MS Area of Career Interest Program, the District Veterans Day Program and initiated Jr. ROTC.

Business owners: Page & Brown Convention Services and Lake Fine Art Academy and Galleria.

1. Why are you running for a seat on the Camdenton School Board?

My utmost concern is that our youth receive the best education possible, so they may step out in the world, prepared and excelling to meet the career or college choices they have chosen. I am invested in the importance of their educational needs. I have experience in building educational programs, curriculum and instruction, and ideal student to teacher ratios in the classroom. I believe I can assist in building and maintaining a positive foundation that will promote open communication, collaboration, and positive growth for our students, teachers, staff, and community. I know that in order to accomplish these goals, we need to work together. I am ready to roll up my sleeves and put in the time alongside teachers, staff, students, parents and community to provide a strong educational foundation for our youth and continued success in our school district.

2.Have you ever held any type of seat on a governing board or public office?

I was a state board member for Pathways Community and Behavioral Services for 4 years, 1996-2000.

I am presently on an Advisory Counsel for the city of Osage Beach, Mo.

3. What makes you qualified for this position?

I have been an educator my entire life. But, more importantly, I am a learner at heart, and constantly seeking better ways to teach our children. My passion has always been to instruct and build confidence in our youth and our teachers, by empowering them to become the best at what they do. Our teachers are among the best!

I have five degrees in education with a Doctorate in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis. But, that in itself is not what makes me qualified. My heart and passion for students and their education is what qualifies me. I can identify when something isn’t working, seek answers, and do research to find a more successful way to solve problems.

I have written three research articles that have been presented and published nationally and internationally in the Journal of At-Risk Issues; US/China Education Review; and the International Journal of Educational Leadership Preparation.

4. What do you feel is the single most challenging issue the Camdenton School District is facing?

I feel the most challenging issue that we face as a district is that we are not always communicating and working together as a community to solve educational issues in a positive and healthy environment. Negativity and pitting one side against another leads to the deterioration of a firm foundation which is needed to embrace a top-notch performing school. Our children deserve better and will benefit most when all patrons are working together to teach them values of respect, content knowledge, critical thinking skills, and employability proficiency. In my role as principal, I worked with a group of educators that started out somewhat divided. We needed to come together as a team, so I worked to encourage team unity. That doesn’t always mean we agree on everything, but we form respect and working relationships for the betterment of our children.

5. How do you feel the Camdenton School District performed responding to the COVID-19 pandemic?

Schools are facing very challenging times with the current health risks. Many schools across Missouri have closed their doors and gone virtual. As educators, we are mandated by law to educate. I am proud to say that Camdenton R-III Schools continued to have school 5 days a week, and also provided virtual options. That is a testament to the dedication of our teachers, staff and administration to continue educating our children.

As a school board member, I would continue to support health guidelines that provide the most risk-free options for our students that also allow them to continue to physically attend school. As the pandemic subsides, I would continue to re-evaluate and adjust procedures so that we can create the best learning environment for every student.

6. What is your position on using AMI (Alternative Methods of Instruction) versus snow days?

Personally, I was excited to see this as an option. Especially, if it is an extreme weather event that will take students out of school for an extended period of time. Over the years, there have been several occasions when students had to go to school until the end of May or even into the beginning weeks of June because we missed so much school due to inclement weather conditions. This affected our tourist-driven businesses, cut down on our summer work force, scheduling summer vacations and summer camps, teacher’s continued education, etc. I do realize that this may not be popular with our students at the time, but in the long run, I think they would prefer to have their summer days.

7. School districts across the state struggle with maintaining affordable healthcare for staff. As premiums continue to rise, how would you propose the district handle maintaining quality healthcare coverage at an affordable cost?

I do feel that healthcare is a growing concern for all organizations and businesses. However, I feel that we must try to provide the best health insurance options that we can find and maintain for our staff. I would want to collaborate with the teachers and staff on the Salary & Benefits Committee to research best options.

8. What is your opinion of the Missouri School Board Association?

I support the role of Missouri School Boards which have provided consistent resources for public schools across Missouri. MSBA also requires School Board training sessions which are necessary for board members to understand their role in educational setting and policy analysis. Before the legislation required training, school boards lacked consistent operational procedures across Missouri.

MSBA provides school board members with the opportunity to collaborate with other district board members to exchange ideas and problem solve issues that can make our Missouri schools stronger and more viable in the United States.

9. How long have you lived in the Camdenton School District and do you have or have you had children attend?

My husband and I have lived in the Camdenton School District Forty-one years. I have three children that graduated from Camdenton: Derek Brown, who is an attorney at Deputy & Mizell; Jessica Brown, who has a Bachelor Degree in Education; and Zachary Brown, who is a CPA at Williams-Keepers in Columbia, Mo. We are a proud Laker family, and we know first-hand how the high standards and rigor at Camdenton Schools prepared our children for success. Some of our grandchildren will attend Camdenton Schools; thus, the future of this district is important to me.

I have dedicated my career to ensuring that the tradition of excellence continues at Camdenton and I would be honored to work with our community of learners as a school board member.