Interview edited for clarity and time.
Election day is Tuesday April 5
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FRED FLETCHER-FIERRO (HOST): It’s Morning Edition on KRPS. I’m Fred Fletcher-Fierro. City and municipal elections don’t get the kind of attention that national and state elections do, but don’t let that distract you from their importance, including school board elections. Voters in Joplin will elect two new Board of Education members for three-year terms on Tuesday, April 5. Recently I met with first-time candidate Donnie Greenlee. I first asked him to introduce himself to prospective voters.
DONNIE GREENLEE (GUEST): My name is Donnie Greenlee. I’m a lifelong resident to Joplin. I’m a Joplin high graduate, a graduate of Missouri Southern. I’ve got two girls in the Joplin school system. Both of them go to Soaring Heights elementary. And my wife is a teacher slash support specialist. She moved into a tech specialist position after being a teacher for many years before that.
I’ve been in Joplin, like I said, for all my life, and I just want to get involved, get engaged with the school board, with my girls in there with my wife being a part of the school district; I feel this is my chance to give to the community and give to the school system that was there for me when I grew up.
FRED: City and municipal elections like city council and school board throughout the US are largely non-partisan, meaning that candidates don’t identify themselves politically. Donnie says that if he were elected to Joplin’s Board of Education, he would work to separate politics and the school board.
DONNIE: First and foremost to me, politics has got to get out of school board conversations, period. The whole reason the school board is there is for the kids followed closely by the administration, teachers and staff, and of course supporting the taxpayers and taxpayers money. But it’s the kids. Why are we bringing politics into the conversation?
Why are we looking at these big national political movements that have nothing to do with Joplin? We have got to focus on the needs of Joplin. Our students here in Joplin and our backbone, the employees of the Joplin school district, we have got to focus on Joplin, quit trying to bring things that don’t impact us in here.
We’ve gotta be aware of them cause they’re happening, but they, we don’t need to focus on ’em here in Joplin. Let’s look at our needs and address our needs.
FRED: Last week, Joplin schools announced the hire of a new Director of Communications and Community Engagement: Sarah Coyne. According to Donnie, communication and connections between the various levels of Joplin Schools is one of his priorities.
DONNIE: Every single year we’ve had a different way of communicating with the teachers, and in talking to other parents, some of those ways work, some of them don’t and talking to some of the teachers too, some of ’em work, some of them don’t and that’s why each year what that teacher finds works, that’s what they do.
We need to get a consistent communication method out there so that parents and teachers can consistently work together. I wholeheartedly believe edu cation, everything starts at home. Parents are parents, let’s be parents, but it does take a village per se when you start bringing school district and the community to help these kids. There’s gotta be a way for parents to communicate with teachers knowing they’re going to get responses and that teachers can easily reach out to the parents and communicate what’s going on with these kids so that we can.
Have a class as a whole, but also focus on what those individual needs are.
FRED: Often, races for school board and city council are the first time residents run for office. Donnie was influenced to run by his wife, a teacher for many years, and other educators he’s gotten to know.
DONNIE: No teacher can share everything that’s going on. I mean, it violates all kinds… but they still will tell stories about this student or that student. And you become invested in some of that. And I never know their names like, Hey, how’s that? How’d that one do or, Hey, how’d that one do. And I’ve done that with a lot of teachers.
They get very proud of their students, but then it’s heartbreaking too, that they’ve, you’ve got those students that need to have some struggles. And teachers, that’s their support structure is they know their families there and their families backing them as they’re teaching these kids.
I think that’s very important that they have that.
FRED: According to the latest figures at Joplinschools.org, the district employs nearly 1,5000 and has 7,600 students across 18 campuses. If elected, Donnie would be one of seven board of education members. He says that he would bring a pragmatic approach to the board.
DONNIE: You referenced and alluded to being one of seven, and there’s something I’ve noticed, and it’s not just in the local school, or it’s in our culture today. We have lost the ability to agree to disagree. To be able to sit across the table for someone that you have opposing opinions on and actually have a conversation, not a screaming match, but actually having a respectful conversation, understanding there a human being with their own beliefs and thoughts.
Same as you are. Let’s talk about those. See if we can find a common ground, we may still walk away disagreeing with each other, but let’s respect one another to have a conversation about why we disagree and see how we can work through it.
FRED: In addition to naming a new Director of Communications, the district last week announced three new principals. This year Joplin Schools will also shutter and combine two schools while opening another. That’s in addition to Joplin School superintendent Melina Moss announcing her retirement in January and the promotion of Kerry Sachetta to succeed her. Donnie has this message for Joplin’s teachers and staff.
DONNIE: I want teachers, administration, staff to know I want to partner with them. We’re not always going to agree. I’m not a rubber stamp for anyone, whether it be school board, whether it be teachers. I’m gonna look at the facts across the board. We’re not always going to agree, but I want them to know I’m willing to sit down and listen to them and try everything I can to understand where they’re coming from to find out.
Okay, maybe this is a big grand need that you have. We can’t do that right now. How can we take the baby steps to get there? Or if it’s just something that just can’t happen. Okay. Let’s sit down and let me see if I can help figure out how to communicate with each other. So everybody understands where we’re coming from.
Again, we’ve got to learn to agree to disagree. I want to be able to agree as much as possible, but there that’s. That’s not feasible. We’re all individuals. And we’ve got to be able to work together and talk with one another.
FRED: As we wrapped up our time together, I asked Donnie if there was anything else he’d like to share with Joplin voters when considering whether to elect him to the school board.
DONNIE: You know, I’ve said it a couple of times, Sherrock Dermott, one of the outgoing board members, said it a few meetings ago, and it just really hit my heart. We all have got to be better. We’ve gotta be better as parents. We’ve gotta be better as teachers; we’ve gotta be better administrators. And the school board has got to be better as a board.
Let’s all be better together so that we know our students’ futures will be better.
FRED: Donnie Greenlee is one of four candidates running for a seat on the Joplin Board of Education. There are two seats open both for three year terms.