R-3 school board election features 2 incumbents, 2 challengers for 3 spots

There are three spots on the Platte County R-3 Board of Education up for grabs but only two incumbents running for reelection.

With Julie Vanover opting not run again after the end of her term, Sharon Sherwood — current president of the board — and Lenora Miles will face challenges from newcomers Dr. Gwendolyn Cooke and Buffy Smith on the ballot for the Tuesday, April 4 general municipal election. Neither Cooke nor Smith has previous board of education experience.

Cooke, 73, boasts 36 years of experience in rural and urban school districts, including serving as a teacher, principal and director of programs for gifted and talented students in the Baltimore City Public School District. She also held the position of director of urban and rural schools for the National Association of Secondary School Principals — a stint that included visits to the 50 largest schools in the country.

Gwendolyn Cooke

Gwendolyn Cooke

The Platte County School District’s 2015 annual report led Cooke to run for a seat on the board.

“The chart showed that minority students’ academic performance was not satisfactory,” said Cooke, who is African American. “I asked myself, ‘Why not?’  and ‘How can I help?’ I recognize what excellence looks like.  Becoming a member of the school board will provide both the school board and me the opportunity to help move the district forward in academic achievement for all enrolled students.”

Originally from Chapman, Ala., Cooke believes her experience in the education system and on state boards in three different states can be an asset to district patrons. She has written three books on challenges, solutions and opportunities faced by educators, parents and female students.

Cooke said she is running to increase the diversity in skill levels, background experiences and ethnicity among members on the board. She believes with the expansion of the district in the south, employment of “culturally competent staff” will be needed to meet the demands of changing demographics  and acknowledge how economic disparity affects students’ achievements. 

“I am confident that my presence will communicate to Platte County citizens that the differences are assets,” she said. “I believe that public schools are viable. I have a passion for learning.  My philosophy is that all students can achieve at high levels. 

“I am experienced. I am curious, and I am open to new experiences.”

Miles, 63, is finishing up her second three-year term on the board.

A teacher in the Platte County School District from 1991 until her retirement in 2010, she continues to teach part time in addition to a job with State Farm Insurance in Platte City. She has three children and five grandchildren.

Miles touts her lifelong experience in public schools that continues today.

Lenora Miles

Lenora Miles

“My grandfather preached to me when I was a young girl that education was the freedom from the state of ignorance,” she said. “In 2011 when I began my journey with the board of education, I started learning much more about the governance of the school district: the budget, construction, renovation projects, curriculum and instruction, and legislation. I feel that having an educator on the school board is valuable. 

“I have the interior view of the challenges for the teachers as well as the students.”

Miles believes the current leadership of the school district has done a good job of long-term planning through the district’s Comprehensive School Improvement Plan (CSIP) – a five-phase process which results in a “quality” organization as measured by Malcolm Baldrige and the Missouri School Quality Program which identifies strategic challenges, advantages and possible target objectives. This includes embracing growth of the school district and asking patrons to be involved in the decision-making of the district.

“We are extremely fortunate to retain and attract high quality personnel from central office to the food services to the transportation services to the teachers,” Miles said. “The list is endless because it takes every person, including the community members, to support our youth in a safe and caring environment.”

Sherwood, 70, has now served three terms on the board after originally being elected in 2008. Her experience in education also includes time as an elementary school music teacher and elementary school principal.

A graduate of the Platte County School District, Sherwood has also had one grandson graduate from the district with three more still in the schools. She has focused her time on the board in advancing her knowledge and expertise through training and conferences and believes the hours have added to her qualifications to continue serving on the board.

Sharon Sherwood

Sharon Sherwood

“I am well aware of the challenges facing the district, as well as the accomplishments reached,” Sherwood said. “During this time, I have spent many hours visiting and volunteering in our schools and know firsthand the challenges and opportunities our staff and students face. I want to do my part to ensure that each individual student receives the absolute optimal educational experiences.  

“If we know it is right for students, we must see that it happens.”

As a graduate of the district, Sherwood said she has a deep commitment to the schools’ success but also recognizes the need to make wise decisions for future needs. She sees maintaining highly qualified staff as important to promote academic achievement through “rigorous learning experiences” that meet the needs of all students.

Sherwood also believes that managing resources while dealing with district growth will continue to be a challenge and requires tough decision making.

“Having a deep understanding and knowledge of how a district operates, I think my experience serving on the board of education and my experience as an accomplished educator equip me for this position,” she said. “It is no easy task to oversee the various facets of operating a school district. The board faces challenges continually and must utilize all facts to move the district in a positive direction. 

“I possess that courage and determination because I understand what we are doing, and how we are doing it, and why we are doing it.”

Smith, 35, is married with two kids and previously worked 10 years as a federal employee, serving as a field representative in Platte County.

Originally from Bethany, Mo., Smith has lived in the Platte City area for more than a decade. She has been active in the area and previously served on the Platte County R-3 long-range facility plan task force and the boundary adjustment committee as a citizen member.

“We are proud to be active in the district and raise our children here,” Smith said. “As we have children beginning in the school district, we want to make sure that they have the opportunity to be successful in life.”

Buffy Smith

Buffy Smith

In addition, Smith said her experience as a federal employee, seeking guidance from citizens on legislation and assisting them with government issues, has helped her learn about the district and needs of the community. She believes the district is doing a good job and remains in a solid position to continue to do so.

Smith wants to make sure the board continues to make fiscally sound decisions as the district prepares for continued growth.

“We all have a vested interest in the direction of our school district and the education of our future,” Smith said. “We have a responsibility to provide a quality education and foundation for our children, and I am eager to do my part to help.”

Smith wants to see students receive an education that is useful in the future with technology continuing to change the landscape of the modern workforce. This should include a focus on attracting and retaining quality educators because, “It’s no secret that the person who has the biggest impact on a child at school is their classroom teacher.”

Another area of focus for Smith if elected would be expanding early childhood education to the meet the needs of incoming students.

“Our children are meeting high standards at a very young age that has not been seen in the past,” she said. “We need to help provide the foundation for them to enter kindergarten and be successful from the very beginning.”