Voters in the Platte County R-3 School District chose a pair of newcomers and the current board of education president in the Tuesday, April 4 municipal election.
There were three spots up for grabs on the board of education, but only two incumbents running with Julie Vanover not seeking re-election. With nearly 3,500 votes cast in Platte County, Buffy Smith (956, 27.69 percent) and Dr. Gwendolyn Cooke (899, 26.04 percent) led the way, while Sharon Sherwood — the current board president — received 868 votes (25.14 percent).
Lenora Miles, the other incumbent, was seeking a third three-year term but received only 681 votes (19.72 percent) in Platte County. The Clay County voters did not change the order of finish.
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.
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.”
Originally from Chapman, Ala., Cooke believes her experience in the education system and on state boards in three different states will 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 ran 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.”
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 has served on a pair of Platte County R-3 committees 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.”
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.”
Smith also wants to look at 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.”
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.
“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.”