New school board members begin their terms with fresh perspective

Newly elected board members Kay Emerson and Andrew Nussbaum look to engage with the community during their terms


Owen Musser

People speak and discuss during a district budget meeting. USD 497 currently faces a multi-million dollar budget deficit.

By Cuyler Dunn, Co-Editor in Chief of The Budget

As USD 497 stares down challenges in the present and the development of new directions for the future, recently elected first-time school board members Kay Emerson and Andrew Nussbaum have pledged to make community and equity a top priority for their terms on the school board.

The two new board members were elected in November and served at their first board meeting in January. Emerson received the most votes in the school board election with incumbent and former board president Kelly Jones in second. Nussbaum took the third and final spot on the new board.

“Each board member brings a unique perspective shaped by their own experiences and beliefs,” school board president Erica Hill said. “Diversity of perspective is important, especially when facing challenging issues, such as the budget deficit and COVID-19. We have a board culture that strives to promote trust, collaboration and professionalism and I’m looking forward to working with Kay [Emerson] and Andrew [Nussbaum] within this capacity.”

Emerson and Nussbaum both have lots of experience with Lawrence and USD 497. Emerson began her journey with the district as a PTO parent, working to get involved with local schools and trying to shape them to be the best they could be for students. Nussbaum comes to the board with years of experience as an employee with the district. He worked at Free State High School for seven years before moving to the district building for the last four.

Kay Emerson looks to engage the community to tackle challenges during her time on the school board

Contributed by Kay Emerson

When talking with Emerson about her plans for her term on the board one word stood out: community. She made it clear that her main goal for her term was to empower the community of students, staff, parents and employees that are intertwined with USD 497, and let them know that they should get involved.

“I want to instill in our community…that you’re a part of the process,” Emerson said. “We’re only a seven-member board, we need your help, we need your voices at the table.”

She spoke about different ways that she would love to see students and other USD 497 community members get involved during her term, such as public comment during board meetings.

She challenged herself and her colleagues to ask the question “where can we build in more community discussion?” and actively seek out and implement answers.

As the district starts the process of debating over possible solutions to the multi-million dollar budget deficit it faces, Emerson emphasized the importance of making sure every voice was heard.

“There’s so much that goes into making these decisions and some of the core questions I have going into this is ‘how is this going to affect X?’ ‘Who are we leaving out that we possibly didn’t think about?’” Emerson said.

As well as having experience with the district, Emerson brings a financial background that gives her a valuable perspective on the economic side of the district.

“I’m bringing things like grant management, being able to look at federal dollars, state dollars, auditing of those programs and I think that’s kind of a huge part of it,” Emerson said.

Emerson emphasized that she was only one of seven board members and discussing and deliberating as a panel would be crucial to solving the district’s upcoming challenges.

Regardless of whether it is helping find solutions to issues or helping shape the district as it moves forward, Emerson has made it clear the process will involve making every voice heard.

“I think there is a lot of power in community voice,” she said, “and as a new school board member, I would like to see more of that.”

Long-time district employee Andrew Nussbaum looks to break down harmful structures and strive for equity

Contributed by Andrew Nussbaum

While Nussbaum’s beliefs and ideas for what he hopes to accomplish on the school board are far-stretching and extensive, the core of his vision for the next four years is striving for equity.

An employee in the district for over ten years, Nussbaum has first-hand experience with multiple different levels of the USD 497 structure, and looks to use that experience to help amplify voices.

He challenged the district to evaluate whether the ideas they preached were being implemented in the best and most effective way.

“District hashtags such as #AllStudentsOneTeam ring meaningless when, predictably and unacceptably, the same students, same neighborhoods and same staff members continue to be neglected, dismissed and harmed,” he said.

He highlighted that at the center of public education there must be equal access and opportunity for all students.

“There is no excellence without a deeper equity,” he said.

Forming relationships is an important goal for Nussbaum, one that is a prerequisite to the development of many of his other ideas. He isolated that as a board member he is first and foremost a member of a community. Building a diverse set of relationships within that community is important to make sure he can best act for the community he represents.

“I believe that board members must be advocates,” he said. “We have a position of power and responsibility while also having access and leverage (listening, collaborating, and decision-making) with district leadership, certified and classified staff, students and the community.”

When it comes to the budget deficit, these same principles apply for Nussbaum. Making sure the most affected voices are amplified as well as having students and in-classroom staff put first is his priority.

“A board member is expected to listen to the community, especially those most directly affected by board decisions…simultaneously, a board member is expected to monitor, hold accountable, and evaluate the superintendent and district leadership regarding their management and application of board policies and district-wide strategic plans and goals,” he said.

As the board looks to take on current and future challenges, Nussbaum looks to make sure that the principles of equity, justice and relationship are always put at the forefront of district decision making.

“As a board member, I will listen, learn with and advocate to ensure we as a district actually prioritize what we promise,” Nussbaum said.