Two certified write-in candidates vie for KC Public School Board in Special Election

Daisy Garcia-Montoya
Education Reporter

Earlier this year, voters elected new members to the Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS) district’s school board. Sub-District 2 and At-Large winners were determined as Jamekia Kendreix and Joshua Jackaway due to automatically being seated as the only candidates to meet the requirements to appear on the ballot for each race respectively.

Sub-District 4 was determined via a write-in campaign with Monica Curls declared as the winner. Now, voters will once again have the opportunity to decide on a candidate for Sub-District 3 through a write-in election.

Although there was an April school board election, a special election became necessary in order to fill the seat that former school board member Manny Abarca left empty after his election to the Jackson County Legislature. Since no candidate for Sub-District 3 made their way on the ballot, voters will have to write in their pick on June 20 to fill the last KCPS board seat.

KCPS School Board Sub-District 3 write-in candidate Robert Sagastume hopes to amplify the immigrant perspective if elected.

With the Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS) special election around the corner, candidate Robert Sagastume continues to campaign and knock on doors with the hopes of getting the opportunity to engage with families and parents as he shares his approach if elected as a school board member.

Sagastume’s passion for public education can be traced back to his own personal tribulations when he realized he was undocumented after graduating high school. Born in Honduras, Sagastume came to the United States on a visa and had plans to attend college after high school, which he was unable to fulfill as expected after his visa expired.

Eventually, everything worked out as Sagastume went on to receive a degree from the University of Kansas in social work as well as two masters degrees from the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis in both policy and social work.

Still, his experiences navigating as a former undocumented student led him to do work in community organizing, advocacy, and social work with a focus on education. Beyond his work in advocacy with the Kansas/Missouri Dream Alliance, which focuses on advocating for laws and policies that protect immigrant rights, Sagastume has been working as a College Access Specialist at East High School and Lincoln College Preparatory Academy through the Hispanic Development Fund for the past two years.

When asked why he decided to enter this race, Sagastume said that it was an opportunity to have a space to center the voices of all those in the community, not just Latinos, but immigrants overall.

“I think it often feels like we’re a second thought or that we’re not in the mix when it comes to policy making,” Sagastume said. “I definitely want to be able to meet people from the community, take what I learned in school and take what people are sharing with me to create policy change. I want to make sure that our communities that are often voiceless, have a voice and want the opportunity to amplify their voice in this space.”

Through his experience in grassroots organizing, academia, and interpersonal skills, Sagastume wants to ensure that everyone in the community is aware of the policies that are taking place, how they work and how they will impact them.

As the Blueprint 2030 was proposed, Sagastume said that seeing so many families engaged in the process was an eye-opener for the district in learning that they must bring these perspectives to the table and that his goal if elected is to ensure these conversations continue to happen.

“We are the largest immigrant community in the Kansas City area, Sub-District 3 is,” Sagastume said. “I work out of East High School and there are 40+ languages just in that building alone, so I’m like, ‘Don’t tell me that we don’t matter because we do matter and we should be part of the conversations that are taking place.’”

Sagastume shared the difficulties that can come with a write-in election such as the short amount of time to campaign as well as the act of voters learning his name in order to properly vote and elect him into office.

“We often hear buzz about big elections like presidential elections,” Sagastume said. “Those are important but at the same time local elections are extremely important because we’re talking about people who are within our own communities that are going to have the power to influence policies and systems that impact the day to day of our families.”

Although some populations may not be able to vote due to their legal status, Sagastume said that it’s important to engage with them and ask for their concerns because they also have a voice and the policies will impact them as well.

If elected as a school board member, he would look at education policy through a holistic perspective that focuses on securing basic needs for students such as food insecurity and housing. He would focus on providing professional development and resources to teachers in order to best address these issues in order to increase student achievement across the district.

Sagastume said that as he continues to engage with the community in the days leading up to the election, he wants to remind them that at the end of the day, the school board is working with the students and wants the best for the community.

“When June 21st comes and they announce who won, there’ll be two people, one will be an elected official and the other will be a constituent,” Sagastume said. “What I’m telling people is that no matter where I am in, if I’m the elected official or the constituent, my passion and desire to help will continue, no matter where I’m at. This has just given me an opportunity to really get out there and meet different parents and show them what I’m trying to do.”

KCPS school board candidate Spark Bookhart highlights the need to engage the community

The June 20 special election for Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS) school board’s Sub-district 3 is quickly approaching and candidate Spark Bookhart is making strides with community members as he shares his plan to improve KCPS through family and community engagement. An advocate for public education, Bookhart believes that the key to a thriving city is a successful school board.

Raised in Los Angeles, Bookhart attended college in Alabama before he moved to the Midwest, settling in Kansas City, Mo., in 1995. Since then, he has been involved in multiple roles including law enforcement working on the narcotics squad of the KCPD, at the Economic Development Corporation, worked in political campaigns and neighborhood organizing and most recently as a convener of the Parent Power Lab.

When he saw that there was a seat that needed to be filled on the school board due to the resignation of Manny Abarca, Bookhart said he decided to begin his campaign, given his involvement in education and encouragement from the community.

“I’ve been encouraged to run for school board in the past but I’ve never done it because I didn’t feel necessarily aligned with the school board members at the time,” Bookhart said. “Right now, I feel that I have a modicum of relationship with every member, and I feel that this is an opportunity to get seven members that are generally aligned on things to make a change that we need, have the transformation to think about education in ways we probably haven’t before.”

When it comes to group dynamics and working together as a team, Bookhart believes that the school board is not seven individuals, but rather one body and should work together to achieve the greater good for the district. Working together by acknowledging each other’s abilities and expertise, he said, allows them to progress forward.

As a parent first and potential school board member after, Bookhart said that he is focused on centering and bringing a community engagement lens to the school board that includes the community in the decision-making process.

“You don’t start to engage parents when you have a tough decision to make, engaging parents should be part of the ongoing process of decision making,” Bookhart said. “Children in our school system shows the trust they have in our school system but we have to reciprocate that trust by trusting that their voice and their engagement is just as important as sending their children to school.”

More so than his experience working in the education sector, Bookhart believes he brings a deep sense of historical understanding of how the district has evolved, changed and been impacted by public policy.

“I don’t look at schools through a narrow lens of what is happening right now,” Bookhart said. “I look at education in a more broader understanding of how we got here, the reasons we are in this position and the predicament that we are in. Our educational history over the last 60 years in Kansas City is really some of the most fascinating educational history in the country and unfortunately it’s a history that’s largely unknown, even by people who lived through it. I think looking at education in Kansas City through that lens offers a valuable way to solve problems.”

Bookhart said that his philosophical approach as school board member is that he would focus on learning and understanding what the vision of the community is for KCPS. Through collaboration and deep discussions with the community, Bookhart hopes to learn what dreams the community has in place and through the position on the board, use the resources, make decisions and policies that would align with that vision and ensure that they can be actualized through the budget.

“I love Kansas City and I know that we can become a world class city, but we can’t become a world class city without a world class education system at its core,” Bookhart said.

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