Unity: Ad Astra Per Aspera
While every candidate, including myself, is asking that you should get out and vote for whom you believe will serve our teachers, our children, and our community the best, I would like to take it a step further and charge you, and all voters and citizens, with a call to unite.
Unfortunately, we live in a time when the media and loud voices on either side of the aisle are telling us that it is "Us vs them", "Red vs Blue", "Democrat vs Republican". Political agendas are telling us that we have to defeat the other side and force our way on to them.
And it is seductive to say the least.
However, we have a very important legacy as the great people of Kansas. We are the Free State. During the Civil War, we took a stand for persisting in unity, as one Union, against those who would divide us.
We have to live up to this legacy. There is too much at stake.
It will be hard, but we're talking about the future leaders of the next generation. We're talking about our children. We must share unity for their sake, so they can grow and develop with brightness and prosperity ahead of them, rather than a distracted conquest of the other political party.
Speaking of the incredible history of Kansas, we also have the greatest state motto in the United States: Ad Astra Per Aspera - To the Stars through Perseverance.
Only through pursuing unity will we reach the stars. We must go through the hard work of understanding one another and mending relationships, working side by side focused on one goal - the peace and prosperity of our people.
If you can get behind me as a candidate for the USD 497 Board of Education, I will do everything in my power to bring unity to our district and the city.
I will do everything in my power to support our future leaders, our children, as they reach for the stars.
Who is Nate?
I have been a Lawrence native for over a decade. I own a restaurant on Mass. St. along with my spouse, Meghan, I am an active Registered Nurse, and am an elder at my church. Meghan and I have four children, all in the USD 497 school system. Two of our children are adopted through the foster care system and one has special needs. With this background and by listening to my community, I work to understand what good the school district is doing and what needs to be improved for the better of every student, and teacher, in Lawrence.
I hope I see your vote in the primaries and this fall.
Nate Morsches' Platform Focus
Post Secondard Education
I was told growing up that after high school, it’s either college or homeless. This damaged my view of the best possibilities for my life for many years. Traditional college is an excellent option for many people, but it is not a good option for many others. Trade school, community college, apprenticeships, certifications or entrepreneurship must not be viewed as lesser options. Depending on the skills and goals of the student, any one of these might be a better option. USD 497 must be able to translate this effectively to the future market stakeholders, our students.
Mental Well-Being for Teachers and Students
As a frontlines nurse during the Pandemic in the ER and ICU, I have seen a trend of the rapid increase of mental illness. Since February, it’s fair to say that our mental health numbers in the hospital (suicidal ideation, homicidal ideation, alcohol detox, drug detox, depression, anxiety, psychosis, and even domestic abuse) have tripled, and maybe even quadrupled, as a result of social isolation and high stress. Our teachers and students have been through unprecedented times and USD 497 must take care of them mentally as we all recover from the most devastating global catastrophe our generation may ever see.
Being good parents is obviously our goal as a community, but the extra support in regard to mental health will go a long way in shaping well-rounded, well-adjusted children to be good future leaders.
Financial Stability of USD 497
For many reasons, including but not limited to the Pandemic and the ending of the current bonds, funding for the district is extremely tight. With my experience as an entrepreneur and local business owner, the financial stability of USD 497 is a top priority. Thinking outside the box to come up with new revenue streams is my expertise. In school districts, new revenue streams are equivalent to attracting more students to participate in the public school system so as to increase government funding. USD 497 must create new reasons for students to join our district including non-traditional ideas and increasing the robustness of what we already offer, so our funding increases and the budget becomes sustainable.
We must build an excellent academic program for students with multifaceted opportunities. As parents, it's a win-win situation. Excellent programming = increase in students = more funding.
Thoughts on other questions/concerns in the community:
Mask Mandate at USD 497
Many of you have probably seen my response to the question of support or opposition of the mask mandate at USD 497 in the Lawrence Times.
I have changed my position regarding the mask mandate at USD 497. I am now for the mask mandate.
There are two reasons why I have done this:
The COVID cases, hospitalizations, and deaths have increased at a rate where it would be irresponsible of me to continue opposing the mandate.
I have heard from my supporters and have come to realize that the community wants and needs this mandate.
To address the first point, in my experience as a Registered Nurse, I have seen the situation at the hospital has become unsustainable. This spike in our COVID patients is more rapid and more severe than any of the prior spikes we’ve had in the past.
Considering children, prior forms of the virus did not affect them as strongly as does the Delta variant. In the past 3 weeks or so, Children's Mercy has filled up with COVID cases and has on many occasions turned away all transfers. Particularly with the ICU, there's nowhere to put the kids because not many other places have ICU beds for pediatrics (PICU).
For adults, we’re seeing more younger people become severely ill and dying as well. At the time of this writing, there are literally no ICU beds available in all of Kansas City. That has never happened since the beginning of the Pandemic.
Take the rapid increase in patients, and add to that a nation-wide nursing staffing shortage, and we find ourselves in a catastrophic situation, which must be mitigated by many things - one of which is a mask mandate in the school district.
To address the second point, I have had many people ask me about my prior position, and I just want to tell all of you who are curious or upset:
I have heard you.
I have always believed in the effectiveness of masks as a COVID risk mitigation strategy, but was cautious in taking the step of actually supporting a mandate.
I no longer have that hesitation because I understand better what the community wants. Overwhelmingly, our people in Lawrence believe in the mask mandate and they have voiced that to me personally as well as in many other avenues.
I thoroughly appreciate the personal messages, the meetings, and the questions asked over social media. It has given me the opportunity to hear you, and to understand better how to serve you.
Even many of those who oppose wearing masks in general (not all, of course) have admitted that the higher priority is keeping the children in-person at school. To those people, if wearing a mask will help keep the kids in school, then they’re willing to deal with the mandate.
This is a priority to a much larger group of people than I had originally thought - and not just to those who are opposed to masks. People who are neutral toward masks have also voiced this opinion to me.
Learning these points of views more intimately and discussing with the people in the community has been course-altering for me.
At the time when I first was asked the question in the Lawrence Times about the mandate, the recommendations from the CDC were very recently changed, the mandate was newly approved, and the spike in COVID in our area had not yet become as severe as I see it now.
My original stance was from a standpoint of cautiousness in making quick, major, entire-city-affecting decisions. Now that I know more about this spike, and now that I better understand what the community wants and needs, I have changed my position to support the mask mandate at USD 497.
Thank you to the people of Lawrence for giving me the opportunity to understand you. My goal in becoming a member of the School Board has always been about creating unity and I can only do that through listening, learning, and representing you, my community, well.
I support the arts for many reasons. First of all, the creativity allowed through the arts helps foster the shared humanity between all of us.
Secondly, the artistic discipline taught to hone in artistic skills is important in developing all kinds of important character traits in students - commitment, hard work, high standards, self-management, and even financial resourcefulness.
Next, I have a personal love of the arts, particularly creative writing.
Finally and most importantly, in a time when our community’s mental health is in crisis due to social isolation, high stress, and unpredictable routine changes, the arts help mental health through catharsis, self-expression, and creativity.
The school district should reflect these values in its programming. Developing a robust partnership with organizations like the Lawrence Arts Center will be key moving forward.
In 2019-2020 academic year, there were 492 suspensions issued to students in the schools in our district. When children are taken out of school for disciplinary reasons, they may become discouraged, embarrassed, and definitely miss out on learning. All these things can cause a student to act out, perpetuating the cycle.
Justice Matters, who has done extensive public research in the realm of restorative practices in school, stated this, “Students who receive even one suspension are twice as likely to drop out, and students who drop out are three times as likely to wind up incarcerated. This is what is called the school-to-prison pipeline. This is especially concerning because we know that Black students in Lawrence Public Schools are twice as likely to be suspended as their white peers.”
Restorative practices, rather than punitive measures, offer the chance to repair relationships, talk through important issues, and they do not keep students from attending school. Parents don't have to take off work since their child isn't being suspended.
As much as possible, our district should advocate for restorative justice and set structures in place to make the practice effective.
Class size is related to building space, and building space must be dealt with creatively.
Coming out of the Pandemic, many people use the words “Learning Loss.” But this implies that there was not only zero learning done during the 2020-2021 academic year, but actually negative amounts of learning. Rather, we should call what happened to our students "Unfinished learning" or "Unrealized potential".
This distinction is important because we have to recognize that even though many students did not reach their full potential for this school year due to the nontraditional format and changing social conditions at every step, some students did great with online learning and it fit their learning style very well.
Out of necessity, the district had to deliver learning in new ways. It was not perfect, but it did demonstrate that it is possible.
In the future, we should look for other opportunities to deliver learning in ways to which certain subsets of students respond well. We must creatively engage with new ways of viewing methods of education. This will help us become better equipped for future catastrophes like COVID, and it will, in terms of education, position us for the future of technological developments and social structures which may change during the next chapter of the 21st Century.
As parents, this helps prepare our children for the new world which is developing before our eyes.
Partnership With Bert Nash
One of the best assets in Douglas County is Bert Nash. They are committed to serving community members with mental illness and they do it effectively.
What better way to equip our students and teachers with solid mental health than to partner more solidly with this great organization?
The district must develop robust programs with Bert Nash to ensure the mental well-being of our students and teachers. The WRAP program is wonderful, but there is so much more we can do - the possibilities are endless.
As parents, we can't do everything. Bert Nash can help us as a community to ensure a better future for our children.
Critical Race Theory
It is data-driven and objectively true that certain minority groups generally underperform academically in USD 497; they suffer more punitive consequences than their white counterparts; and they have poorer outcomes graduating high school and going on to post-secondary education.
Whatever political leanings a person has in regard to CRT, these problems are real and we need to address them in ways which sets every student up for success. The next generation depends on it.
That being said, USD 497, as well as the state of Kansas does not teach Critical Race Theory. Here is a statement that the Kansas State Board of Education put out concerning CRT, which is also my stance.
The CARES Act contained legislation regarding the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER fund).
Superintendent Dr. Anthony Lewis told me that USD 497 received approximately $1.8M in ESSER 1 funds; will receive around $6M in ESSER 2 funds; and will receive about $13M in Esser 3 funds.
There has been a lot of criticism about how these funds have been used and plans for future use, but what many people don't understand about when the government writes large checks, the usage of these monies is not optional in most cases. There is flexibility, of course, but the monies are not necessarily available for any important expense. In fact, the funds are not dispersed in lump sums. They are reimbursed by the state when USD 497 sends in reports of the expenses, and they are approved.
The discussion around the usage of these funds must fit within the context of the law. It's important for everyone to realize that these large amounts of money are only accessible for certain expenses.
I will advocate for lawful use of the funds, and as much as possible within the flexibility available for the funding of projects which are in line with the goals of the district. These goals are outlined in the Strategic Plan on the USD 497 website:
Increase literacy by 3rd Grade.
Increase Math proficiency by 8th Grade.
Narrow achievement gaps between student groups.
Increase high school completion.
Advance students' post-graduation success in college or career.
Livable Wages for Staff
As one of the owners and employers of RPG, we pay all of our employees $15/hr at a minimum. We've been creative, changed spending categories in the budget, and changed our payment structure from customers. I'm very passionate about employers taking good care of their employees.
On the Board of Education, I would work to accomplish the same goal: increasing wages for staff to at least a livable wage. There must be creative ways to accomplish this which we haven't explored yet. As an entrepreneur, I hope to bring that outside-the-box kind of thinking to this subject, so that our staff can feel the respect they deserve.
When staff working conditions improve, as parents we must understand that our children's academic conditions will improve.
Trans-Rights in Sports
At the Douglas County Democrats Forum for School Board Candidates on July 10, 2021, we were all asked, "Do you support the rights of trans/NB/GNC students to participate in school sports in a manner consistent with their gender identity?"
Unfortunately, this question was asked in the speed round, which left only time for a yes or no answer with no ability to explain. My explanation for answering this question in the affirmative is here:
There is an important distinction between integrity in competition and respecting the rights of Trans-people in a free society. The question must be looked at in such a way that the answer does not necessarily reflect whether a person respects Trans-people or their rights. It's much more complicated than that.
Integrity in competition is what is in question. Recent legislation, SB 55, was proposed in Kansas Congress which would ban Trans-people from competing in sports in the gender division they choose. It presented somewhat compelling scientific evidence that biological males generally perform at a higher level than biological females including those who have undergone hormone therapy, and that it would therefore be unfair for biological males who identify as females to participate in girls' sports.
Governor Laura Kelly vetoed this bill on the grounds that it would encourage bullying, discrimination, and suicide, and harm economic growth as businesses would not want to participate in commerce in a state which has passed a "regressive" bill like this one.
I can actually respect both sides of the argument, and this is a difficult one for me. I certainly love trans-people just like anyone else, and respect their rights as Americans in our free society. I would never want them to suffer discrimination or bullying. At the same time, I understand how biological females who identify as females and play girls' sports could potentially lose out on competitive advantages and perhaps even college scholarships as a result of having to compete with trans-females who were biologically male.
Moreover, current policy at USD 497 does not restrict trans-people from playing in the gender division they prefer.
I will admit this is a hard decision, and the simple yes or no question did not really give us an opportunity to appreciate the complexity of the issue.
With all this considered, I feel I would err no matter where I land in this discussion and harm people in the process, but I would rather err on the side of not restricting freedoms of Americans and their families by adding policies where they currently do not exist. This is why I answered Yes to the original question.