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BOE Member Interview: Ben Blankley District 1

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We recently sent questions out to BOE Member, Ben Blankley, in order to get to know him a little more and understand his decision making process in these uncertain times.

What do you wish more people (including our members) knew about you?

I’m really not outgoing, and in new situations with unfamiliar people, I have a very hard time introducing myself and making small talk. 

Can you tell us a little bit about your day job? 

I’ve been an aircraft engineer for Spirit Aerosystems for 13 years, working on Boeing, Airbus, business jet, and military programs. I design new and derivative parts to meet customer requirements.

What is your favorite movie and why?

The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It came out when I was in college, and we used to have extended edition marathons all night while we worked on aerodynamics homework.

What is your favorite song and why?

“Hardware Store” by Weird Al, because it’s a rapid fire original parody of speed metal...about ball peen hammers and toilet plungers.

What is your favorite hobby and why?

I really enjoy live theater. While I’ve stepped back from acting on stage, I continue to participate on the production side.

What does a “typical” day look like in the life of a BOE member?

A typical BOE meeting day would be me reviewing the agenda before 8am, and sending questions to the superintendent. Then I would work at my day job for a full 8-10 hour day, and then a BOE meeting. Typically my wife and I tag team bedtime, so that’s how the day ends.

Why would you volunteer for such a difficult position?

Good people need to step up to have a thriving competitive democracy. It is also essential to have public school supporters at all levels of legislative importance, because if it is not defended strongly, we will definitely have it taken away from us by those for whom it is unimportant.

If there was one thing you could change about the BOE, what would it be?

I would have all BOE meetings take place outside of business hours if at all possible. Noon meetings are difficult for the community to attend or watch live.

If there was one thing you could change about USD259, what would it be?

I would transplant a portion of volunteers at the incredibly active PTO organizations at various schools to the schools that struggle to maintain family involvement.

What are you most proud of from your time on BOE?

I am proud that we got an LGBTQ+ non-discrimination statement passed, and wish we could have completed more policy work to flesh it out before COVID-19 hit.

What do you think has been done really well in regards to our school district’s pandemic response?

I think we had plenty of high quality professional learning during our extended in-service, and that will help us be prepared for whatever model we need to be in throughout the year. I also think we shifted really well in our technology plan to redirect existing tech to students as we weren’t able to get all the new devices in time to start the year.

What is something we could have done better in regards to our pandemic response?

I think we should have figured out a way to get more staff back in schools to flesh out our learning models earlier and answer family questions sooner, from their schools. I think that would have increased the numbers choosing MSR, and less families angry that there was a limit on EI Academy. I think we also should have explicitly stated that there was a hard limit to EI Academy during the meeting where we announced it, and we should have said what number that was.

Your son, as you mentioned in the BOE meeting, will be attending MyRemote. What led you to make this decision?

My wife has veto power on certain family decisions, and while I wanted our child in physical school to improve his socialization and give us all a small break for childcare, she was a hardliner for remote learning early on. I became a remote learning hardliner over time as July’s rampant increase in COVID cases happened. She is also out of work indefinitely, and cannot go back to her job until this is basically all over and very large events return to Intrust Bank Arena, so she is available to be home for remote learning.

You were one of only two people to vote against the KSDE gating criteria motion on August 20th, can you explain your reasoning?

I believed at the time that since at least one of our gating metrics was red (and very red) on that day, that we should be in red. I also felt like we could have the added risk to our community of outside-only activities at the time if we reduced community risk by having all learning remote.

Our members are under a huge amount of stress as they attempt to prepare for the upcoming year. Here is a short list of the most pressing concerns. Please, feel free to comment on any of them.

  • Our elementary teachers are concerned with class sizes for in-person classes.

Families have a strong connection to their school, and we would have to be very disruptive to them by moving kids to other schools to make class sizes closer to even across the district. Within the buildings, we could move kids around between “grades”, as the KSDE model does allow for that. I anticipate we may need to shift students as the year begins, and as pockets of large class sizes get identified and enrollment settles.

  • Across the district teachers have a lot of strong concerns about all extra-curricular activities being put on pause.

This is contingent on community spread, and the 259 BOE made our decision earlier than any of the suburb districts. The suburb districts also either didn’t adopt the KSDE gating criteria for activities, or decided that they were going to look at a subset of the data that removed cases in long term care and at the jail. I feel removing those COVID cases is not reflective of the true community spread, as workers and residents of both those places have family in our district.

  • Some supplementals will not be paid in secondary due to remote learning.

When our community spread allows for in-person learning, these additional responsibilities and pay should become available once again.

  • Workload has drastically increased at all levels.

As a BOE member, I agree. We’re all working more and it’s not getting any easier. I hope that we don’t see a mid-year budget cut or drastically reduced student enrollment that makes us have to make reductions as we go through this crisis.

  • Teachers are not given the option to work from home if teaching remotely.

When staff needs substitutes or has to merge classes during an absence, I feel being at the physical building will allow for that hand-off to happen more smoothly. Also, our buildings have enterprise-class WiFi and fiber internet that has a much higher availability and service level agreement than any home connection, so it reduces the potential for dropped video feeds and other internet outages.

Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer our questions.

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