Ad Astra Per Aspera for Women School Board Members in Kansas

Ad Astra Per Aspera for Women School Board Members in Kansas

Leah Fliter
Director of Governmental Relations

The centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S Constitution, which eventually led to all U.S female citizens being able to vote, has inspired me to reflect on the special role of women school board members in Kansas.

I don’t know the name of the first elected female Kansas school board member but I do know our state has a proud history of women who’ve served on their local boards with passion, knowledge and skill. I’m pleased to report the first female KASB President, Mrs. Arthur Butler, took office in 1922, only five years after the organization’s founding (unfortunately, her given name has been lost to history.)  In 2020, KASB is led by President Lori C. Blake and Past President Shannon L. Kimball, respected women board members in their communities.

For decades, serving on a school board was a socially acceptable way for Kansas women to actively participate in politics. Women were generally viewed as as keepers of hearth and home and the first educators of their children, so serving on a school board was a logical extension of those roles. Many female Kansas school board members served with distinction and then retired from public life. They left their communities and our cherished institutions of public education better than they found them.

Other women leaders, however, used the connections and knowledge they gained through their board service to run for other elected offices up to and including the state legislature.

And in 1978, former Maize school board member Nancy Landon Kassebaum was only the second woman elected to a full term in the U.S. Senate without her husband preceding her and the first woman to represent Kansas in that body.

I’m proud of the trailblazing women who began public life as school board members. They’ve served Kansas with distinction and strengthened the foundation of the state that reaches to the stars through difficulties.

But I’m just as proud of the women serving on school boards in 2020. The hundreds of women serving their local communities include eight members of the current KASB Board of Directors, including our President and Past President. Our Legislative Committee, which sets our public policy agenda, features seven female school board members and is led by Past President Kimball.

These women (and their male counterparts, but that’s for another blog) are now making decisions their foremothers could not have foreseen.

Our modern board members volunteered for what they all knew was a tough, unpaid job. Then the coronavirus pandemic changed our lives — and Kansas public education — forever.

Today, women school board members lie awake worrying about the 2020-21 school year. They’re deeply concerned about the current or potential impact of COVID-19 on their families, schools, and communities.

Some are making plans to reopen their school buildings in the traditional in-person model. Others have made the difficult decision, based on the best information they can find, to open online only and sometimes without programs that students, families and patrons treasure. Still others are attempting to strike a balance between in-person and online options. And many are making these tough and often heartbreaking decisions in the face of unprecedented criticism and vitriol.

So as we celebrate women’s suffrage let’s also celebrate, honor and support women school board members. Ad Astra Per Aspera.