By Jamie Rhodes
WICHITA - SB56 was introduced in the Kansas Senate allowing prosecution of teachers if the parents don’t agree with the curriculum being taught. For instance, a teacher shows Michelangelo’s David statue in an art class, a parent can claim pornographic material was shown. The teacher can then be fined and even spend time in jail.
The bill dissolved in the Kansas House. SB56 was a hard pill to swallow for some teachers, along with issues like recurring budget cuts, extended school hours, the lunch program and the transgender bathroom issue.
Luckily, newly elected Wichita Public Schools, School Board District 1 Representative, Ben Blankley, believes teachers should be shown their value and worth: “Teachers are the experts in their own classrooms. We need to give them the authority to run their own classrooms as they see fit.”
You may have seen Blankley’s familiar face in association with Wichita Shakespeare Company, Wichita Community Theatre or with other theater productions. A fan of hard science fiction, a Systems Integration Engineer at Spirit Aerosystems with a BS degree in Aerospace Engineering, husband and father; Blankley’s defining moment to run for the school board was when, “I started hearing so many stories from faculty and parents about how they felt some of their concerns were not being adequately heard. Since I had a background in community activism, I felt I could provide a good choice to the voters.”
Blankley was asked a series of questions so Liberty Press readers could meet the new District 1 Representative and get a better understanding of him and his positions:
What made you a good candidate?
I come to the position as a working parent, well-connected to the younger generations of parents and staff.
How has being a new father changed your perspective on schools in the community?
When looking for pre-K programs, I realized just how divided our community’s kids become, even at age three. I learned how luck plays so much more into a person’s lot in life than I ever knew before parenthood.
You’ve mentioned “improved transparency throughout the school board process” on your application as one of your goals. Explain.
Community members need to have the opportunity to have their concerns heard by the board, whether that be by submitted written comments or oral comments at the board table. Board members should explain why they voted on budget and policy decisions, where legal and ethical concerns allow.
How would you like to redirect the current budget?
I would work to reduce paid consultants and work on growing more internal training competencies within our own district.
You refer to yourself as a “labor-leader” and an “activist.” What does that look like to you?
I plan on being a visible, vocal advocate for the marginalized people in our community. This may include being part of public protests, letter writing campaigns, and individual discussions with other elected officials.
What is your role in the LGBTQIA community?
My educational experience in middle school was fraught with rampant, violent bullying towards myself and my friends. I emerged from that into adulthood as a fierce ally for the marginalized. I try to learn more about every person I meet. I firmly believe we achieve strength through diversity.
How do you hope to use that role with your position on the school board?
Wichita Public Schools is notable that its current policy of non-discrimination lags behind what the actual practice is. Currently, neither orientation nor identity are considered protected categories; however, in practice these categories have been protected. One of my goals is to update that policy to match what we do in our schools today. I would also like to review the growth and human development curriculum, as it is currently an opt-in, abstinence-focused curriculum that may not include sufficient material for all students.
Blankley’s new position on the board is as a volunteer, so he plans to maintain his focus there along with his engineering career for now with no future plans on running for further offices. “I understand the expectations of my term in office will be very high, and I hope the public gives me a chance to learn what it’s like to be a good public office holder,” he said. l