TOP: Bonnie Abadie, Rachel Chumney, Justin Bono BOTTOM: Kristin Kuhne, Judy Yarborough

TOP: Bonnie Abadie, Rachel Chumney, Justin Bono BOTTOM: Kristin Kuhne, Judy Yarbrough

Research by Carol Toler | Edited by Christina Hughes Babb

Richardson ISD’s school board election is set for May 10. Five candidates officially have entered the race. In an effort to get to know them a little better, we asked each to answer a few questions about Lake Highlands schools and about his or her qualifications.

(See also: Two RISD school board members to retire)

Click beside each name to view or shrink each Q&A. In random order:

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Judy Yarbrough

Judy Yarbrough

Judy Yarbrough describes herself as a minister whose four children have gone through Richardson ISD and who has a special interest in providing an education for all children that will enable them to succeed in their life goals.

LHA: Lake Highlands high school is celebrating its 50th anniversary. What do you consider LHHS’ greatest contribution to the community and why?

JY: To Lake Highlands residents, their community is the “small town in the middle of a big city.” Many Lake Highlands families are on their third generation living in and attending schools in Lake Highlands. For newcomers, the sense of community is immediate. Many real estate agents say they get as much business from people moving elsewhere in Lake Highlands as they get from families trying to move into this neighborhood, and it’s no secret homebuyers want to move here. Retirees stay put. Their friends live up the street or a few blocks over.

Lake Highlands High School, right in the middle of “town,” sets the tone for this area with its all-community “tailgate” before a fall high school football game and its spring semester musical. This year, for the first time, a second generation LHHS student took part in Espree. Teachers attend everything at the high school, shop at the stores where their students work after-school jobs and see them at church or while walking their dog.

LHHS sends its graduates off to the very best universities across the nation as well as to the military, where they serve nobly, or on to specialized trade programs, where they excel, and to take part in humanitarian missions across the state and around the globe. It’s no wonder these young people move back “home.” Teachers and staff hold off retirement as long as possible – remember dear Rita Greenfield at the front desk – and come back for visits once they do.

LHA: Lake Highlands is undergoing a period of tremendous growth. How would you make room for students new to the neighborhood while keeping the “small town feel” that Lake Highlands families often cite, value, and have come to expect?

JY: My husband, Charles, and I have lived a total of more than 30 years in Lake Highlands. He was transferred from Dallas when our four children were young and transferred back in 1989. We moved back to Lake Highlands and stayed.

No one wants this area to remain an inviting community more than I do. My family has been welcomed here twice, after all. It’s clear we can’t do that without adding classrooms but adding space doesn’t mean losing touch with our core values of excellent education for all students, regardless of their life and career goals.

Community happens when we join together in meaningful pursuit. School carnivals, picnics, field days – and yes, Market in the Meadow at Forest Meadow Junior High – are where adults and their children carry on the tradition of community. We need to support our teachers, administrators and PTAs to do the programs and events that are important to students and families. This is where adults make lifelong friendships that keep them in Lake Highlands long after their children have left home.

That sense of community can be preserved and improved if we get neighbors whose children are off on their own back in the schools. Not every retiree wants to tutor, but some do. It’s time we tap into the greatest resource Lake Highlands and all of RISD has, our able-bodied, willing-of-spirit young retirees. Our parents who have “been there done that” are willing to do it again. But we need to ask.

LHA: During recent conversations about adding classrooms to some LH elementary schools, evidence of competitiveness among different neighborhoods (in the Advocate’s comments section and elsewhere). Do you have any ideas about uniting these groups, or are so-called “cross town rivalries” natural and/or harmless.

JY: I have had the opportunity to live on “both sides” of Lake Highlands, first on the LHJH side and now on the FMJH side. The annual football game between these two junior highs as they play for bragging rights is always a great night. And amazingly enough, these arch-rivals – whether players, band members or cheerleaders – come together once they get to the Freshman Center. And their parents do, too.

Parents might think one school or another, one “side of town” or another gets preferential treatment. I’ve been through the ups and downs of Lake Highlands long enough to know that parents are not angry about what others have, they just want to make sure their own children and their children’s classmates aren’t left behind. Thank goodness! In RISD, we have parents who are vigilant watchdogs over their children’s schools. Is this a problem? No. There are school districts that go so far as to offer parents gift cards to show up at a PTA meeting. Not a problem here.

Great ideas come from parents, the Lake Highlands Freshman Center being one example. As a school board member, I will remember that parents want what’s best for their own children but that doesn’t mean they don’t want what is best for other children as well. The parents I talk with don’t see this in terms of winners and losers. They want all schools, teachers and students to be winners. It’s my job as a trustee to ensure that happens.

LHA: What is one characteristic or trait that has best served you—personally and professionally—and which will best equip you for this role?

JY: Being a mom is a unique walk, and every mom walks it differently. Charles and I have four adult children and six grandchildren. Among all these kids, young and old, I have learned that most issues have lots of sides, not just two, and that most conflicts probably started with a seed of justification. I’m experienced enough to know there is no one right way for a child to learn and there is seldom one event that will ruin a child’s life forever.

I am an ordained minister and hold my doctorate in ministry from Brite Divinity School at TCU. It’s an interesting career choice for a mom of four kids to go back to divinity school, I’ll admit, but in all my studies I have found that it is the action of a few that can make profound differences for many. An encouragement, a gentle word, a listening ear can move mountains and change a life forever. I tutored a child at Moss Haven Elementary through fourth, fifth and sixth grade and told him, if he continued with his hard work, he could go to college. “Mrs. Yarbrough, my brother is an auto mechanic and that’s what I want to do, too,” he told me. He had a plan and it was a good one. We all need to start listening to each other and celebrating what’s in their hearts, not what’s in our heads.

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Kristin Kuhne

Kristin Kuhne

Kristin Kuhne, PhD, describes herself as an RISD graduate with a doctorate in education policy, currently working as a researcher, who has two children in RISD schools. Kristin says she wants to ensure all RISD students receive an excellent education that enables them to achieve their highest potential.

LHA: Lake Highlands High School is celebrating its 50th anniversary. What do you consider LHHS’ greatest contribution to the community and why?

KK: The strength of a community can be measured by the level of community engagement, economic/workforce conditions, educational environment and cultural and athletic opportunities. As a focal point for community activities, Lake Highlands High School has contributed positively to each of these areas for many years. As far as LHHS’ greatest contribution to the community, I’d point to the number of LHHS graduates, some of whom are second and even third generation Wildcats, who have chosen to return to the community to raise their families, conduct business, and continue the legacy of community involvement that has been the hallmark of Lake Highlands for decades.  This is a true testament to the impact the high school has had on the community for the last 50 years.  Whether it’s the countless volunteer hours spent in the school, the college scholarships offered by organizations such as the LH Exchange Club and Women’s League, or the fans cheering for Wildcat athletic and fine arts performances, LHHS gives people motivation and opportunity to become engaged and involved with their neighbors and serves as a visible cornerstone of the community.

LHA: Lake Highlands is undergoing a period of tremendous growth. How would you make room for students new to the neighborhood while keeping the “small-town feel” that Lake Highlands families often cite, value and have come to expect?

KK: The revitalization of many RISD neighborhoods is a positive trend that reflects the strength of our schools, yet presents “growing pains” that require thoughtful consideration.  Neighborhood schools are highly valued by RISD residents.  It will be critical to me as a board member to ensure that this value is considered in choices made about school expansion.  These decisions require a great deal of research, both evaluating numbers and talking to stakeholders.  Given my background as research analyst, it is imperative to me that the board’s decision making process includes time to gather and consider all the relevant facts and community input in order to craft long-term, sustainable solutions that best meet the needs of our students and families.  As your trustee I will seek to ensure thorough research is conducted and that all voices are heard in a meaningful way.

Many schools in RISD, both large and small, successfully provide a “small-town feel” to their students and families. By learning about best practices from these schools, we can enable administrators, parents and community leaders to sustain the tight community that Lake Highlands’ families have come to expect.

LHA: During the recent conversations about adding classrooms to some LH elementary schools, evidence of competitiveness among different neighborhoods within LH emerged (in the Advocate’s comments section and elsewhere). Do you have any ideas about uniting these groups, or are so-called “cross-town rivalries” natural and/or harmless?

KK: My husband and I graduated from Richardson High School and our sons are attending Pearce High School, so I have personal experience with “cross-town rivalries”. While healthy competition between schools can be harmless, extreme positions of “us vs. them” tear at the fabric of a community and take the focus off our common goal of an excellent education for all students. As a leader on the school board, my focus will be on uniting us behind this common goal by encouraging schools to learn from each other and collaborate.  In my work with school districts across the state, I have seen how powerful this type of collaboration can be. There are already great examples of this in the Lake Highlands community; from events like “Hoops in the Highlands” to outdoor learning centers, LH neighbors are already sharing ideas and resources and having fun working together. PTAs or other community based organizations can create even more opportunities for schools to learn from each other by sponsoring events where schools can address challenges and successes, providing forums where parents, administrators and teachers can ask questions like “Which schools have great attendance at PTA events and why?” or “Which schools offer unique extracurricular activities and how are they funding those?” Opportunities like these build understanding and foster relationships that can be built upon when those students are Wildcats together at LHHS. Ultimately, we’re all on the same team. We’re all RISD and we’re in it for our kids.

LHA: What is one characteristic or trait that has best served you – personally and professionally – and which will best equip you for this role?

KK: One distinguishing characteristic that has served me well in my life is my analytical nature.  I will examine all sides of an issue thoroughly and seek out multiple sources of information before drawing a conclusion.  My analytical nature does not spring from a cold and calculating place, but rather from a curiosity about life and a love of learning that was nurtured during my years as an RISD student.  After earning my doctorate in education policy, I became a researcher because I wanted to understand the relationship between what we put into public education and how those efforts impact students, and then use that knowledge to improve public education.  I have dedicated my career and life to that mission and I am eager to bring my knowledge and expertise to serve RISD.

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Rachel Chumney

Rachel Chumney

Rachel Chumney describes herself as the mother of three children enrolled in RISD, an impassioned advocate for public education and a career volunteer, dedicating much of her time to educational issues at the local and state level.

LHA: Lake Highlands High School is celebrating its 50th anniversary. What do you consider LHHS’ greatest contribution to the community and why?

RC: The impact LHHS has made on its students and community over the past 50 years is immeasurable, and I’m quite sure the greatest contribution has been the quality education provided to 50 years of students! LHHS’ contributions, however, go much deeper. LHHS is an enduring positive symbol for the community and demonstrates what can be achieved when great students and committed educators have the passionate and continual support of invested residents. Whether it’s fine arts performances, sporting events or other extra-curricular activities, LHHS is a focal point and entertainment destination for residents and engenders a strong sense of community. Strong property values in Lake Highlands and the valuable support of the business community are directly tied to the quality education and character of LHHS and Lake Highlands neighborhood schools. If elected, I’ll do my best to make sure our Board continues to recognize this important connection, and my goal as a trustee will be to ensure that our schools are the number one reason why families and businesses choose to join our community.

LHHS is much more than just an excellent high school. I have been so impressed with the strong commitment of LHHS and its alumni to “giving back” to the community. I’ve witnessed LHHS’ heartfelt generosity firsthand by participating in “Malik Madness,” an ongoing effort to support Merriman Park student, Malik Little (who was recently diagnosed with lymphoma).

While alumni, students and community members celebrate this anniversary and fondly reminisce on memories made at LHHS, it’s also a great time to look to the future and set a vision for the next 50 years! There is so much all of RISD can learn from LHHS and its community. If elected, I’ll make sure we do our best to follow the amazing example set by LHHS and the Lake Highlands community.

LHA: Lake Highlands is undergoing a period of tremendous growth. How would you make room for students new to the neighborhood while keeping the “small-town feel” that Lake Highlands families often cite, value and have come to expect?

RC: I am a proponent of the neighborhood school concept. High quality neighborhood schools can have the biggest positive impact on our children’s education and our home values. RISD is currently taking steps to accommodate students in the areas experiencing the most growth by expanding schools so that students can attend their neighborhood school. It’s ironic, but the “small-town feel” (along with the excellent reputation of RISD) is what attracts families to Lake Highlands, and drives this tremendous growth. Preserving these qualities may seem difficult, but the Lake Highlands community has successfully created a small-town feel (in a not-so-small-town) through its strong neighborhoods and community involvement. I am confident the Lake Highlands community, with a proactive Board of Trustees, will do all it can to maintain this feel, despite population growth.

To preserve its excellent reputation, RISD must continue to ensure a quality education to its growing student body. It’s critical that leaders in RISD understand and value the expectations of Lake Highlands residents and formulate a strategic long-term vision accordingly. If elected, I will ensure that the voice of parents and residents is given great weight during vision setting and decision-making. I believe we can best achieve the perfect balance of providing a quality education to our growing student population (while maintaining a “small-town feel”) by engaging parents and residents, and giving them a voice in decisions that directly impact them.

LHA: During the recent conversations about adding classrooms to      some LH elementary schools, evidence of competitiveness among different neighborhoods within LH emerged (in the Advocate’s comments section and elsewhere). Do you have any ideas about uniting these groups, or are so-called “cross-town rivalries” natural and/or harmless?

RC: I do think cross-town rivalries are natural within any given community. This is perhaps the very essence of a strong community. This “competitiveness” is a result of residents who are invested and take pride in their neighborhoods (and undoubtedly take great pride in their larger communities as well). Impassioned debate is common when change occurs in strong communities. Active citizens want what’s best for their respective neighborhoods. While some may be more progressive and open to change, others may be more cautious and concerned with the uncertain impact on their treasured neighborhood schools. I would choose impassioned debate, and perhaps a little cross-town rivalry, over indifference any day. At the end of the day, however, we must recognize and capitalize on the fact that we are all striving for the same goal – to provide a premier education to our children and to preserve and enhance strong home values that result from excellent schools.

LHA: What is one characteristic or trait that has best served you – personally and professionally – and which will best equip you for this role?

RC: I have many qualities that have served me personally and professionally, and I believe all of them will make me an effective trustee. However, if I had to choose just one, it would be “creativity.” I’m an out-of-the-box thinker and full of ideas. I’m great at finding creative ways to implement ideas and solve problems. The Board of Trustees sets the vision for RISD and is charged with making many difficult decisions. I’m confident that my fresh ideas and creative problem solving will be great assets to the Board. Due to my community volunteerism and involvement, many of our community leaders have come to know me well and have witnessed my dedication and ability. I feel my tendency to “see possibilities” that others may not see, is one of many reasons the Mayor of Richardson, Laura Maczka, Councilman and former Mayor, Steve Mitchell, Councilman, Paul Voelker and many more RISD leaders and residents have endorsed my candidacy.

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Bonnie Abadie

Bonnie Abadie

Bonnie Abadie describes herself as a mother, wife, small business owner and advocate for gifted and bright children who has taught special needs children in the district as a long-term sub, as well as teaching elementary children on a day to day basis.

LHA: Lake Highlands High School is celebrating its 50th anniversary. What do you consider LHHS’ greatest contribution to the community and why?

BA: LHHS has consistently offered exceptional education opportunities for developing future leaders within their community and beyond. It is the center of Lake Highlands, providing extra-curricular activities open to the community. Past principals in Lake Highlands have even been called “mayor.”  This support of public education makes Lake Highlands one of the most desirable neighborhoods in Dallas and in the Richardson ISD.

LHA: Lake Highlands is undergoing a period of tremendous growth. How would you make room for students new to the neighborhood while keeping the “small-town feel” that Lake Highlands families often cite, value and have come to expect?

BA: The Lake Highlands community has come together in an incredible way in supporting its schools during this period of growth, and that support will continue. It is an exciting period for Lake Highlands, and it is important for the Richardson ISD to listen to the voices of existing residents to meet the needs of the families served by our schools.

An important option to consider is the addition of more magnet schools to the district.  Currently, Lake Highlands families only have one option of the three Richardson ISD magnet schools to attend, and Lake Highlands deserves more options.  I feel adding another magnet school in addition to allowing these families the opportunity to attend all magnet schools will help alleviate some of the overcrowding. I raised this issue at a chamber of commerce education presentation, and Tony Harkleroad indicated that magnets are a matter to be considered with the 2016 bond election. As a member of the Board of Trustees, I would ensure that the interests of Lake Highlands residents are considered in Richardson ISD school planning.

LHA: During the recent conversations about adding classrooms to some LH elementary schools, evidence of competitiveness among different neighborhoods within LH emerged (in the Advocate’s comments section and elsewhere). Do you have any ideas about uniting these groups, or are so-called “cross-town rivalries” natural and/or harmless?

BA: Rivalries are a natural part of human nature and our PTAs and other community groups help make each school strong and unique. When it comes to the actual education of our students, however, the TEKS are the same across the state. The curriculum is the same throughout RISD and it is the job of the Board of Trustees to ensure that no matter which school families attend, students will get the same quality education. I do feel, however, that we as a district need to raise the bar when it comes to educating our students. As a substitute teacher in the district, I have seen different strategies used at the different schools. It is critical for schools to communicate, to brainstorm, and to share successful strategies with other RISD schools so that everyone benefits. In ensuring that the interests of Lake Highlands are considered in RISD planning, neighborhood and PTA groups can coordinate to share feedback with the district regarding shared interests and concerns. All Lake Highlands neighborhoods are valuable to LHHS and to the Richardson ISD.

LHA:  What is one characteristic or trait that has best served you – personally and professionally – and which will best equip you for this role?

BA: Again, as a substitute teacher throughout the district, I have seen many different things. Recently, I have been reading Carol Dweck’s book, Mindsets. In it, she talks about Jack Welch, the CEO of General Electric. “He’d go directly to the front-line employee to figure out what was going on.”  I have learned so much as a substitute just from listening to the teachers and interacting with our students. I think the administrators have much to learn from their teachers, the front-line employees.

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Justin Bono

Justin Bono

Justin Bono describes himself as a Lake Highlands resident who has his own residential real estate development company.  Mr. Bono and his wife Debbie, a 1994 JJ Pearce graduate, have two daughters (ages 8 and 5) in RISD schools.

LHA: Lake Highlands High School is celebrating its 50th anniversary. What do you consider LHHS’ greatest contribution to the community and why?

JB: Lake Highlands High School is the hub of the community.  Having grown up in a small town, Lake Highlands is my small town within the big city where everything revolves around our great schools.  There are very few places in the metroplex like Lake Highlands.  I am thankful that our leaders 50 years ago had a long term vision to do something different in Lake Highlands from what was being done in the rest of the City of Dallas at the time.  I am sure that making the decision to align with RISD wasn’t a popular decision for all.  However, we had real leaders with real vision for what a special place Lake Highlands could be.  Thanks in large part to that vision, we have a community that remains defined by the attendance zone of a school.  However, without 50 years of quality education, this solidarity and true community feel would have fractured long ago.  I am thankful to have the opportunity to play a part in continuing this tradition as we begin the next 50 years in Lake Highlands.

LHA: Lake Highlands is undergoing a period of tremendous growth. How would you make room for students new to the neighborhood while keeping the “small-town feel” that Lake Highlands families often cite, value and have come to expect?

JB: I like to look on the bright side – what a great “problem” to have to solve.  The fact that more and more people continue to come to Lake Highlands to take advantage of our great schools and great community is a welcome challenge to tackle.  Most importantly, it is critical to ensure we have as much information as possible and make informed decisions.  We need to ensure we have reliable demographic information, solid financial and logistical data relative to all possible options, and most importantly, community input.  I believe in listening to the community on these issues – no one knows more about the dynamics of individual neighborhoods than those who live there.  I would keep all options on the table and work to build consensus around a solution that balances the goals of the neighborhoods, the community and RISD as a whole.  However, one size may not fit all in this situation.  These will be difficult decisions that require a long term vision.  My real estate background will add value to this process.  Determining the best way forward relative to this growth is not unlike the evaluation of real estate projects that I look at every day.  Most importantly, though, I’ll be an advocate for Lake Highlands families and the community and will work tirelessly to make the best decision possible.

LHA: During the recent conversations about adding classrooms to some LH elementary schools, evidence of competitiveness among different neighborhoods within LH emerged (in the Advocate’s comments section and elsewhere). Do you have any ideas about uniting these groups, or are so-called “cross-town rivalries” natural and/or harmless?

JB: My perspective is that any competitiveness between neighborhoods that is out there exists within a very small minority.  My personal experiences in Lake Highlands tell me that we have a united community that wants what is best for Lake Highlands as a whole.  My work with the Exchange Club brings together over 150 people from around the community working as a whole.  At my recent campaign kickoff event, I was honored to have 15 young families as sponsors of that event that came from 6 different elementary school zones across Lake Highlands.  They were there because they are united behind the idea that leadership for our community overall benefits each of their neighborhoods and schools.  Furthermore, in the coming year, Moss Haven and Merriman Park have signed on to do a joint chili cookoff fundraiser benefitting both PTAs.  Hoops in the Highlands and other events do this for other schools as well.  I believe that proactive communication on important issues in our community is essential to get our residents to a consensus.  The people that I have talked with who were unhappy with the classroom additions were most unhappy with the communication process.  Lake Highlands has always had a great history of proactive communication with the community relative to big decisions and I will make communication a cornerstone of my service on the RISD Board of Trustees.

LHA: What is one characteristic or trait that has best served you – personally and professionally – and which will best equip you for this role?

JB: My business, accounting, and finance background will be an asset to the board.  I have managed budgets on the same scale as RISD both in good and bad economic times, and will bring my experience in making difficult decisions, consensus building, and operational excellence to this role.  Facing changes every two years from our state legislature, a pending decision on school finance litigation, and continued complex financial and operational decisions requires someone with significant experience dealing with similar issues.  The perspective that I have gained from operating a variety of businesses and solving problems on a daily basis will align very well with the challenges to be met as a member of the RISD board.  After all, finding the best solutions to such challenges is what allows us to continue to ensure that we provide a first class education to ALL students, capitalizing on their gifts and helping overcome their own challenges.

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