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The Blue Valley Schools Podcast
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The Blue Valley Schools Podcast

Author: Dr. Tonya Merrigan & District Staff

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This podcast is your window into the work happening behind the scenes of Blue Valley Schools. Superintendent Dr. Tonya Merrigan, along with our amazing district leaders, will host a variety of guests to talk about a variety of subjects. It's a conversation about what we're doing here at Blue Valley Schools and how we're striving to make every day a #BVBestDay for our students, staff and community.
31 Episodes
"This is a year, if you will, of recovery. There may be times that our curriculum calls for certain skills to be taught. But we may realize... that our students aren't quite ready for that content. We're trying to communicate the need to slow down and back up." - Dr. Katie Collier, Deputy Superintendent. Sometimes, it's important to slow down before you speed up. This is especially important in addressing the needs of Blue Valley students as they recover from the effects of the pandemic. In this episode of BV unmuted, Superintendent Dr. Tonya Merrigan visits with Deputy Superintendent Dr. Katie Collier and Director of Academic Achievement and Accountability Adam Wade. They discuss the efforts of our teachers and administrators as they connect with students to grow their minds and their hearts during this year of recovery. For a transcript of this episode, click here. 
"Quite frankly, I've worked in this community for 30 years and I've never seen anything like it - people coming together, for a common cause, led by students." - Tim DeWeese, Director of Johnson County Mental Health Center. Our 2021-22 season of BV unmuted starts off with one of the most important topics out there - student mental health. Blue Valley seniors and #ZeroReasonsWhy members Anna Hamilton and Esha Parikh join Director of Johnson County Mental Health Center Tim DeWeese and Blue Valley Schools Superintendent Dr. Tonya Merrigan. They discuss the importance of storytelling and community mobilization campaigns to remove the stigma of mental health and prevent teen suicide.For more information on #ZeroReasonsWhy, visit If you or a loved one need or want help, someone is always here for you. Call 913-268-0156 to speak with professionals who care about you - 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For a transcript of this episode, click here
"I'm excited to get everybody back for sporting events and all that stuff. I'm really excited to get back to the normalcy of school. I feel like everyone deserves to have that high school experience." - Gage Roach, junior at Blue Valley West. We close out our third season of the Blue Valley Schools podcast with a look back at a school year unlike any other. Three BV high school students - BVNW senior Emma Johnson, BVW junior Gage Roach, and BVSW senior Karthik Sathish - join Superintendent Dr. Tonya Merrigan in an honest conversation about their experiences with virtual and hybrid learning, life as a student amid a pandemic, and their hopes for the future. For a transcript of this episode, click here
"With COVID-19, you get exposed and may not have symptoms for up to 14 days. You can spend 14 days potentially exposing everyone wherever you go. With the flu, often times it's only 2 days from when you get exposed to when you show symptoms and get sick." - Jenna Miller, MD, FAAP We've had a lot of questions from our listeners about the differences between COVID-19 and the seasonal flu. In this episode, we answer a lot of those questions. Blue Valley's Dr. Chris Jenson is joined by Jenna Miller, MD, FAAP, from Children's Mercy to discuss how these viruses can affect us, the amount of time they can continue to affect us, and how the vaccines are produced to stop them. 
"We've had a lot of great questions from our parents, students and staff regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and these questions are important... We wanted to hit them head-on and share the results with you." - Dr. Chris Jenson, Blue Valley Medical Consultant When circumstances are changing fast, sometimes you've got to change gears. That's why we've teamed up with Blue Valley's very own Dr. Chris Jenson in a podcast series we're calling "On Call with Doc. J." Dr. Jenson is a former ER doctor, a Blue Valley teacher, and is currently serving the district as our Blue Valley Medical Consultant. Over the next few weeks, Dr. Jenson will invite local and regional health experts to answer questions about the coronavirus pandemic. Our goal is to work through these topics with you, keep you informed, and let you know what Blue Valley is doing to help keep our students, staff and community safe. For more information, visit the BV COVID Dashboard. 
"We need to ensure staffing needs are met, we need to look at master schedules, and we're going to go hand-by-hand through all of our student's schedules to make sure things are right. In order to get all of that done and still give our staff a winter break, we need time to get that accomplished." - Kelly Ott, Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Innovation The deadline is quickly approaching for families and students to change their learning mode selection for second semester. In this episode of BV unmuted, Superintendent Dr. Tonya Merrigan joins Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Innovation Kelly Ott to inform families about the learning mode choices available, changes being made for the second semester, and why the deadline for selection is important. The deadline to make changes to a student's learning mode is November 16, 2020. If no changes are made, the student will continue to learn in the same mode they selected for first semester. For more information and to make changes to your learning mode selection, visit and click "Back To School". For a transcript of this episode, click here 
"We don't need to be perfect. Every moment isn't going to be Instagram-able. What is it that we can do so that when our head hits the pillow at the end of the day, we as parents can say 'Hey - that was hard, but we did it.' " - Tracy Foster, Co-Founder of START In this episode of BV unmuted, Superintendent Dr. Tonya Merrigan invites our District Coordinator of Student Support Services Tara Walrod, along with START co-founders Krista Boan and Tracy Foster, to talk about helping our kids manage their screen time in a year when their devices are more important than ever before. The goal is to help all students have healthy habits when learning on their devices, while also feeling safe, sane, and seen during this unprecedented school year.  For more information on START, visit For a transcript of this episode, click here 
"Trust your gut. We are facing so many changes and there are so many different ways that our kids are under stress. If you, as a parent, just have that sense that something doesn't feel quite right, please reach out to us." - Karen Mulligan, Social Worker Manager The challenges of this upcoming school year are unprecedented - and while that may feel like an understatement, it is simply accurate. In this episode of BV Unmuted, Superintendent Dr. Tonya Merrigan visits with District Coordinator of Student Support Services Tara Walrod, Social Worker Manager Karen Mulligan, and School Psychologist Emily Demo. The panel talks about how staff can build relationships with students whether they are learning in-person or online, as well as how to help parents recognize the signs of stress in their children and when to get them help. For a transcript of this episode, click here
"This is a pandemic. I've never been a superintendent before, but I've certainly never been a superintendent in a pandemic. I've never been an educator in a pandemic. It's going to take all of us - working together - to ensure that we have a safe, sound and sincere quality of education for our Blue Valley students." - Dr. Tonya Merrigan, Blue Valley Schools Superintendent In our inaugural episode of BV unmuted, Superintendent Dr. Tonya Merrigan joins a team of Blue Valley educators on the front lines of making sure our students can return to learn. Deputy Superintendent Katie Collier shares our strategies to provide safe and secure in-person learning for students in our school buildings. Director of Facilities and Operations Jake Slobodnik explains the tireless efforts to ensure clean classrooms and facilities for all students and staff. And our Executive Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Innovation Kelly Ott dives in to the vast details of our virtual learning option for students who plan on going to school online. While we make every effort to address the concerns of our entire Blue Valley community, we understand that many people may still have questions about the 2020-21 school year. Feel free to call the Back to School hotline at 913-239-4045 from 7:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday with questions not addressed on the district’s Back to School website, For a transcript of this episode, click here 
"If we're going to be ready for students in August, we need to get back to some semblance of normal - but the new normal is going to look very different." - Dr. Tonya Merrigan, Incoming Superintendent For our team here at Blue Valley Schools, it feels like a lifetime since we shared our last podcast with you and, in some ways, it has been. Some things will be the same after the COVID-19 pandemic passes and some things will change. But one thing that will never waver is our commitment to the health and wellbeing of our students and staff. In this episode of Toddcast², Superintendent Dr. Todd White talks with Incoming Superintendent Dr. Tonya Merrigan, BVSW Science Teacher Chris Jenson, M.D., and District Nurse Coordinator Tara Asher, RN, about our progress during the pandemic. The conversation includes our process for closing out the current school year, our work we have planned for this summer, and reopening our schools and buildings for the 2020-21 school year. 
"I have parents tell me that their children are coming home and teaching them about what is happening in the classroom... the parents can see the progress the children are making and that we are establishing a love of reading for them." - Alaina Talley, reading specialist at Heartland Elementary In this episode of Toddcast², we continue our conversation about literacy in the classroom. Reading specialist Alaina Talley and second grade teacher Julie McInerney share their strategies for supporting students with dyslexia and how staff are using their literacy training to help all students succeed. 
"Students leaving our system, prepared for the world in which they will live and be citizens, is largely based on being literate - being able to read and meet the demands of whatever the future holds for them." - Jennifer Luzenske, Director of Curriculum and Instruction From the building blocks of reading and writing, to the integration of content and discipline, literacy is at the heart of learning. In this episode of Toddcast², Superintendent Dr. Todd White visits with Director of Curriculum and Instruction Jennifer Luzenske about the structured literacy approach here at Blue Valley Schools. Topics include everything from literacy fluency and comprehension for students, specialized training for staff, and even the addition of a Dyslexia Coordinator to make sure we are addressing the needs of all students. 
"The careers that are available to students who have an associates degree have doubled over the last several years. At the same time, in the last 20 years, the cost of going to college has risen at a rate that is 19 times higher than the annual family living wage." - Katie Bonnema, Director of Career-Ready Programs. Blue Valley strives to provide learners with the knowledge and skills they need to be prepared for college and careers. In this latest episode of Toddcast², Superintendent Dr. Todd White speaks with Director of Career-Ready Programs Katie Bonemma about current and future opportunities students will have to learn real-world skills and practical knowledge with a career focus. 
"When we think about reimagining our spaces, we first and foremost think about what it means to be a student this day and age in Blue Valley. We often say that we're preparing our students for their tomorrows, not our yesterdays."- Katie Collier, Chief Learning Officer With any bond election, it's important to understand how those funds benefit our students, staff and the entire Blue Valley community. In this episode of Toddcast², Superintendent Dr. Todd White visits with Chief Learning Officer Katie Collier about how bond dollars are essential to ensuring the success and safety of our students and staff, as well as the process for submitting your mail-in ballot for this no tax rate increase bond election. 
"We'll also be reinvesting in mechanical, plumbing and electrical needs - the things people don't talk about until they need it. You want that stuff to work. We don't want leaky roofs or rooms that are too hot or too cold - that's important and we're going to invest in those things." - Kyle Hayden, Chief Finance and Operations Officer The Blue Valley community will have an opportunity to invest in facilities, safety and technology through an upcoming bond election. In this episode of Toddcast², Superintendent Dr. Todd White speaks with Chief Finance and Operations Officer Kyle Hayden about how the dollars from this no tax rate increase bond election would help Blue Valley Schools to reinvest, reinforce and reimagine. 
"We're up to 16 states that have at least one CAPS program. There's actually a program in Mumbai, India, that launched in August 2019 and is running an entrepreneurship strand of CAPS. It's meant a few nights where I've had to call them at 9pm because it's 8am out there, but it's working really well." - Corey Mohn, CAPS Executive Director As our Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS) celebrates it's 10 year anniversary, Superintendent Dr. Todd White sits down with their Executive Director Corey Mohn to talk about the accomplishments they've achieved thus far and what the future looks like for the CAPS Network. 
"On a snow day, why do we sometimes allow the kids to come in during the afternoon for activities? The basic reason is sometimes those weather conditions that prevented us from being able to go to school in the morning no longer exist in the afternoon and evening." - Lane Green, Director of School Administration We're talking activities and inclement weather on this episode of Toddcast². Superintendent Dr. Todd White and Director of School Administration Lane Green answer your questions about how we're keeping students safe no matter what Mother Nature throws our way. 
"With a lot of our employees coming from outside the Johnson County area, it's always a concern for us on mornings where there might be some slick spots. Even if it might not be so slick here in the metro area, getting those support staff to work safely is always a big concern for us." - Dr. Mike Slagle, Deputy Superintendent Winter is almost here, and with it comes winter weather. In this episode of Toddcast², Superintendent Dr. Todd White talks with Deputy Superintendent Dr. Mike Slagle about how they make the call during inclement weather to either have school, have a snow day, or implement the new two-hour late start. 
"Both our students and families will be able to see how a student is doing on a specific standard... so instead of just looking at writing, we can talk about how is your student doing with organizing their thoughts, developing a main idea, or even the basic conventions such as capital letters, periods and commas. We feel this will help our students and families know what is going really well, as well as the areas where we continue to practice, work and learn." - Jennifer Luzenske, Director of Curriculum and Instruction Elementary report cards are changing and the Toddcast² is here to tell you how, when and why. Director of Curriculum and Instruction Jennifer Luzenske chats with Blue Valley Schools Superintendent Dr. Todd White about what grade levels will see changes, as well as the need for these changes in order to best serve our students and families. 
"One thing I learned is some students aren't even exhaling the vape cloud any more - they're calling it 'zeroing' it. They swallow the vapor so there's no trace of it. The dangers of that in itself is just astounding to me." - David Stubblefield, Executive Director of Administration - High School We continue the conversation around the battle against vaping in this episode of Toddcast². Blue Valley Schools Superintendent Dr. Todd White discusses the district's efforts with Executive Director of High School Administration David Stubblefield. We also review some of the harmful chemicals that are found in vapes with medical professional and BVSW science teacher Dr. Chris Jenson. 
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