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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. 

45 Episodes
"One of the things that I hope people are hearing is how much planning and thought goes in to decisions around inclement weather... safety is really what we're looking at. We know it's an inconvenience if we have to cancel school, but if it's not safe to come to school because of the weather, we're going to cancel every single time." - Dr. Tonya Merrigan, Superintendent You might have heard the saying "If you don't like the weather in Kansas, wait a few minutes." The unpredictability of the KC climate can keep us here at Blue Valley up at night - literally. No matter when the snow starts falling, our grounds crews and custodians are hard at work plowing parking lots and shoveling sidewalks. In this episode of BV unmuted, Superintendent Dr. Tonya Merrigan and Executive Director of Operations Jake Slobodnik break down the planning process for how the school district prepares for inclement weather. 
"It's amazing the number of cyber attacks that come in from outside. We've weathered those very well and it's because we have great systems and up-to-date equipment... Bond funds allow us to refresh this technology, ensure a high level of access for our kids, and maintain our network systems so it's a safe experience." - Kelly Ott, Director of Curriculum, Instruction and InnovationTechnology is everywhere. And here at Blue Valley Schools, keeping our technology safe and accessible is a priority. In this episode of BV unmuted, Chief Communications Officer Kristi McNerlin joins Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Innovation Kelly Ott to explain how Bond 2023 funds can allow us to update student and staff technology to ensure a safe learning environment for all. 
"We try to make all our security measures work together - put them together like a puzzle - so they offer the best protection for our students and staff." -  Dan Carney, Director of Safety and Security There is no single safety measure that will keep Blue Valley safe. But there are many layers of security that, when used effectively, can continue to reduce the risk of injury and violence. This episode about Bond 2023 deals with safety, as Chief Communications Officer Kristi McNerlin talks with Director of Safety and Security Dan Carney about this "security puzzle" and how the efforts to reduce risk never stop. 
"I think most people are surprised when they hear that the average age of Blue Valley buildings is 29 years... If you have owned a home, you've probably had to replace a roof or an air conditioner... This bond helps us do that." Jake Slobodnik, Executive Director of Operations As Blue Valley grows and our buildings age, we need to find ways to build new schools and fix existing facilities. Bond 2023 is a chance to make this happen. In this episode, Chief Communications Officer Kristi McNerlin breaks down the bond with Deputy Superintendent Kyle Hayden, Executive Director of Finance Jeremy McFadden and Executive Director of Operations Jake Slobodnik. They talk about how school bonds work and how students and staff will benefit from new and refurbished facilities. 
"When you walk in to Leawood Elementary, you're going to see so many familiar faces because it's our parents who have stepped up and are in here helping us day after day." - Jenny Hayes, principal at Leawood ElementaryIt's one thing to build a school building, but it's an entirely different task to build a school community and culture. In our first BV Unmuted podcast of the 2022-23 school year, Superintendent Dr. Tonya Merrigan asks three of our rockstar principals - Leawood Elementary's Jenny Hayes, Oxford Middle's Courtney Domoney, and Blue Valley Southwest's Dr. Tyler Alexander - what they and their staff do to build a positive school culture and how parents and the community can help get involved. 
"I'm looking forward to meeting my new teachers and classmates... and I'm also looking forward to my elective classes and joining clubs in middle school." - Amber Gao, 5th grade student For many students, the end of the school year is also the end of an era. Our 5th grade and 8th grade kiddos will be moving up to middle school and high school, while our 12th graders will be moving on to new adventures outside of the district. In our final episode of the BV unmuted 2021-22 season, Superintendent Dr. Tonya Merrigan chats with 5th grader Amber Gao, 8th grader Sami Sandler, and 12th grader Matt Lancaster about these transitions and asks what advice they have for students who will be starting classes at the schools they are leaving. 
"I think the lifeblood of our school system is the athletics and activities side of things... it's an important aspect of the development of our kids. It's learning how to work with others and have big wins or big defeats because that's life. We're teaching them life lessons on a daily basis." - Anthony Orrick, head football coach at BVSW. Athletics and activities provide opportunities to nearly 75 percent of the entire student population in Blue Valley high schools and thousands of middle school students each year. In this episode of BV unmuted, Superintendent Dr. Tonya Merrigan "huddles" with Director of Athletics and Activities Matt Ortman, as well as Blue Valley coaches Jess Horstick, Anthony Orrick, and Matt Shulman. The conversation dives into how all the teams and clubs serve as environments beyond the classroom in which thousands of Blue Valley students can grow and find their interests and passions. 
"I get to see my fifth graders every single day... and that means they retain what we do really well. I had a fifth grader tell me 'I just want you to know that I look forward to this class all day!' and I replied 'Well, that's really cool, because we get to do it again tomorrow!'" - Michael Arbucci, strings teacher Blue Valley’s performing arts program is one place where students can find a home. It has multiple arms including band, orchestra (strings), choir, theater, debate and competitive speaking. During this episode of BV unmuted, Executive Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Innovation Kelly Ott hosts a discussion with District Coordinator of Performing Arts Janelle Brower, strings teacher Michael Arbucci, and band teacher Lindsay Gamble. They describe the opportunities available to students and how performing arts can benefit kids while they are in school and for the rest of their lives as well.For a transcript of this episode, click here. 
"We need to be careful to be consumers of technology, but not let technology consume us." - Heather Jones, Blue Valley parentThe internet is a wonderful place for learning and entertainment, but like the world around us, it can pose dangers if precautions are not taken. Through digital citizenship, Blue Valley students learn how to responsibly use technology to learn anytime, anywhere, and how to stay safe while doing so. In this episode of BV unmuted, Executive Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Innovation Kelly Ott and Director of Blended Learning Brad Moser join Blue Valley parents Heather and Michael Jones to discuss ways to help keep your kids safe while online, as well as their hopes for the future of digital citizenship. For more information, visit 
The Learning Connection will be a resource for all families, from those with children entering early learning to those with graduating seniors. The resource allows Blue Valley to engage with the community on a regular basis and serve as an additional platform to expand families’ knowledge about the district’s learning and teaching initiatives and operations. In this episode of BV unmuted, Executive Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Innovation Kelly Ott visits with Director of Career-Ready Programs Adam Wessel and BVN junior Cameron King. They focus on the opportunities available to students in the area of Career-Ready Programs, including Cameron's experience in studying Welding and Metal Fabrication.
"I think with all of the arts, it's learning to perform and to handle performance anxiety, which is a natural anxiety to have... that's normal. So normalizing that anxiety and having a professional who knows how to help you with that and coach you through that. That's an amazing skill to have because we all face that in life." - Janelle Brower, Performing Arts Coordinator In this episode of BV unmuted, Superintendent Dr. Tonya Merrigan talks all things "arts" with Speech and Drama teacher Reed Uthe, Debate teacher and coach Ryan McFarland, as well as Performing Arts Coordinator Janelle Brower. They chat about the amazing performing arts opportunities that Blue Valley offers, as well as how the arts benefit students and staff alike. For a transcript of this episode, click here. 
"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 
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