Kansas City, Kansas School Foundation for Excellence is proud to announce the 2022 Reasons to Believe Alumni Honorees:
Each year, 12 alumni are selected for inclusion in the Alumni Honor Roll and profiled as Reasons to Believe in the value of education and in the school district. These are individuals whose accomplishments showcase their incredible skills and life stories, highlighting their perseverance, hard work, and dedication. Their qualities exemplify to all of us why they are Reasons to Believe and inspirations to many.
Armando Villanueva, M.D.
Armando Villanueva, MD
J.C. Harmon High School – 2004
Dr. Armando Villanueva is a current Hospitalist physician at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, FL. He was born in a small town in Mexico named Tangancicuaro, in the state of Michoacan. He and his parents moved to the United States when he was 10 years old and settled in Kansas City, KS. He grew up in the Armourdale community and attended J.C. Harmon High School where he graduated as the valedictorian for the class in 2004. He then went to Johnson County Community College and subsequently transferred to UMKC where he graduated with Bachelor in Arts in Biology. He was accepted into the University of Kansas Medical School and graduated in 2015. He was accepted to the Mayo Clinic Internal Medicine residency program and graduated successfully as a leader in his class. During his time in medical school and residency, he focused his medical career interests in diversifying the medical field through exposure, mentoring and recruitment, as well as addressing health disparities, and lastly, his passion truly resides in teaching, where he enjoys bedside education to both medical professionals and patients. He currently takes care of patients in the hospital setting, is one of the core faculty members at Mayo Clinic Internal Medicine Residency program and has been bestowed the rank of Assistant Professor of Medicine through his previous research and educational endeavors. He considers Kansas city, Kansas his home and still where most of his family resides.
Eric Tyler Jr.
Eric Tyler Jr.
F.L. Schlagle High School - 2006
Eric Tyler Jr. was born July 8th, 1988 in KCK he is a alum of F.L. Schlagle High School Class of 2006 where he excelled in academics and athletics. Eric graduated high school with a 4.2 GPA ranking 2nd in his class, while being a Kansas City Star Scholar Athlete and Topeka Journal Academic All American recipient. Eric received All Conference and All Metro honors in football playing Wide Receiver and Cornerback for the Stallions and was a varsity letterer in track and basketball.
Eric attended Kansas University while graduating with a degree in Business Management and Leadership and concentration in Human Resources. At the KU School of Business, Eric served as the President of the Society of Human Resource Management and member of the Multicultural Business Scholars Program. In addition, at KU Eric played Safety on the Football Team that made history winning the Orange Bowl in 2007 and Insight Bowl in 2008. Eric received all Big 12 Academic Honors his Junior season.
After college Eric played Professional Arena Football for 2 seasons with the Kansas Koyotes and Lincoln Haymakers. Eric then transitioned his career path to Corporate America being a Sales and Recruitment Manager at Fortune 500 Company Altria for 8 years in Nebraska and Milwaukee. Eric and his family recently relocated back to KC where he serves as a HR Recruiter for KCKPS since 2019 making an impact in the district that helped mold and shape him.
To give back with his musical talent Eric is a Gospel Rap Artist founding E.T. Music LLC that has released 3 albums accumulating over 10 million streams worldwide delivering positive messages about God and faith with his music. Eric has a wife: Chasity and 2 children: Rylan and Amaya. Parents Eric Sr. and LaVeda Tyler both graduates of F.L. Schlagle.
Dr. Jennifer Collier
Interim Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Collier has served as an educator in Kansas City Public Schools for 22 years. She's been a teacher, assistant principal, principal, Chief Human Resource Officer and Deputy Superintendent. Dr. Collier earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kansas, a Master of Arts in education from Avila University and an Educational Specialist degree in Educational Leadership from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She received her doctoral degree in Educational Leadership from UMKC in 2018. A life-long learner, Dr. Collier has completed the National Institute of School Leaders (NISL) program and is a certified NISL trainer. She also received a certificate from the Harvard University School Turnaround Leaders Institute in 2019. Additionally, Dr. Collier is Professional of Human Resources (PHR) certified.
She is very passionate about education and believes that all children deserve access to a rigorous, equitable and culturally responsive education, as it has the power to unlock doors of experience, access and opportunities that would otherwise be closed. One of Dr. Collier’s most urgent academic goals is to ensure that KCPS students are proficient readers. She believes that literacy is a social justice issue and every child, no matter their race, social-economic status, zip code or education level of their parents, has the right to learn to read.
Dr. Collier delights in the opportunity to lead the district that she loves and has served over the last 22 years. She believes that KCPS’ best days are yet to come!
John Turner, Jr.
John Turner, Jr.
F.L. Schlagle High School - 1985
John Turner, Jr. is proud to be an “Original Dotte”, born and raised in Kansas City, KS.
He and his wife Angela have been married for 21 years and have a son, Jackson. John has a daughter, Crystal, and stepson, Tiawan, from his first marriage. He also has a grandson, Jaehlin, and step grandson, Malachi.
John’s mother, Jeanette, was a home maker and neighborhood mom. His father John Turner, Sr. was a Sergeant with the KCKPD. John is the youngest of six children. His oldest brother Harold is a retired police detective, his brother Herbert was an FBI agent, his sister Diane is a retired schoolteacher, his brother Joe is a pastor and his brother Mike is a police officer.
John attended Hazel Grove Elementary School, Coronado Junior High School and graduated from Schlagle High School, Class of 1985. Growing up, he can only remember wanting to be like his father. John began his service to this community immediately after graduating from high school, serving as a Police Cadet, 911 Operator and in various patrol officer positions. He earned an Associate in Arts Degree, Pre-Law from KCKCC and a Bachelor of Science Degree, Management/Accounting from Park College while working full time.
John’s main hobby is working in his yard, a passion he obtained from his father. His second passion is being a small business entrepreneur. He was a partner in an office cleaning service and currently owns rental property and a private security guard company.
Washington High School - 1998
Jonathan Landrum Jr., an award-winning writer, producer, and editor, was born and raised in Kansas City, Kansas. He attended Pleasant Green Baptist Church private school, Fairfax Elementary, Eisenhower Middle School and Washington High School, where he was a standout football player and reached the state tournament in shot put.
Landrum earned a football scholarship at Highland Community College in Kansas and went on to play two more years at Clark Atlanta University. He was a mean, hard-hitting fullback. Just ask his coaches.
Now, Landrum covers the entertainment industry for The Associated Press in Los Angeles. With nearly two decades of experience, he has become a driving force as a newsroom leader for The AP, the largest news organization in the world with a daily reach of more than three billion people worldwide.
Landrum regularly interviews A-list celebrities and top athletes ranging from Oprah Winfrey, Leonardo DiCaprio, Rihanna, Brad Pitt, Tyler Perry, Taylor Swift, Stephen Curry, Muhammad Ali, Scarlett Johansson and Denzel Washington.
From the red carpet to backstage, Landrum has covered some of the world’s biggest events including the Oscars, Grammys, Golden Globes, Emmys, and Super Bowl.
Before his stint in Los Angeles, Landrum originally carved out a niche in Atlanta covering the music, television, and film industry along with some sports for The AP. His work has appeared in 2,000 different media outlets including the New York Times, Yahoo, People, MTV, Billboard, ABC News and ESPN.
Landrum is one of the best storytellers in his industry. He covered Will Smith’s infamous slap of Chris Rock at the recent Oscars. He wrote about how Chadwick Boseman’s death left a saddening mark on a rough 2020. He wrote about the life and death of Nipsey Hussle along with the street art in Los Angeles that commemorated the rapper.
Sumner Academy of Arts and Science – 2006
Jordan Hobson, 33, currently lives in Hamburg, NJ and is a pilot for FedEx Express on the Boeing 777. Before getting hired at FedEx in September 2021 he was previously a Captain for United Airlines on the Airbus 319/320.
Jordan is a proud product of the Kansas City, KS public school system and graduated with honors as a full-International Baccalaureate student from Sumner Academy in 2006. He went on to attend Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, FL where he also graduated with honors in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in Professional Aeronautics and a Management Minor. While in attendance, Jordan not only obtained his degree, but also simultaneously obtained his Commercial Pilot’s License.
While the journey was at times challenging and required various sacrifices, Jordan feels a tremendous sense of accomplishment for having turned his life-long dream into a reality and feels most at home when he is in the air. He credits his family and friends for all their love and support, but especially his parents Paul & Karen Jones, for instilling in him a tremendous work ethic and high level of perseverance.
As if he doesn’t travel enough as a part of his job as a pilot, one of Jordan’s biggest hobbies is traveling and learning about and experiencing different cultures. So far, his most memorable trip was to Kenya where he celebrated his 30th birthday. He also enjoys watersports and going on walks and hikes with his 4-legged “son” Jayden, a 7-year-old Siberian Husky.
F.L. Schlagle High School - 1994
Karene Danielle Salaam is the eldest daughter of the late Ted S. and Velma Jones, and proud graduate of F. L. Schlagle High School. Karene graduated in 1994 in the top five of her class. While at F.L. Schlagle, Karene was a three-sport letterman in basketball, track and field, and volleyball. In addition to being a 4-time KSHSAA State Qualifier in Shot Put and a 3-year starter for the Lady Stallion basketball team, Karene, a gifted musician, blazed a trail as an exceptional violist. Earning recognition as a member of the KCK Honors Orchestra and the Kansas City Youth Symphony, Karene holds the distinction of being the first F.L. Schlagle Stallion to audition and be selected as a participant in the KMEA State Orchestra. Karene was also a member of the F.L. Schlagle National Honor Society, a KU Upward Bound Scholar, and an INROADS intern during her time at F.L. Schlagle.
Karene obtained her Master of Science in Engineering Management and Software Engineering from the University of Kansas. With 20 years of a combination of engineering, construction, and project management Karene confidently accepted every challenge, oftentimes, as the only female and/or as the only person of color represented. Karene leaned on her humble roots as a native of Kansas City, Kansas to fearlessly persevere. Karene worked on an array of diverse assignments and projects to improve water systems, building a new zoned earth and rock fill dam, competitive renewable energy zone, and fiber optics. Karene’s thesis was incorporated and implemented.
Karene serves faithfully in her local church. She has the pleasure of dual membership at Glad Tidings C.O.G.I.C (Hayward, CA) and Mt. Airy C.O.G.I.C. (Philadelphia, PA), serving in various positions with the Education Committee, Executive Hospitality, and the Youth Ministry. Karene takes great pride in working with the youth and encouraging students to take the road less traveled and to embrace STEAM.
Karene holds a Diamond Life Membership with Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., a private, not-for-profit organization whose purpose is to aid and support through established programs in local communities throughout the world.
Wyandotte High School – 1988
Lacey Law is a proud product of Kansas City, KS public schools and graduate of Wyandotte High School (Go Bulldogs)! At Wyandotte, she was involved in cheerleading, theater, and a member of the National Honor Society. Lacey went on to receive her bachelor’s from Kansas State University. While there, she was an active member of Ebony Theater Company, Black Student Union, United Black Voices and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Lacey later received her M.B.A. from MidAmerica Nazarene University.
While at K-State, she discovered her passion for working with youth through her work with the Upward Bound program. Over the years, she has volunteered at her church’s youth group (Kansas City Community Church), Kidzone’s summer program, KCK Freedom Schools, Urban Scholastic Center (USC) and Kansas Academy of Theatrical Arts (KATA). After joining the KCK Parents as Teachers program, Lacey help expand the teen parent support groups, by helping them to balance being students and young parents. Through this work, she encourages them to finish high school and beyond, as well as set goals for themselves and their children.
Lacey has worked with families and children for over twenty years. She is currently a Lead Parent Educator with the PAT program, promoting early childhood education, supporting family well-being and connecting families with resources to empower caregivers of young children, as well as coaching an incredible team of parent educators. Lacey and her husband, John, are proud parents of two adult children (Johnathan & Syonne) who are both graduates of F.L. Schlagle High School
Washington High School - 1988
Judge Rhonda K. Mason grew up in Kansas City, Kansas and graduated from Washington High School. She attended Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama where she received a B.A. in History and a minor in Communications. In 1996, she graduated with a Juris Doctorate degree from Washburn Law School in Topeka.
Judge Mason returned to Kansas City and began clerking for the Honorable Thomas H. Newton in the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Missouri and later became a prosecutor with the Jackson County, Missouri Prosecutors Office where she was promoted to Trial Team Leader. Realizing that she wanted to expand her career she accepted an attorney position with Allstate Insurance Company representing its policy holders. Later joining the law firm of Foland, Wickens, Eisfeilder, Roper and Hofer, she handled civil matters of all kinds.
After a few years, Judge Mason left the law firm and opened her own private law practice where she specialized in cases involving personal injuries, family law, probate law and criminal law. In 2011 Judge Mason accepted the position of Managing Attorney with Geico Insurance Company and was there until being appointed by Governor Sam Brownback in 2016 as a judge in the Johnson County, Kansas District Court. Bringing to the bench over 18 years of litigation experience. Judge Mason resides in Olathe, Kansas with her husband Scott and two sons Bryce and Aaron.
Wyandotte High School - 1966
Rick Werp was born in 1949 and grew up in the Strawberry Hill section of Kansas City, Kansas. Rick graduated from St. Anthony School and Wyandotte High in 1966, and the University of Kansas in 1979 with a BSEE. At KU Rick performed research and published a paper to help determine wind speed over oceans in the IEEE Journal of Oceanic Engineering.
Rick joined the Boeing Company in 1979 for 34 years until retirement in 2013. Rick has always taken lead roles on a wide variety of major projects at Boeing Wichita and later at Boeing Huntsville in Alabama. During the time in Wichita, Rick especially enjoyed working with Boeing B-52 experimental flight and SAC flight crews. Having flight test crews fly your procedures and experimental circuits in an eight-engine heavy bomber hugging the ground at full throttle was always exciting. Later Rick was a Boeing special SAC representative at Castle AFB. Rick enjoyed working with SAC technicians and supply personnel. Working together we identified several critical issues needed for immediate action to avoid any catastrophic failures. Assigned to the Advanced Naval Airplane project, Rick invented and patented a new novel airborne warning and control radar. At Boeing Huntsville, assigned to Advanced Projects, Rick designed, built, and tested a high-powered UHF array for an army threat simulator. On the International Space Station (ISS) project, Rick helped Boeing suppliers solve numerous equipment issues. Rick was lead Boeing engineer to investigate plasma interaction with the ISS and he published paper on the issue.
Rick enjoyed being a Sunday School teacher while my daughter was growing up. Rick enjoys cycling 100km events and has toured from St Louis to KC and then to Omaha following Missouri river roads. He also biked 1,060 km touring Germany. Rick also has a passion for cooking.
Washington High School - 1994
Verneta White graduated from Washington High School as Salutatorian of her class in 1994. She participated and held several leadership positions in many clubs and sports during her four years of high school, including Varsity Volleyball (‘93 League Camps), basketball, National Honor Society, Peer Leaders, and Student Council.
Verneta attended Kansas State University, where she earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Life Science, with minors in Leadership Studies and African American History. While at KSU, she continued her involvement and leadership in organizations like Phi Eta Sigma Honorary Society, Black Student Union, United Black Voice, Residence Hall Student Board, and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
For more than 20 years, Verneta has worked in education, giving back to her community in ways she never imagined. As the Director of Parent & Family Services for the University of Kansas GEAR UP program, she has aided thousands of KCKPS students and families in their pursuit to graduate high school prepared to enter and succeed at a post-secondary institution of their choice. This position has been extremely fulfilling. When “work” aligns with one’s personal beliefs, it’s called ministry and makes even the most challenging days worthwhile. As an extension of her work, Verneta also works in the Youth Departments at her church and is active in community and school parent groups.
Verneta is the proud mother of two amazing children: Dexter, a junior, business major and football player for Dakota Wesleyan University, and Faith, a 3rd grader, competitive gymnast, church usher and praise dancer. When she’s not working, she can be seen supporting her children wherever they are. Verneta believes that the children truly are our future and has dedicated her life to ensuring that the children with whom she is associated are exposed to experiences and opportunities to help them to be the best possible humans they can be.
Walza R. Starr II
Walza R. Starr II
Wyandotte High School - 1985
Walza R. Starr II was born, and raised in the heart of Kansas City, Kansas. Educated in USD 500, Mr. Starr was known to participate in extracurricular groups such as choir, track, cross-country, and his favorite tennis. Although he was a quite student throughout the school years, many of his teachers still remember his charm today as they remind him often.
Upon graduation from Wyandotte H.S. in 1985, Walza pursed a career in the United States Navy, whereas he served his country for 22 years. He served on 3 Naval Ships and participated in Operation Desert Storm/Desert Shield and Persian Gulf War.
He was recognized as a “Recruiter of the Year”, “Regional Recruiter of the Year”, as well as a “National Recruiter of the Nation” in Washington, D.C. During his Naval service he has received numerous National Recruiting accolades, 3 Navy Commendation Medals, 9 Navy Achievement Medals, 2 Voluntary Service Medals, and others during his career. Retired at the rank of a E-8 (Senior Chief Petty Officer) NCCS (SW/AW).
Always being magnetic in his approach when it came to helping people from recruiting them to ministering to them, after retirement God led him to birth Faith City Christian Center in 2004.
Partnered with his wife, Mr. Starr is a successful community business owner of NU-Start Career Builders, We Care Home Health Services (KS/MO) providing job opportunities as well as equipping individuals through the various training programs such as “Built for Success”.