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School Board President Jennifer Bushman. (Contributed)

Bushman says ‘more trust’ needed between School Board, stakeholders

Metro Wire Staff

The Stevens Point Area Public Board of Education has nine candidates on the Feb. 15 primary.

Nine candidates will compete for four open seats on the board. Incumbents Jeff Ebel, Barb Portzen, and Rob Manzke, are being challenged by newcomers Jennifer Bushman, Miguel Campos, Alex Sommers, Kari Prokop, Dennis Raabe, and Lisa Rychter. The top eight vote-earners will move on to the April ballot.

Questions by the Stevens Point Area League of Women Voters. Candidates Jeff Ebel and Kari Prokop did not submit responses.

Jennifer Bushman’s answers follow:

Why did you decide to run at this time for the position of Stevens Point Area School Board member?

Unprecedented times require leaders who are willing to work extra hard, collaborate and seek input from all stakeholders, and creatively solve for the benefit of everyone – especially our children. I pledge to do that. I am passionate about education and serving our community. I have strong leadership experience and unique blended education and business lens that is needed on the school board. Now more than ever, we need to build bridges and work creatively and collectively for the sake of our children and their education. I have a vested interest in the success of the school board as I have three children enrolled in the district.

What is your relevant background and experience to be an effective School Board member?

I look forward to bringing my leadership and innovative business mindset to the school board. I have an inclusive leadership style and experience leading diverse teams – often with competing priorities and differences in opinions. I am committed to promoting transparency and increased opportunities for connection and dialog between the board, parents, district employees, and the community. Moreover, I have a unique lens as it relates to my teaching experience in the private and public university arena (teaching both undergraduate and graduate students), and from my tenure working in the corporate learning and leadership development space. My areas of expertise range from instructional design, change management, communication, culture shaping, leadership coaching, financial and strategic planning, and talent management. I utilize these skills in my current role as Director of Talent Management and Leadership Strategy for a global Fortune 30 organization – and all these skills could greatly benefit the school board.

What do you see as the top three issues currently facing our Stevens Point Area schools and how would you address them?

First, eLearning. It has been nearly two years since implementing eLearning district-wide. Have we clearly defined what success looks like? How are we measuring learning effectiveness? Can we better support parents and teachers who are not comfortable with technology? We are fortunate to have Skyward in our community; can we strengthen our partnership to pilot creative options that further learning and make processes more efficient to achieve stronger outcomes for all?

Second, attraction and retention of talent. With the ‘Great Resignation’ underway and many retirements upon us, we need to focus on the attraction and retention of district employees. Being adequately staffed and having strong teachers is linked to helping to address the widening achievement gap. It will also relieve teachers and staff who are feeling stretched and help to address mental health. In relation to attracting and retaining talent (teachers & auxiliary staff), there are two primary levers to look at compensation and morale. To begin, is the Stevens Point school district salary and benefits package competitive? How do we fare with neighboring districts (smaller and of comparable sizes)? The other primary lever is morale: are district employees feeling heard? Do they have a voice? Are they consulted before the board creates a policy that impacts students? I have heard from many district employees that they feel very disconnected from the current board and do not feel valued or heard.

Third, connection. There is a need to forge stronger, more trusting relationships with the school board and all stakeholders. To begin, the school board should proactively gather input from parents and district employees, widely communicate stakeholder feedback, reinstate committee meetings that have not been in session for close to two years, and cast a wide net as it relates to selecting diverse voices to represent the community.

What is the School Board’s role in ensuring that students from all races, classes, creeds, and gender are given opportunities for a high-quality education within a safe and respectful setting?

In strong collective partnership with parents, teachers, and the community — the school board has a role to ensure that we are contributing to a positive learning experience and providing learning opportunities that accelerate each student’s academic potential and prepare them for a solid path upon high school graduation.

Schools are being asked to handle the increasing mental health concerns of students. Would you support increased funding and policy changes in addressing these needs?

When mental health needs are unmet, it’s unrealistic that academic success will be positively impacted. The repercussions of COVID and the stress of these times are hard on our children, parents, and teachers. A primary focus should be finding ways to improve mental health services for our students, teachers, and auxiliary staff. I have a bias for action and I have a personal vested interest as it relates to mental health. There’s a lot of talk about mental health; we need leadership, creative solutions, and actions. This would most likely require increased funding and will require the collective board to identify how best to allocate and perhaps, creatively fund these critical resources. Moreover, we can’t seek to meet mental health needs without looking at how our district-wide decisions are correlated to diminishing overall health (physical and mental).

Do you agree with the actions of the School Board aimed at keeping students, staff, and teachers safe during the Covid pandemic? If not, what would you do differently going forward?

The Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB) states, “Every high-achieving school board is focused on functioning in ways that improve student achievement.” Specific to accountability, WASB also states that “High academic standards, transparency, and accountability undergird a world-class education. True accountability depends on open decision making, community engagement and support, and receptivity to new ideas and constructive criticism.” The school board has an opportunity to enhance all these areas, including restoring the full power of the school board. We also need more thorough contingency planning — to include proactive outreach to our parents and educators so we can accurately assess what is working well and key gap areas. We need transparent decision-making and continuous open dialog. Lastly, we need to explore ways we can leverage partnerships with local businesses to address new ways we can provide more learning and much-needed intervention opportunities – to include tutoring, mentoring, and counseling to students and district staff who need extra support. The pandemic presented us with an opportunity to reimagine policies and forge stronger relationships with parents, teachers, and local businesses. I look forward to driving change in this space and collaborating with all stakeholders.