School board candidate profiles 2014

School+board+candidate+profiles+2014

Renata Poet Williams

Today, Columbia residents will vote on four potential school board candidates: Paul Cushing, Jonathan Sessions, Joseph Toepke and Helen Wade. There are three spots on the board, each three-year terms. Voting will be open until 7 p.m. tonight.
[tabs active=”3″] [tab title=”Paul Cushing”] tu_A14_cushingMUG_0117_r175x200[1]

Age:  49

Hometown: N/A

College: N/A

Current Occupation: IT Professional

Why do you want to be on the school board?

“When I ran for school board in 2012, it was because I was initially against the increase in taxes the proposed levy was going to bring. However, once I threw my hat into the ring and started learning about Columbia Public Schools, my attitude changed and I realized how important school funding was. When I resigned from the board to take a new job, I missed being part of something that has such a large impact on the community. Now that I am back in Columbia, I want to continue working for our community to give something back.”

How will your election onto the board affect CPS high schools?

“The board of education has three primary roles. 1) Make policy for the district. 2) Hire a superintendent. 3) Be a community representative. Through those tasks I hope that we can make things better for all students, in all schools.”

What are the main issues you hope to tackle if elected?

“We will still need to asses our boundaries as the community grows and as we continue to build to eliminate trailers. As a district, we continue to be progressive on many fronts including the new Nature School and Community School proposals. I like those ideas and would want to continue finding more ways to better engage all students. My number one goal, however, is to implement more real-world education, including more vocational training for students that may not want to go right to college. If a student is not going to college or into the military, my goal would be to provide them with enough work skills so they can get a job good enough to support themselves and pay for additional schooling should they choose to go at some point.”

Is this your first time running for election?

“This is my second time running for a CPS board member position.”

What’s your history with public education?

“I grew up in Clearwater, Florida and attended public schools through high school in that city.”

Why are you passionate about education?

“My father used to say that “knowledge is a light load to carry”. He was right. Throughout my working career, I have found that the more I know, the more apt I am to make more money. Education is the key to success and I can’t think of a better way to spend my time than to promote and help others succeed.”

When you were in High School, where did you see yourself being (as in the job or achievements you’d have at the age you are now)?

“I was certain that I was going to be a millionaire by 30. Let me tell you, at 30 and even today, I am nowhere near that goal. I left high school and went to work in the hot Florida sun doing labor work for my father’s demolition business. Next I worked at a heavy equipment repair shop rebuilding tracks. It didn’t take long to figure out that I needed to go back to school. I went to vocational school where I learned a trade. I built on that trade and morphed into my current career, a programmer. What I saw myself doing then probably doesn’t exist today and what I am doing now didn’t really exist then, at least not in its current form. So dreams are great but they change as we grow. I make sure to always have a contingency plan and I can’t think of a better one than having an education.”

[/tab]  
[tab title=”Jonathan Sessions”]

Sessions2013Age: 31

Hometown: Columbia, MO

College: Mizzou

Current Occupation: IT Consultant

Why do you want to be on the school board?

“I was inspired to pursue a degree in education at Mizzou because of my positive experiences in Columbia Public Schools and my family’s long-standing involvement as educators. Although I opted to expand my career beyond traditional classroom teaching, my preparation as a teacher informs me daily and my passion to support the educational community of Columbia has not waned. I recognize the importance of a strong public education system to the success of our community. I am now able to give back to the system that was such an integral part of my success.”

How will your election onto the board effect High Schools?

“Most of the changes to secondary have happened; Battle High, 9th grade, Start times, etc. This position is about policy and procedure at the District level. At this time, there’s nothing the board will be addressing beyond a renewed focus on student achievement.”

Is this your first time running for election?

“No. I have been a member for the past four years.”

What’s your history with public education?

“I spent my K-12 career in the Columbia Public Schools. I graduated from Hickman in 2001. I then went to The University of Missouri – Columbia, a Public University.”

Why are you passionate about education?

“I grew up in a family of educators. There was a tremendous importance placed upon education. I recognize education as the pathway to success, not just a stop along the journey.”

When you were in High School, where did you see yourself being (as in the job or achievements you’d have at the age you are now)?

“I figured I would be teaching.”
[/tab]  
[tab title=”Joseph Toepke”]

Joseph ToepkeAge:  42

Hometown: St. Charles, Mo

College: Central Missouri State University,  now called UCM. Bachelors degree in Earth Science and Geology. Military science minor.

Current Occupation: Army officer (Major)

Why do you want to be on the school board?

“I want our schools to educate our children to the level where they score in the top 1/3 of countries globally not the bottom 1/3 that we have been for several years. We are the best nation in the world.  I have been to 9 different countries … no one has opportunity like we do, yet we do not do a very good job of education. I have been a military man for 22 years. I have tons of experience tackling problems and implementing solutions.”

How will your election onto the board affect CPS high schools?

“I hope that if I am elected, I can bring focus to the board to carefully look at why we are not better.  I want to look at programs that do not have very good return on investment. I want everyone to get the best education possible. I want to see a class taught about life skills.  When seniors graduate, they should understand personal finance and retirement savings. Some will go onto college or tech school or even jump into a career and uninformed decisions (which the classes I’m talking about would teach) affect the rest of your life. Our 18 year olds need to know the truth and be better prepared to defend themselves against a world that wants to take advantage of them.”

What are the main issues you hope to tackle if elected?

“I want to have a fundamental conversation about what education should look like. I want to see expanded programs for IT and jobs of the future.  There is an over reliance on technology.  Seniors are graduating without the ability to do math factors without using a calculator or iPad. Technology is a great tool, but over reliance is crippling. “

Is this your first time running for election?

“This is the first public office I have sought.”

What’s your history with public education?

“I was a parent who worked on the committee the combine the Middle school and Junior High. I have been active in PTA. In the last 4 years I have flown helicopters to schools many times to inspire kids to achieve all they can and dream.”

Why are you passionate about education?

“I am passionate about kids. I am a patriot and have served the public already for 22 years. I feel this is a perfect fit now.”

When you were in High School, where did you see yourself being (as in the job or achievements you’d have at the age you are now)?

“When I was in high school, I wanted to join the military. I had no idea I would become an officer, fly helicopters, deploy 3 times into combat. But I am the sum of all my experiences which has made me a very competitive candidate.”

Anything additional you’d like to add is welcome too.

“My wife teaches 6th grade at Smithton. My girls went to CPS until my oldest daughter was bullied. Even though my kids now go to a private school, my oldest is a senior who goes to the career center to be a CNA. I am very capable and bring a unique perspective to the board. I am hoping Columbia feels the same way.”

[/tab] [/tabs] By Renata Williams and Ashleigh Atasoy
What issues do you hope the school board will tackle in the next few years?
NOTE: The fourth candidate, Helen Wade, did not respond in time for publication.