Name: Jennifer Thomas
Occupation: Associate Professor
Why are you running for the Emporia Public Schools Board of Education?
I am running to represent the students and their parents and to support all of those in education because it is the single most important factor in the success of any community. I am also running because of the sheer number of Emporia residents who asked me to run because they currently feel underrepresented and that their voices are not being heard.
What are the most important issues facing the Emporia district?
We need to be able to recruit and retain quality personnel; teachers, administrators, coaches, paras —there are so many roles that need to be filled well AND consistently for our district to thrive. We need to be able to offer competitive salaries and benefits, provide access to professional development opportunities (when appropriate) and resources that are beyond adequate.
We need to ensure fiscal responsibility/smart management of finances. There is a great deal of frustration among many community members who feel salaries in particular are heavy at the top of the chain and low at the bottom which, again, affects our ability to retain quality personnel. Many district employees are having to spend an outrageous amount of money to have health benefits through the district; this has negatively impacted morale.
What would your top three priorities be if you were elected to the school board?
First, making sure all students, parents, and community members are given a voice and represented.
Secondly, there’s been a huge disruption to the lives of both district employees and students over the past year and half. We need to ensure a return to normalcy and a healthy rhythm for everyone.
Lastly, trying to return education to what it is meant to be: the foundation upon which a strong society is built. We have hundreds (maybe more) of parents who are frustrated with the lack of academic rigor within the K-12 public school system — nationwide, not just local. They want the focus of education returned to gaining actual knowledge and learning important skills instead of indoctrination, which they know is a major issue particularly in the upper levels of K-12.
What are your budget priorities for the district?
1. Accountability. School lobbyists and lawyers often state that having X number of students below grade level proves that schools don’t get enough funding; often the court system agrees and orders millions more be given to schools, but achievement doesn’t change. A few years later, schools go back to court with the same claim and ask for even more money. Improving student achievement would undercut their claims of being underfunded; this “disincentive” cycle is frustrating and something many parents and community members would like to see addressed.
2. Supporting House Bill 2119 which creates education savings accounts for students who are financially or academically determined to be at-risk by school districts, thereby creating an incentive for districts to at least get students to grade level.
What skills or experiences do you bring to the table that will benefit your time on the board should you be elected?
I’ve been an educator for twenty-two years. I served five years as a Faculty Senator at ESU and one year as second vice-president of the faculty. I also serve on multiple committees within and closely associated with ESU. I have worked with the school district for the past five years helping to facilitate their employee Wellness Program. I’ve worked with multiple Emporia businesses/entities, including Detroit Diesel Remanufacturing, VekTek, City of Emporia, and Camso to facilitate their employee wellness activities. I co-teach the college class at 12th Avenue Baptist church and have done so the past three years. For the past eleven years I have gone on the morning show on KVOE to discuss various health topics that interest the community.
In what ways can the district better improve on its mission to “build futures by preparing today’s students for tomorrow’s opportunities”?
This really ties into previous answers: we need to push for higher academic standards, and in order to reach those standards, we need to be able to recruit and retain the best teachers, support staff, coaches, and administrators. We need to make sure schools, faculty, staff, and students have what they need to succeed.
How can the district ensure an inclusive and supportive environment for all of its students, teachers and staff?
Our district goes above and beyond in this area. As previously mentioned, many students and their parents would like “inclusivity” to include a focus on diversity of thought and support for those with different beliefs. We cannot and will not be a resilient, educated society if everyone thinks, feels, and believes the same things and limits what is labeled “acceptable” in these areas. As we all know, there is (now more than ever) a top-down focus on dividing all of us; we need educators, parents, and citizens to push back on that and work together for true tolerance, allowing and encouraging actual diversity.
With the recent increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations and positive cases, do you think the school district should do more in response to the pandemic?
No, I think the school district has enough burdens and responsibilities, and parents are at a point where they/we are able to make the decisions that are best for our children.
Do you agree with the district’s current COVID-19 mitigation plan? If not, what mitigation strategies would you propose to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our schools?
I believe parents are equipped and should have the right to decide if masks are best for their child(ren). I propose that we continue with scientifically proven methods of prevention, particularly sanitizing our classrooms and all school-related facilities (which is helpful at all times in regards to all airborne infectious disease), encouraging consistent and correct handwashing, and giving all students and employees access to sunlight and fresh air. Our students should be taught and encouraged to practice healthy behaviors that are proven to strengthen their immunity, and be given the opportunity to follow through on them. I would never, under any circumstances, support mandatory Covid vaccinations for faculty or staff.