Jennifer Newbold is a candidate in the race for two three-year seats from Missoula Elementary/High School School District No. 1 on the Missoula County Public Schools board of trustees. Shelly Wills, Heidi Kendall, Rob Gibbons, Scott Todd, Jack Wade, Molly Stockdale and John Fletcher also are running. Watch the Missoulian for Q&As with the other candidates, as well as candidates for Missoula High School District D, through this week.
Why do you want to serve and what are your goals?
As a work-outside-the-home mom to three children, I believe passionately in the transformative power of education. One of my favorite aspects of parenthood is getting the chance to instill that little spark – a love of learning – in my own children. I’m particularly passionate about children’s literacy and connecting children with community, which was my primary motivation in writing the children’s book “The Great Monte Mystery.” Every child deserves a chance to have their own spark ignited. The district’s 21st century model of education is a great roadmap, yet significant collaboration is necessary to achieve the far-reaching goals outlined in the initiative. I feel I have the energy and skills to assist in that exciting process.
Specifically, I would like to see continued emphasis placed on personalized learning and critical thinking skills. Small class sizes assist with this, however, we need to find cost-effective ways to accomplish this goal.
How should MCPS balance its budget (i.e. when considering programs, teacher and classified employee pay/benefits, and class sizes)?
Budgeting is always a prioritization exercise, whether we are budgeting public dollars or our own household budgets. We all recognize that priorities have to shift, and we may be able to accomplish some things in one year that we may not be able to the next. To that end, the budgeting process should always involve a long-term mindset. It requires a thoughtful, informed approach, which I will bring to the process. A high priority should be placed on those things that help further the 21st century model of education, whether that be technology or additional teachers or changes to the way we approach professional development. We should continually be looking at both traditional and creative ways to compensate and recognize teachers and staff at a level commensurate with their hard work. Teacher and staff morale is a critical component of excellence in education, which should always be factored into the budget equation.
What are priorities for district facilities? Do you think the district’s response to school safety concerns has been adequate/appropriate?
I am pleased to see the level of district outreach in involving the community in the discussions regarding facilities. The long-range facilities planning process has involved the very hard work of many stakeholders and the guiding principles developed through that process are comprehensive and laudable. In particular, I believe the investment in high-efficiency systems (HVAC, etc.) is important as being both environmentally and economically responsible. Spaces and furnishings that are flexible and thus allow for evolving technological infrastructure and increased communication and collaboration are likewise essential. As the district weighs long-range decisions related to facilities, we need to ensure security and safety are at the top of the priority list. While I believe the district has increased its focus on this issue, we need to make sure parents understand what is being done and that our approach is tailored and holistic.
What should MCPS’ long-range goals be for student learning and achievement?
I strongly support the concept of personalized learning. Each child should be entitled to learn at his or her own pace, which creates more confident and engaged students. Supporting teachers’ efforts to provide this type of instruction is paramount, because in classrooms of 20 students, the variety of learning styles and skill levels varies dramatically.
The district’s goals support this concept, and also recognize the greater demands being placed on students upon graduation. These increased demands will require a degree of creativity and flexibility in our instruction. While the traditional “three R’s” remain essential for providing our students with a strong content base, the evolution toward the “four C’s” – creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication – and ensuring students develop these competencies is also a sound long-range goal. These skills will be indispensable no matter what a student might decide to pursue after graduating.