2022 School Board Candidate Q&A: District’s Biggest Strengths and Challenges

Lowell’s First Look met individually with all 8 candidates running for a position on the School Board for Lowell Area Schools, and who will appear on the ballot on Tuesday, November 8, 2022.  There are three seats up for election by voters. In addition to our interview, we sent each candidate the same set of questions. In the weeks leading up to the election, we will bring you responses to the questions we asked in addition to a candidate profile. Answers are published verbatim and have not been edited. We asked candidates to keep their responses to around 200 words.

This week we bring you the responses to two questions.

What do you think are the biggest strengths of Lowell Area Schools?

Jared Blough
Lowell’s academics and ability to prepare these kids for their next chapter are just a few of the districts strengths. The biggest strength is the community. The parental and community support for our students to achieve academic excellence.

Jessica Curtis
One of the biggest strengths of LAS is our community.  One example is, Pink Arrow, seeing how members of the community all come together to support a great cause is AMAZING! This event is not simple to put on and requires many hands to pull off and we are still successfully doing it after 15 years. This shows the level of character and moral within our district.  Another strength is the teachers, staff, and administration that offer endless educational opportunities to ensure that students are encouraged and guided to reach their fullest potential not only in academics but numerous extracurricular activities and clubs. We have very supportive parents in our district too. Without these strengths, I don’t think our school district could be where we are today. By listening and collaborating with parents, students, teachers, and administrators we can work together to increase educational opportunities for all students and continue our tradition of excellence.

Jennifer Dougherty
I think that the Lowell Area School district’s biggest strength is how well our students are prepared for life after graduation. Our graduates are prepared to attend college, learn a trade or find their place in the workforce. They know how to learn new skills, they are prepared to continue their education and they know how to work. 

I believe that the relationship between Lowell Area Schools and the community of Lowell is also one of our greatest strengths. The community supports the school with volunteers, mentors, employment opportunities and financial and emotional support. The schools – including students, staff and administrators – raise funds and provide volunteers for local organizations, perform community service projects and teach our students the value of being involved in their community.

Chris German
Two of the strengths that pop out to me right away in our district are the teachers and the community.  Over the last couple of years, most of our teachers have shown their resilience and ability to adapt.  I feel that while not always perfect they have done an amazing job working through all of the problems that covid brought.  That’s not saying that I agree with how all things covid related were handled but instead it’s to say that the teachers did a great job playing the hand that was dealt them.   

My wife and I moved our family into Lowell about ten years ago because of the schools and the community that they are a part of.  A good friend was upset that we were moving out of our old district.  His argument was that the district we were in had great teachers and I couldn’t have agreed with him more.  The best counter that I had for that was in our old district you had about 30% of the parents that had their kids ready to learn and supported the schools while 70% didn’t or weren’t able to.  At LAS, I noticed it was a 70/30 split the other way.  

I think advancements in technology is one of the biggest challenges to the district will continually need to be looked at and make adjustments to.  Tech advancement can be both good and bad for the district depending on how they are utilized.  The administration and board have to stay on top of this to make sure that our children are getting the most out of what’s current and available without allowing it to be abused and used in ways that are detrimental to a great learning environment.    

Kyle Hoff
The biggest strength of Lowell Area Schools is the opportunities it provides our students for success after high school. With AP class opportunities for college credit, partnerships with KCTC to learn skilled trades, extracurriculars like sports, music, and theater, Lowell students can graduate with the knowledge, skills, and well-rounded background to help them succeed in life. 

Parker Liu
I believe LAS has many strengths from its variety of educational opportunities to consistent high-quality results and a community that supports the district’s activities at every turn. In particular, I believe LAS has some of the strongest, most experienced, and competent teachers and support staff around. While many districts have struggled with retention in recent years, seeing familiar faces in the classrooms at LAS from one year to the next instills confidence in their abilities. I believe another strength is our superintendent, Nate Fowler. Through my conversation with him, I learned that he is truly focused on creating not only the most educated but also the best balanced future members of our community. Nate is focused on our students’ well being in addition to their academic achievement which leads to an overall better educational experience. Finally, I believe Lowell Area Schools has some the best families and community members around. Many parents and caregivers are actively a part of the public school system and ensure it’s a system for all. Without the community, our schools cannot operate at its fullest potential. When all these factors are combined, I believe LAS has a recipe for creating the leaders of tomorrow.

Pat Nugent
Lowell has many strengths. We have great administrators, teachers, and staff. The students of Lowell do great things and contribute in many ways to the community. In return, the parents and other community members support our schools through volunteering in classrooms, attending school events, and supporting millage requests. It is the combination of a vibrant community supporting its schools that makes Lowell Area Schools special. This is evident in the success of our graduates, our fine facilities, and our successful programs in athletics, the arts, robotics, Odyssey of the Mind, FFA, and so many other areas.

Calvin Vander Boon
The community of people that are part of our district are the biggest strength and asset of LAS. LAS exists to provide a quality education for the youth of our community and this is not possible without the support of the community. We also have many school employees that have stuck it out through very tenuous and ever-changing work conditions of the past couple of years. These employees will continue to be the foundation for the success of LAS into the future.

What challenges do you think the district will face in the upcoming years? How would you solve them?

Jared Blough
The biggest challenge our district will face is outside influence that detracts from teaching and learning and is designed to divide the community. We will have to identify these influences early and address the influences constructively to prevent divide on a large scale.

Jessica Curtis
After recently hearing the years of service our districts teachers, staff, and administrators have put in, I see a challenge in hiring a large number of new staff in the upcoming years. Along with that, comes the challenge that we can hire the necessary amount of qualified staff and retain them to stay with our district for years to come. You don’t see as many graduates choosing to study education as much as you used to. Many areas are already feeling the effects of teacher shortages. I feel with the amounting pressure that teachers have faced the past couple of years, I worry the profession isn’t going to grow as it is needed.  I do feel that Lowell is a welcoming district that is able to offer students a positive learning environment and hope that will lead students into exploring a career in teaching. Our district may have to find creative initiatives to hire new teachers by offering much more competitive salaries to replace the staff that is needed. 

Jennifer Dougherty
One of my concerns is that the district will face increased pressure to become politicized.  Public schools are responsible for educating all students. These students come from varied backgrounds and have varying life experiences and values.  It is important to avoid making the school system a partisan organization where students, staff, administration and the school board are more concerned with advancing political agendas than creating a successful learning environment. We need to keep our focus on providing all students with the academic and life skills they will need to be successful after graduation.

Another challenge that we face is to make sure that the methods that we use to communicate between the board of education, administrators, teachers, staff and families is open and constructive. It is imperative that we not just talk at each other, but that we speak, listen and work together to solve problems and continually improve our district.

Chris German
I think advancements in technology is one of the biggest challenges to the district will continually need to be looked at and make adjustments to.  Tech advancement can be both good and bad for the district depending on how they are utilized.  The administration and board have to stay on top of this to make sure that our children are getting the most out of what’s current and available without allowing it to be abused and used in ways that are detrimental to a great learning environment.    

Kyle Hoff
One of the more concerning challenges that our district is experiencing right now is the decline in student enrollment. Lowell Area Schools has seen a decline in student enrollment over the past two years, due to various factors including government mandated shutdowns, Covid policies, and parents choosing to move their kids to private school or homeschool. With the state legislature considering creating a voucher program where parents can take the tax money that would have gone to their local public school and instead use it to send their child to another (even private) school, Lowell needs to seriously look at how to make our schools the best option for parents when they’re choosing which school to send their child to. My belief is that by listening to parents, focusing on academics as the priority, and combining that with the top-notch athletics, arts, and extracurriculars that those other schools can’t provide, we can make Lowell schools the preferred choice for parents to send their kids even if they have other options.

Parker Liu
Most importantly, I believe that the district will need to address and continue to address infrastructure and technology needs. While some of our buildings are receiving significant renovations, most of our buildings are many decades old and in need of additional updates and repairs. It is even possible some buildings will need to be replaced altogether. Technology is evolving more and more quickly; it is also becoming more and more integrated in our everyday lives. I believe our schools play a role in teaching our young people not only how to use this technology but also how to appropriately incorporate this technology into their everyday lives. As a member of the BOE, I believe my role is to ensure that the needs of the district’s infrastructure and technology are being evaluated and addressed in a timely manner. I would encourage the BOE and district to take a proactive approach by addressing potential problems before they become a major issue. I would ensure the Board is doing its best to address the whole problem and attempt to future-proof a solution as much as possible. I would also listen to our families, community members, and industry experts prior to making a decision. Finally, I would be willing to explore creative funding solutions to meet some of these needs and goals when necessary.

Pat Nugent
A school district is constantly facing challenges as we try to prepare for an uncertain future. The nature and methods of education are changing. The school administration needs to be constantly looking at new ways of teaching and learning to prepare students for the future. The virtual learning of the Covid-era took many by surprise, but Lowell Schools were successfully able to adjust because our teachers and administrators were prepared and knowledgeable. 

Finances are always a challenge for schools. Most of Lowell’s school funding comes from the state, so the budget decisions are made in Lansing and not locally. Lowell has maintained, and must continue to maintain, a healthy fund balance so we can be prepared for whatever comes out of Lansing, especially if the state budget takes a downturn. Additionally, we need to cultivate additional sources of income, such as grants and partnerships, to keep our programs flourishing. 

Especially for Lowell, population growth is a major challenge. Our district will see significant new housing and growth in future years. The Board needs to stay abreast of these developments and have building and funding plans in place so we can meet the community’s future needs. 

Calvin Vander Boon
1. Teacher/Administrator Shortage: Nationally there is both an exodus of teachers/administrators from the profession and a lack of new candidates.  

Solution: LAS needs to expect that our employees are competent professionals and treat them accordingly. This means a reduction in the unnecessary time spent on frivolous and/or burdensome requirements. Also, as a former teacher myself I know that money is not the primary reason people choose to get into education but we do need to make sure that employee salary and benefits are in line with other similar professions. Finally, there are many non-financial ways to help attract employees into our district, I look forward to hearing some ideas from LAS employees if I am elected to the board.

2.  Financial Instability: In the past few years there has been a lot of financial irregularities in school districts and the next few years are likely to bring budget challenges as past federal and state income sources have dried up after this past school year. Also, election years usually cause changes in educational funding at both the state and federal level.

Solution: Just as in personal finances, the best way to be prepared for an uncertain financial future for our district is to minimize unnecessary spending and to save for lean times. 

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