Each Tuesday, Lowell’s First Look will be publishing a different profile of a school board candidate. These profiles are intended to introduce candidates to voters and cover each person’s background, why they are running and other details they would like voters to know. To hear candidate positions on policy issues, Q&As will be published each Thursday. You’ll be able to find profiles and Q&As, as they are published, at this link.
Jessica Curtis is an incumbent on the Lowell Area Schools Board of Education, but this November will be the first time voters see her name on a ballot. She was appointed in December 2020 to fill the vacancy left by the retirement of former board president Jim Turner.
Now that she has nearly two years of experience on the board, Curtis is asking voters to return her to the seat. Not only is she now familiar with board operations, but with three kids in three different Lowell schools, she understands firsthand how the district is meeting the needs of local families.
“It’s nice to have a parent’s perspective,” she says. At the same time, Curtis stresses that she is not on the board to do what is best for her children specifically. “You have to look at what’s best for everybody,” she says is her approach to district decisions.
Curtis is one of eight candidates – two incumbents and six challengers – vying for three seats on the school board in the upcoming general election in November.
Lifelong Resident with a Passion for Education
Other than the four years she spent studying at Central Michigan University, Curtis has always been a resident of Lowell. She attended Alto Elementary and is a member of the Lowell High School Class of ’99.
In college, she earned a teaching degree but hasn’t used it professionally. “When I graduated, there were no jobs in Michigan it seemed,” she remembers. Curtis and her husband didn’t want to move out of state for her to find a teaching job so she instead found work in another field. Today, she is a sales representative for a nutrition supplement company.
While she isn’t a teacher, her passion for education never waned, and Curtis has stepped in to help wherever she can. “I know it takes many hands to make things work,” she says.
Curtis has been a part of the Lowell Education Foundation board for more than decade and spent three years as a parent representative for school boosters. Outside the school district, she has been a volunteer with the Jason Kinzler Family First Foundation.
Lowell: “Great District” with a “Great Board”
When Curtis heard about the opening on the LAS Board of Education, she felt that it was a good fit for her expertise and interests. The 41-year-old and her husband, Mike, have three children in three different Lowell buildings: Lowell High School, Lowell Middle School and Murray Lake Elementary School.
“I know this is a great district,” Curtis says. She sees that as a parent to Lowell students and as a board member. “We have a great board, and we are supportive of each other.” She adds that board members have a “nice mix of opinions” but work well together to reach a consensus when they are not in agreement.
Recent years have brought challenges with the COVID-19 pandemic, but Curtis says there is also a lot of exciting changes happening around the district. While supply chain issues have threatened some construction projects, planned LAS improvements have proceeded largely on schedule and afforded students new facilities to enhance their school experience.
“The athletic facilities at the high school are amazing,” she says as one example.
As a board member, one of her goals with any construction project or facility upgrade is to be as cost-efficient as possible. That means not only looking for ways to save money, when appropriate, but also ensuring that purchases are of a quality that will last.
Listening to Parent Concerns
There has been plenty of criticism of the school board during the past year, and Curtis says it doesn’t surprise her that people didn’t always agree with board decisions. What did surprise her was how some of that criticism was levied personally at board members.
Still, she appreciates it when parents share different opinions and thoughts about how the district should be run. “Maybe the way we’ve been doing things for 20 years isn’t the best way,” she says.
While some critics say board members don’t listen, Curtis says that isn’t true. “The board does listen to everything that’s brought before us. We read the emails,” she says. However, the board doesn’t respond during the public comments portion of meetings as a matter of practice. “It would become a debate, and we wouldn’t get anything accomplished.”
However, she says she has met with parents outside of board meetings to hear their concerns and discuss them. She finds these sessions to be helpful in clarifying various policies and procedures. “I think it makes us review things and make them much more clear and precise,” according to Curtis.
Looking to the future, Curtis thinks education will undoubtedly evolve over time, and she is committed to keeping LAS on the path of excellence. When asked why people should vote for her, she points to her long history of involvement and says that she will always be someone who listens to others.
“I always try to put myself in other people’s shoes,” Curtis says. At the same time, she is committed to doing whatever will serve students best. “I’m going to put students first when making decisions.”