In the Nov. 5 election, voters in the Cedar Rapids Community School District (CRCSD) will choose four of the seven members of the school board.
Incumbent Rafael Jacobo is challenged by Dexter Merschbrock in District 4. There are two open at-large seats and five candidates running: Jen Neumann, Cindy Garlock, Maurice Davis, Janelle Lund and Joseph Miller. David Tominsky is running unopposed in District 1.
Little Village emailed questionnaires to the seven school board candidates in contested races. All the candidates were asked the same set of questions.
Jen Neumann is the CEO of de Novo Marketing in Cedar Rapids. Neumann and her husband have lived in Cedar Rapids for 25 years, and their two daughters are part of the CRCSD.
What other public service organizations have you been active with? Have you served in elective office before? What made you interested in becoming active in public service?
I’ve served in many leadership capacities over the years — professionally and in a volunteer capacity. I am currently active as the incoming vice-chair of the Iowa Women’s Foundation, particularly in the statewide advocacy project focused on eliminating barriers to quality affordable childcare for Iowa’s families, and on the board of Women Lead Change — a globally active organization focused on programming that empowers women in their lives and careers.
I have served for seven years as a member of the Cedar Rapids Schools Foundation on the Board of Trustees and as the Chair for three years. Past involvement includes serving as a member and president of the Junior League of Cedar Rapids, Board Member of Girl Scouts of Eastern Iowa & Western Illinois, past chair of 100+ Women Who Care. I’ve served on numerous school volunteer committees and believe volunteerism is one of the best ways to give back to a community.
Why did you choose to run for the school board, rather than some other elected office?
It is important to me that there is parent representation on the Board of Education. I also believe that my approach — inclusivity, innovation and collaboration — can be of great benefit to the board and the district. I believe that strong schools are a crucial part of a strong community, and I care deeply for my community.
What do you see as the biggest long-term issues the district is facing?
Long term, we face challenges that many educators did not foresee when they entered this career path. Ensuring that we are supporting our teachers, and providing them with the resources they need to teach today’s students, is critical. In order to have great student success, you need teachers who are able to lead their classrooms and help each child find their individual path for success.
Currently, teachers are being asked to be too many things, to too many people. Providing support with paraeducators, social workers and collaborative partnerships will help to ensure all students get the education they deserve and help us attract and retain the best educators.
What do you see as the more pressing problems that the district can solve in the short term? What would your approach be to solving these problems?
Everyone can agree we need to hire a Superintendent who can deliver on the priorities of the whole district. Additionally, stability in that position is crucial to building a plan that the district can deliver on.
However, one way we could impact the 2019-2020 school year is to raise paraeducator salaries to that of our surrounding districts and ensure that they have the same benefits as everyone else. That would enable us to better fill those positions and support teachers in their buildings, ASAP.
What in your personal skill set, or previous experience, would make you an effective member of the school board?
Communications is my jam. I’ve leveraged this skill over the years to lead non-profits, grow a business and create jobs, and to help organizations impact change. Managing change is difficult and requires an inclusive and collaborative mindset to find solutions.
Additionally, I take an innovative approach to almost everything. I believe we have outstanding educators, district staff and community members who have great ideas that can propel the district to success, and I want to tap into that type of creative thinking and openness to new ideas to make Cedar Rapids the second largest district in the state with the biggest ideas and best educational offering around.