2013 Candidate: Jennifer McWilliams, Northgate School Board

Jennifer McWilliams
School Board Candidate

Bio

Growing up in the boroughs, I’ve always imagined myself raising my family within the district limits. I earned a B.A. from Thiel College in 2002 and returned to settle my family in Avalon. As a 1998 graduate of Northgate and a parent of students at both Avalon Elementary and Northgate Jr./Sr. High, I have a vested interest in the District and its future. I was so profoundly inspired by the Life Skills teacher that I worked along side with as a Teacher’s Assistant at Avalon Elementary School; I decided to go back to school to earn my K-6 Elementary Teaching Certificate, Special Education Teaching Certificate and to subsequently complete my Master of Education. I have worked in public and private schools and through each unique experience I’ve come to find that Northgate holds the potential to be an outstanding district.

I currently work for Easter Seals of Western Pennsylvania with a unique three-part job as a Special Education Teacher, Disability Awareness Community Facilitator, and Integration Specialist. I’ve always had a passion for working with children and being an active part of my own children’s lives. Running for school board gives me the opportunity to take an active role in decision making for the future of our children’s education in the district. With the recent cuts in our district, there are going to be gaps to fill and new challenges our children are going to face. I’m stepping up to the challenge and helping to fill in the gaps for the success of our students and asking for your support. Together we can help Northgate thrive!

What is your vision for Northgate?

When I visualize Northgate thriving at its full potential I envision cooperative learning opportunities for students, effective differentiated instruction, advanced technology capabilities in classrooms, accessible resources for equipping parents in need as well as students, and the opportunity for every child to succeed. Some may think this is an unrealistic vision, but I challenge us all to aim higher. As a collective group we all have gifts to offer, ideas to express, and talents to share. By making ourselves available to the students, teachers, administration and community as a whole, our district could thrive beyond imagination.

What do you see as Northgate’s strengths and weaknesses/struggles?

Undoubtedly, Northgate has always been a close-knit district, but somewhere along the way we’ve lost our sense of unity. We are one district and we were never meant to be separated by borough lines or elementary buildings. Recent board meetings have proven we live in a passionate community/district, but not focusing that passion and energy in a unified direction can be counterproductive.

Our district size has always been an enticing asset. Smaller enrollment has increased opportunities for our children in regards to smaller class sizes and extracurricular activities such as athletics, drama, clubs, etc. Student-teacher ratio in the past has been considerably low and we have a reputable Special Education department. The lack of a significant tax base has created a challenge to provide our children with the latest innovative technologies and small class sizes while maintaining a deficit-free budget. The current economic climate and cuts in government funding have added another layer of difficulty in achieving the goals and high standards to which our district aspires.

In the past, there has been a lack of community involvement in the administration of the district. Overall, there has been a significant lack of communication occurring between school officials and community members and recently, notable changes have occurred to remedy those communication problems. The community is strong as evidenced by how it rallied around the school when signs of distress became apparent. Community turn out at school board meetings has increased, signaling that there’s a desire to become informed about the district.

I feel strongly that involvement from parents, teachers, administrators, and community members is essential for the success of our district. As the saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child” and we are all a part of the Northgate village. Together we are responsible for raising our children and it does take the commitment and unity of everyone to do it successfully.

What would you propose to resolve the weakness/struggles?

One key to ensuring the fiscal security of the district will be to hold the school board accountable for all spending, which has a direct impact on the community. The recent changes that have been announced are a sign that the school board and administration are assessing the sustainability of the district. As disheartening as it may be to lose a significantly high number of teachers, it’s the result of past inaction and political will. While the funding source of local taxes is rather static and government funding is uncertain, it behooves the district to lobby politicians to ensure that available funding opportunities are fully exhausted. Likewise, the district should expand efforts to further seek out available grants that would allow the district to make investments in our schools and students which will not impact the community financially.

As we face larger classroom sizes, it will be more challenging for teachers to deliver the same individualized instruction that our students have enjoyed in the past. As a community we have the opportunity to provide extra support both in the school and after school to help fill in the gaps. Community and civic groups can be utilized to provide assistance outside of the classroom for teachers, students and families to supplement and facilitate learning.

In regards to communications, a new “Communication Committee” has emerged – of which I am gladly a member – and meets bi-weekly to discuss effective ways to convey information to the community. I also think it’s important for people to express their concerns directly with the administration. I’ve met with the Superintendent as well as board members on numerous occasions to discuss issues of concern and to get to the truth and to sift through rumors. I have attended every committee of the whole and board meeting in 2013 and will continue to attend. I feel it is extremely important to be informed and hear information first hand, and the only way to do that is to attend meetings and ask questions.

How do you see the council and school board working together in the future?

It is important that the district as a whole works together to achieve the best scenario possible for the success of the community. That means, while the school board and the councils of Avalon and Bellevue are separate, they serve the same community. Decisions made by the school board should be equitable for all the citizens. Communication and participation continue to be significant for the success of the Northgate community, and as such, community support and involvement should be a two-way street. Intergovernmental meetings and committees could be established to address issues that might benefit from diverse viewpoints and expertise. Many of the same concerns exist across political subdivisions.

Jennifer McWilliams

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2 Responses to “2013 Candidate: Jennifer McWilliams, Northgate School Board”

  1. Hi, Jennifer. I just wanted to invite you to the Support Local event I’m hosting on May 18 from 2-5pm. You can find the details on my facebook page, vencent menosky. You can also contact me at vencent1971@gmail.com

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Election 2013: General Election is Nearly Upon Us! | Liberty in Bellevue, PA - October 10, 2013

    […] click here to read the rest of Ms. McWilliams’ biography and survey response […]

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