Name: Ashley Kucera
Occupation: Business Analyst/Sales Engineer
1. Please introduce yourself and explain why you are running for school board.
I grew up in Baxter, graduating in 2003 with a strong education, a passion for learning and a pride for my school. My extracurricular activities taught me teamwork, leadership and time-management skills while instilling confidence to overcome challenges. When it came time to raise my family, there was no question where they would go to school. My daughters, now 6th and 9th graders, have affirmed the benefits of learning in a K-12 school building.I am running for school board because I want to ensure future generations have these opportunities and more. I watched my Dad serve this district on the school board and understand the challenges and time commitment that come with it. I don’t take these commitments lightly and am confident I can dedicate the time necessary to complete ongoing learning and development, attend conferences and participate in healthy dialogue about the status of our district.
2. What’s the best quality of Baxter schools? What can the district improve on?
Our best quality is the ownership and pride in our district. We pride ourselves on providing a strong/evolving education experience, opportunities to learn outside the classroom and upgraded facilities. This requires ownership from the:
community who continue to support initiatives through supplemental funding teachers and coaches who put in extra hours, late nights and early mornings administration and staff who manage schedules and care for our facilities with tight resource parents who support the crazy schedules and volunteer their time students who use the opportunities to represent themselves and our district in a way we can all be proud of.
Generally speaking, I believe our district can improve on transparency and trust through increased conversation and respectful debate. At a more granular level, our immediate focus is on the areas where our assessments are showing vulnerabilities. We know a greater focus needs to be put into our mathematics enrichment curriculum and the services we provide to those with special educational needs. While steps have already been implemented to close the gap, I would like to explore supplemental resources that can be leveraged to remove constraints that can impede progress at the rate we want to see.
3. What challenges do you see in public schools and how do you propose to address them?
Funding. Public schools, especially districts our size, are facing constant budget challenges due to the complexity of how funds are earmarked for expenditure and the criteria used to receive them. One of the first steps I would take when getting on the board is to learn more about the various funds we have available, how we receive those, where expenses are coming from and where the biggest forecasted shortfalls and risks lie. Understanding these complex budgets takes time and dedicated learning but my goal would be to identify the areas we are most at risk and seek grants available to help in those areas. Services are available for qualifying schools to help with grant writing and the complicated submission process. I intend to leverage those services, along with the talented folks at Baxter, to reduce our fiscal strain.
Another critical challenge is retaining and attracting talented educators and administration. This is a daunting profession causing teacher shortages and burnout in districts nationwide. We must do more to implement policies and benefits that support the backbone of our district. I would push for the board to establish more frequent engagement with teachers to hear about their challenges, celebrate their successes and understand their needs. My experience in the recognition and incentive industry can be leveraged to develop an environment with greater engagement where teachers feel more valued.
4. Where would you like to see Baxter grow?
As our community and school’s successes are so intrinsically linked, I would love to see us focus on areas of growth that will attract young families to town and to our school. While we continue to grow, we should focus on quality of life including ways to attract restaurants, recreational opportunities and a healthcare clinic. These can help generate employment, tax dollars and provide more reasons to visit our community.
5. What is a parent’s role in the educational system?
A student’s home support system can have a dramatic impact on their learning experience. While every child’s circumstances are different, there are a few things every primary caretaker can do to support their student’s education.
Communicate and check-in. Ask students what they are learning about, what is challenging them, what is inspiring them and how they feel at school. Open dialogue may be a challenge at some ages but keeping a pulse on how the responses change can indicate if follow-up is warranted. This conversation also signals your interest in and support of their education as a priority.
Monitor. Review papers coming home and check-in online to review grades, assessments, attendance information.
Collaborate with teachers. Meet with them or email them to share concerns you may have and also to celebrate the positive things you may be hearing/seeing.
Involvement could include so much more but if caretakers are actively and positively engaging in their student’s education, students will be set up with a positive foundation for success.
6. What other school issues are you most passionate about?
Use of data and research to evaluate our district’s health and initiatives. Our district will be most successful when operating under a strong vision and culture driven by goals. Goals should be based on what data and expertise are telling us and should have measurable success criteria. My background in analytics has me passionate about leveraging existing data in new and creative ways to identify opportunities for growth and to showcase successes.