Carroll school board candidate Jen Munson enjoys time on the Sauk Rail Trail with the family’s 5-month old golden retriever, Sherman.
Carroll school board candidate Jen Munson enjoys time on the Sauk Rail Trail with the family’s 5-month old golden retriever, Sherman.
September 5, 2013

When Jennifer Munson and her husband, John, decided to move their family from her native home of Tucson, Ariz., the education available for their two young children through the Carroll Community School District was a key factor.

Two years later, Munson is running for a seat on the Carroll School Board, pledging to provide the perspective of a woman and young mother - both views, she says, the current board sorely lacks.

"I think it's of huge importance - we need a female on that board," said Munson. "We need a more nurturing parent with younger kids in the system, not just middle or high school students."

Munson brings more than 15 years of experience to the plate at multiple education levels ranging from the elementary to online classroom. She has handled the "pendulum " of the education system that comes with changes in leaders, initiatives and funding. She has also been a regular volunteer in the Carroll district since her children began attending classes.

"I see what's going on within the schools," she explained. "I can get a different view of different needs that would make teachers be able to work more efficiently and support the whole system."

Munson is motivated by a passion for education. She laughed as she explained how her own children, fourth-grader Drew and second-grader Abby, don't understand why they still have to practice their reading, writing and arithmetic during summer break.

"I tried to explain to them that this is what it's about. You get a good education and you can make any choice you want in life," she said. "The biggest thing is to provide my family and my kids with the opportunities that they can go wherever they want. I want my kids to be better citizens than I am."

She also believes that the district's relationship with the greater community is a vital part of education and should be cultivated.

"Education is more than a school building," she said, recalling the Recreation Center full of youth and the lack of graffiti she observed on her first visit to Carroll for her husband's interview at St. Anthony Regional Hospital, where he now works as chief financial officer. "The board should consider changes not just from an educational standpoint, but the ramifications of those decisions to other parts of the community, other businesses. We need to work together to solve problems and get the most bang for our buck."

This big-picture focus was sharpened with Munson's participation on the CCSD School Improvement Team during the 2012-2013 school year. The advisory committee analyzes needs and goals for the district and its students before recommending various action to the board. This work first led her to consider a run for school board, an idea that was quickly bolstered when she received four calls from teachers in the days following the announcement that two seats would be open.

It also gave her a broader knowledge base on current and local education issues.

On the Kuemper-Carroll transportation-funding debate, Munson sees no reason to pit local school versus local school. She'd rather take the issue to the statehouse.

"We need to go to state representatives and have them support the town of Carroll and give the school a bigger percentage reimbursed," she said.

If the public school receives funding to provide transportation to classes for the private school, she sees no reason the same policy can't apply to extracurricular transportation, which entails the same wear and tear on vehicles.

"I really think we need to go back to the legislators," she said. "We need to work together as a community to get as much funding as we can."

Though she does not see any pressing security concerns within the district, she said, the next steps in safety should be taken at Fairview Elementary School.

"Fairview is a huge building with partitions between classrooms, no doors," Munson explained. "We need some kind of remodeling so teachers would be able to actually lock the door and secure it that way."

Her six years as a virtual instructor has given her a supportive, but cautionary, opinion of technology.

"I really feel strongly that there needs to be technology in the classrooms, but there also need to be other types of learning going on," Munson said, praising district superintendent Rob Cordes' efforts to integrate Chromebooks and iPads. However, she doesn't agree that it is a necessary component for younger students, particularly kindergarten through third grades.

"It concerns me there is so much screen time for that age," she said. "That education needs to be engaged and hands-on with an instructor."

On accountability, Munson favors administrative action over standardized testing. Each student is at a different level, particularly with the inclusion of special-education students, she said, and what is a huge gain in one classroom won't measure the same in another.

"Teachers need to be held accountable by the administrators the district has hired and trusts to go into the classroom and make sure effective learning and diversified instruction is taking place," she said.

Munson also supports a wide variety of extracurriculars.

"Kids need to have something beyond just the classroom," Munson said.

For both her and her husband, that something was varsity basketball.

"Sports teams teach responsibility and not to give up," she said. "They help with major social skills kids need to go out into college and get jobs as adults."

Though her children are currently too young to be involved in the art and music programs, Munson said, they will receive her support as well. In the interim, she has been impressed with the offerings available through local businesses, including art and guitar lessons.

If elected, she promises to be open and approachable, and to do her research before voting for the best interest of the community, not any individual.

"We need everybody's vote," she said. "Our taxes go to education, and here's your say."

The election will be held Tuesday, Sept. 10.

Two seats are open on the school board. Duane Horsley will be the other candidate on the ballot, and David Teske is conducting a write-in campaign. Board members Jerry Fleshner and Dennis Molitor are not running for re-election. All members of the board are elected at-large. The top two vote-getters will be elected and serve four-year terms. Other board positions are currently held by LaVern Dirkx, Dan Tiefenthaler and Kim Tiefenthaler.