9 candidates vying for 4 Rockford Public Schools board seats in Nov. 8 election | #coronavirus | #kids. | #children | #schools


ROCKFORD, MI — Voters in the Rockford Public Schools district will elect four candidates to its school board in the Nov. 8 election.

Nine candidates are competing for four seats – one seat is a partial term ending in 2024, while the other three seats are for full four-year terms.

The seven candidates for the full-term positions are: Bobbi Jo Blanton, Jarrod Folsom, Barbara Helms, Andrea Jacobson, Craig Ladyman, Christie Ramsey and Nicole Villegas. Tricia Anderson and Timothy Lewis are running for the partial term on the board.

Blanton, Folsom, Jacobson and Lewis currently sit on the Rockford Public Schools board and are running for reelection.

Blanton currently serves as the school board’s vice president. She has been a member of the Rockford Public Schools board since 2018. She is an entrepreneur and has degrees in accounting and business. Blanton has two sons and has lived in Rockford with her husband since 2013.

Folsom was appointed to the school board earlier this year and has lived in Rockford since 2012. He has two children in RPS and he serves as president of the Spanish Immersion Booster Club. He is also a volunteer election inspector and coaches youth sports. He has a master’s degree in business administration from Northern Illinois University.

Helms is a small business owner and optometrist in the Rockford area. She and her husband live in Belmont and have two children who graduated from Rockford schools.

Jacobson has been a school board trustee since 2021 and has lived in Rockford since 2004. She and her husband have a son at East Rockford Middle School. Jacobson is a litigation paralegal and volunteers as an Odyssey of the Mind judge.

Ladyman is a Rockford resident who has been a vocal opponent of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s COVID-19 policies. He is an account executive at a medical equipment manufacturing company.

Ramsey is a sales and project manager and is a Girl Scouts troop leader. She has been volunteering in the schools and community of Rockford for more than 20 years.

Villegas owns a real estate brokerage and has four elementary-aged children in Rockford school. She and her husband have lived in Rockford for 10 years.

Anderson is a community planner and project manager. She was previously a teacher and is active in the Rockford community as a city planning commissioner.

Lewis has been on the Rockford school board since 2010 and is a retired police officer. He has three children, all of whom graduated from Rockford schools. He is currently the school board secretary.

MLive/The Grand Rapids Press partnered with the nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Michigan to provide candidate information for readers. Each candidate was asked to outline their stances on a variety of public policy issues listed below.

All responses in the voter guide were submitted directly by the candidate and have not been edited by the League of Women Voters, except for necessary cuts if a reply exceeded character limitations. Spelling and grammar were not corrected. Publication of candidate statements and opinions is solely in the interest of public service and should NOT be considered as an endorsement. The League never supports or opposes any candidates or political parties.

Information on other state, county and local primary races can be found at Vote411.org.

Lewis, Blanton and Ladyman did not fill out the candidate questionnaire after repeated requests to do so from MLive/The Grand Rapids Press.

Why are you running for office?

Folsom:

“I’ve been an active school volunteer the past several years and this was an opportunity to continue that work in a meaningful and impactful way. I’m grateful for the opportunity to give back to the Rockford community and to RPS by serving in this capacity.”

Helms:

“I love our children. We as parents should have control over our kids. I believe our State is trying to take control of our kids. That needs to end. As parents, and taxpayers, we need to take back control of our children.”

Jacobson:

“I am a current Board trustee with a proven track record of working with our schools and supporting our staff, teachers, and administration. I have a child who is in 7th grade at East Rockford Middle School and we have been part of the RPS family since he started school in DK. I was a PTO vice-president for 1 year, and a president for 2 years, working to build relationships with teachers and staff. I served as the building representative for the Inter School Advisory Council for three years and worked with other PTO leaders and our administration. I bring an analytical skillset to the Board. Researching questions and considering other viewpoints of issues is something that comes second nature to me. I am not afraid to question things. I am aware, and put into practice, that I need to work toward consensus decisions that are in the best interest of RPS even when that decision may be contrary to one I would personally make for my family.”

Ramsey:

“I care deeply about Rockford Public Schools. I’ve been volunteering in the schools and community of Rockford for more than 20 years. From 2008 to 2013, I was a member of the Meadow Ridge PTO. During that time, I was in charge of a few committees, vice president, and president. I’ve been a Girl Scout leader for more than five years, and the girls in my troop range in age from DK to high school. I have been the parent chair for Friends of Kent County Schools Grassroots Organization and the chair of Rockford’s Inter-School Advisory Council for more than ten years. I am a tireless advocate for kids and schools. My experience as a parent advocate and knowledge of funding and K-12 legislation will positively influence my work on the school board.”

Villegas:

“My vision for Rockford Public Schools is that our district remains a place where a variety of academic and athletic offerings continue to thrive, where children learn how to think critically, evaluate the world around them, and appreciate the fine arts. A community where all families and employees feel welcomed and honored. The critical function of our district is to make sure that we create an environment where children feel safe and empowered to learn the skills necessary on their journey into adulthood.”

Anderson:

“I’m running for school board because I want to see some positive changes that will benefit all students and teachers.”

What is the greatest challenge facing the office you seek? How will you address it?

Folsom:

“One of the challenges facing public schools generally is the teacher shortage and our ability to attract and retain highly qualified educators. We need to continue to improve school funding over the long term so we can pay teachers and staff competitively, reduce class sizes and provide the mental health support resources our students really need. We also need to support a culture and environment where all educators feel valued and respected.”

Helms:

“The greatest challenge I face going forward is the inability of people to have open, honest conversation. Addressing it is difficult because I can’t get others to hold conversation and listen to one another. I want to speak in person. Others want to talk on social media. My plan to address it, is to contact people directly. To have face to face conversations.”

Jacobson:

“We face a challenge that many other districts are facing: attracting and retaining highly qualified teachers and staff. A key portion of addressing that is ensuring appropriate and competitive compensation (which is active work of the Board and administration). However, if RPS is not a great place to work, it is still going to be hard to attract and retain teachers, regardless of what you pay. We must work to ensure that our teachers are provided with what they need to succeed in their classrooms. That would look different based on the teachers and could include things like supplies, mentoring, parapros, and mental health care. We need to show our appreciation and support for our teachers and staff through more than just a paycheck.”

Ramsey:

“With declining enrollment in teacher preparation programs, we will be facing teacher shortages. Attracting, retaining, and rewarding excellent educators will be very important. Collaborative relationships, professional development, and appropriate class sizes will be very important.”

Villegas:

“The board and Superintendent should be focused on attracting and retaining top talent in teaching and staff positions. To be blunt, that means making sure they have adequate pay, proper tools and a manageable workload. Making sure we don’t fall prey to staffing shortages is paramount in our district for several reasons. First, the district is opening up a new elementary school. Second, to overcome the effect that the pandemic had on education and students’ mental health, it is imperative that support staff with the proper skills and experience are present to work with students and support teachers as they do the hard work of navigating out of these waters.”

Anderson:

“School boards are under attack in many districts across Michigan. Many folks don’t understand the role of a school board and some are demanding action on issues that a school board doesn’t have authority over. School boards across the state are faced with restoring order to regular meetings so that the important work of the board can be completed. The work itself is often a great challenge as it pertains to the controversial issues that school boards are making decisions on, as well as the fight for school funding and appropriating money to benefit all students, not just some.”

What strategies would you use to remain responsive and accountable to the public between elections?

Folsom:

“I have strived to be visible and approachable on a regular basis, including at our regular board meetings, school and community events, and volunteer opportunities. I have made myself available on social media, via email and personal mobile phone. I’m committed to listening to different perspectives and working collaboratively to support all students in our community.”

Helms:

“Open, honest, conversations. Talk!! Understand each other’s best method of communicating.”

Jacobson:

“I am happy to meet with members of the public at our Board meetings or any other time we can agree on. I attend many events throughout the District and am present in our buildings and with parent groups.”

Ramsey:

“I would remain involved in the community through a variety of volunteer opportunities. As a trustee, I would also continue to manage my Facebook page. This would enable the community to stay abreast of school board activities and provide a means by which they could contact me.”

Villegas:

“I believe the community should have a strong voice in the decisions of our schools. I will commit to weekly office hours at accessible times and locations. I will ensure that all resources are inclusive for dual language speaking families. I will also ensure the budget is open and transparent, with ample time for feedback from the community before passage.”

Anderson:

“I believe in the power of communication and transparency. I would make myself available to district share holders and take the time to fully understand the issue before offering my vote.”

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