Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of four articles featuring candidates for Brookings School Board.
BROOKINGS – Jade Nelson Withers wants to bring business experience and a parent’s perspective to the Brookings School Board.
The combined city/school election is April 13, and early/absentee voting started Monday. Two three-year seats are available on the school board, and three other candidates are running: Keli Books, Debra DeBates and Jackie Johnson. Roger DeGroot is not running for re-election.
A Brookings native, Nelson Withers has been a business owner for 13 years and is the district manager for Aflac Insurance. She and her husband have three kids, two of whom are in the Brookings School District.
“I think the most important thing that we need to focus on is getting kids back to school and what that looks like. From the learners’ perspective … we’re going to have students come back that weren’t back this year. Some who chose to homeschool will come back into the district. We’ll have kids that we lost to other districts coming back, hopefully. So what does that look like? They’re going to be at different levels and not only just this last year but even the semester before. Yes, kids are resilient, but the effects last longer than we think they do,” she said.
Nelson Withers said getting students back on track will require more support for teachers, too.
“Our educators are expected to get everyone back to the same page, but how do we support them to get them there? Is it additional tutors – what other modifications does that entail? So that’s super important to me, especially being a parent to a student who is dyslexic. I saw that semester that she lost was detrimental to her, and there’s so many kids out there who are not diagnosed with those things who are maybe having a bigger gap,” she said.
Nelson Withers said she doesn’t believe high school students are spending enough time in the classroom.
“I am concerned. … They’re treating their high school students like they’re college kids – and let’s be real, they are children. As much as I felt like an adult in high school, they are not adults. And as adults, we need to be holding them more accountable to their learning. There’s very few learners, I feel like, who can manage themselves like a college student. And that’s what we’re expecting out of these students,” Nelson Withers said.
“As an employer, I have hired on several college students over the years, and they are not equipped to handle a secretarial position in my office. They don’t know how to run Excel programs. They’re on their phone constantly … so I’m concerned about the high school students and the work ethic we’re instilling into them,” she added.
The candidate wants to learn more about the concepts for the alternative high school plan.
“As far as school projects go, I’m excited to see where that goes. … That’s one area that I’m not very well-versed with, but I’ve taken the time to visit with some local land owners and developers, so I think it’s important not to just visit with architects and the professionals in that, but also the people who have lived here for a long time,” Nelson Withers said. “Because there’s history that doesn’t emerge on paper, and I think that’s important.”
Nelson Withers said she has concerns with the district’s land usage related to facilities.
“I’m interested in where the (proposed) joint bus garage is going,” Nelson Withers said. “And where they’re putting it is, I think, a misstep.”
She doesn’t disagree with a potential partnership with Brookings Area Transit Authority, but says the location is wrong for that type of facility.
“I think that they should be saving that for possibly a future school site. We’ve got all of these kids getting bused in from Aurora that are going to Dakota Prairie. … So, why wouldn’t we take that bus garage and put it on the north end of town where the city owns a bunch of land up there that they’re sitting on and can’t get rid of it. So, I’d really like to look at the planning of our land usage, not just the facilities but on how we are using our land,” Nelson Withers said.
“Probably another goal of mine is to have planning meetings as boards that really direct land usage of the city. We need to be having workshop meetings together,” she added.
She agrees with improving Brookings’ two older elementary schools, so the facilities are on par with Dakota Prairie.
“I do want to ensure that the students at Hillcrest and Medary have those educational spaces,” Nelson Withers said. “I went to Hillcrest, so I have a soft spot for Hillcrest. I like the direction that’s being taken with the facilities. I like that they hired the professionals to come in.”
Nelson Withers said she wants to be proactive with early childhood education and to provide more resources for students with learning disabilities.
“For long-term goals, I’d like to see more on the early childhood education piece. Deubrook has a preschool program. … Right now we don’t have the space for it, but I think that would even further equip our kids in the system and it would help our working families, too, in being able to afford preschool options,” she explained.
“And I want there to be more discussion on dyslexia. If there is something affecting 20% of our students, why have I never once, as a mother of three children, ever been given a handout or educated about dyslexia at either a well check visit or at a kindergarten screening?” Nelson Withers said.
The candidate said she wants to have more input from neighborhoods around school buildings and to hear from students as well.
“I think the school district, by-in-large, has done a great job. I mean, we have a great district here, we really do, so it’s hard to be critical of them. But, I do think that despite the wisdom that we have on the board, we need someone who has children. The decisions being made are directly affecting my children right now, and so I’m excited to see three candidates with kids currently in the district. I think that will really help balance the board,” Nelson Withers said.
Contact Matthew Rhodes at m[email protected]