School Board Candidate Feature: Austin Jensen

Maeve Kaufman and Lucy Hildebrand

Austin Jensen is running for seat 2 of the school board. He has been a citizen of Wauwatosa since 2016, and has two young children, one attending Jefferson Elementary. Jensen’s top priorities for this coming term are improving resources and destigmatizing the mental health of students in the district, improving the handling of behavioral issues, and raising teacher retention.

One of your priorities you want to focus on in the next term if elected is improvements on students’ mental health. What do you think is the most effective way to improve and support students’ mental health? 

I think the additional mental health resources in the form of additional counselors will be a really good start. Improving the ratio of counselors to students will help to ensure that students are getting the time and attention they deserve. Mental health support often comes with a stigma.  Working to remove any stigmas and make certain that students feel safe coming to their counselors is another important step in this process. Talking to adults about “kid/adolescent problems” can be scary, and our environment needs to be welcoming for students in need of support whether they know they need it or not.

What made you decide to run for the Tosa School Board? What is your connection to Wauwatosa? 

I have a 5 year-old JK student at Jefferson and a 3 year-old that will go to Jefferson shortly. I have a vested long-term interest in making sure that the district not only sees improvement, but creates a thriving learning environment for students. One of my top reasons for running was the number of families, including my own, that have told me they didn’t feel welcomed in the district.  There is not a sense of community. I want to help change that. I’ll work to make sure students and families feel welcome and part of a family. This should help to improve engagement from students and families across the district.

How do you plan to overcome possible challenges in our district in the next term?

In my professional role, I work with a team to create strategic plans for our business. We have to be proactive and assess potential challenges that we may face. So, I would first answer that question, by saying I would take a proactive approach to how decisions are made. I think an important step is collaborating with various stakeholders and having real discussions about potential outcomes. If challenges arise, as they often do and most likely will, we need to remain collaborative. I’ll welcome constructive dialogue and keep an open-mind to other opinions as I hear what others have to say. Overcoming challenges makes us stronger as individuals and certainly stronger as a group. We can meet and overcome these challenges head on, if we work together.

How can the district improve behavioral issues? 

The additional mental health resources being added will, in my opinion, be a catalyst to improving the current behavioral issues in the district. Counselors and school psychologists can help get to the root cause of some of the issues that students are facing and get them the support they need. I don’t want to see a student removed from a school if it’s not absolutely necessary. We can do a better job by getting all students better resources to handle their emotions.

What is your plan in improving teacher retention?

We have made the first step by improving overall teacher compensation. There is still work to be done on that front though. The next step is building up the culture. If elected, I’ll make it my mission to listen to as many teachers as I can to better understand what they need to be happy in their job. Happy teachers are less likely to want to go somewhere else. If their peers at other schools know that we have a winning culture as well as a great compensation plan, we should see applications flooding the district office when a position opens up.  We already have great students and great teachers. We need to work as hard as we can to keep them.