School Board Candidate Feature: Jessica Willis, Seat 7
Jessica Willis is a current member of the school board running for a full term for seat 7. She first completed her undergraduate degree in business but then went back to school to get her teaching license. She is now a licensed K through 12 specialized educator who works with special education high school students and their plans post graduation. Her intentions for the school board if she were to be reelected again include strengthening the district’s focus on equity and looking for ways to give a voice to underrepresented students.
What is your connection to the Tosa Community?
My husband had an opportunity to move out here for a job… But as a teacher, we did a lot of research as to where we wanted to live. We were looking at a district that had high academic achievement but was also a welcoming and diverse community. We looked all over…but ultimately decided on Wauwatosa because it really had everything we were looking for: walkable neighborhood schools, diverse student population, diverse community, and good academics. So that’s how we landed here…And actually last year, after moving here, I noticed, that like every other district in the nation, there was a teacher shortage so last year I worked as a sub for Wauwatosa too.
Why are you running?
I’ve been on the board for 8 months. I know there’s a lot of important work. Having my background in special education and coming from a multicultural family, I really hope to push our district to having safe, inclusive environments for all schools [and] all students. [I want to make] sure that every student reaches their full potential, whether they have services in special education, whether they are non resident students, or students from a different cultural backgrounds.
In your opinion, what has our school board/district done well?
One of the reasons we moved here is that Wauwatosa schools have really centered equity And looking at the different districts around here before moving here, we noticed that Wauwatosa school and community had a very strong emphasis on equity, so making sure that our practices were equitable that we made people feel welcome and included. I do think that with our strategic plan that we just outlined, we’ve done that really well. [We’ve] outlined our goals and how we’re going to reach those goals.
What will be your number one priority on the school board?
Making sure that we have safe, inclusive learning environments for all students. So really giving a voice to students [and] understanding what their needs are because every student is different and every student requires different needs to be successful and reach their full potential. Also a priority for me since I am on the school board currently is to see the strategic plan through. It’s a three year strategic plan [and] it was just passed this fall by the board and I really want to be a part of the team that sees the strategic plan through.
What unique professional or personal perspective will you bring to the board?
Unlike all the other candidates running, my family is new to Wauwatosa. So I think I bring a unique and fresh perspective and I understand what young families who are moving into the area want. And as we’re seeing a decline in enrollment in public education, I think it’s really important as a board that we capture what is it that people want, what is it that young families want for their students and what opportunities can we provide as a district.
What is something you’ve accomplished in the last year that you are proud of?
Something I do pride myself on is my family’s involvement in Wauwatosa. Like I said, we’ve only been here for a year and a half but we’ve jumped right in. I started a welcoming committee on the [Jefferson Elementary] PTA because I noticed there was this disconnect between some of the families who are non resident. Jefferson has about a 30% non resident enrollment so…we had families who were dropping their kids off or picking them up and not getting out of the car. They weren’t interacting with families on the playground. Another mom and I noticed that and started a welcoming committee. Essentially it’s a mentorship program where we’re connecting some of our new families who may or may not live in the district with families that have been here for a while. That’s been really successful, and I’m very proud of that.
How will you ensure students’ perspectives are represented on the school board?
Something I pride myself in is being a teacher because I’d love to talk to kids. They are our future. They come with such an amazing perspective that sometimes adults can drown out their voice because it becomes more focused on the adult needs than it does the student’s needs. One thing I’ve been doing is meeting with different affinities. I’ve had the opportunity to meet with the GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) at East I’ve had the opportunity to meet with the Black Student Union at at Whitman. I also think our [student] reps are incredibly important. During board meetings I try to make sure that their voices are included when we talk about topics that are directly related to them. That’s something I will do as I go into the buildings often, I ask to meet with principals just to walk around and talk with kids, give them a high five, just make that personal connection that I’m not some bord figure sitting way up here, but I care about their experience.
Any fun facts about yourself?
When I go into classrooms, and try to make connections with students, I like to play two truths and a lie. I think the most fun fact about me is that it’s not really about me, it’s about my husband. He went to preschool with LeBron James. It’s a good segway to connect with students, especially when they’re disengaged. I think that’s one that resonates with them.