Advice to New School Board Members – From a Veteran, Jill Fellman

Once again Jeffco School Board Watch was able to get time a current school board member, this time Jill Fellman.  When asked about her time on the board and advice to future board members, her advice was to “listen.”

“LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN!!  Then, be willing to compromise and work together to improve education for all students.  Remember that every decision must be made while considering the needs of students, teachers, schools, and families.  Take the responsibility of being an elected official seriously.  Advocate for needs of Jefferson County schools with other elected officials in county, state and federal government positions. Be active in the community — even at those events that may have many attendees that may not agree with some of your positions — to demonstrate that you are willing to engage respectfully with all segments of our community to pursue the shared goal of what’s best for Jeffco kids.”

Ms. Fellman truly walked the talk with respect to getting out in the community.  Just a few days ago she was seen at Lakewood High School at a student produced play called “Fractured Light”.  This show about struggles students face outside the classroom was powerful.  As Ms. Fellman told us, “I love reading to students, visiting classrooms, talking to teachers, principals, and parents, hearing about the challenges and the joys of learning.  Attending art nights, athletic events, musical performances, watching our talented students engage in their learning bring me moments of great pride.”  She added that as a school board member you help create a structure and capability in the district to teach “the whole child,” which is not just about core knowledge, but life too.

Ms. Fellman came to the board with an interest in budgeting, and to that end has been treasurer the last two years.  Prior to that she was board secretary.  She has been successful in both roles, and helped guide the priorities at the meetings.  “When I first came to the board, there was a presentation on the budget EVERY meeting.  Don’t get me wrong – the school district budget is extremely important.  However, we only had a half-hour presentation on student achievement in four meetings.  That was changed so that EVERY meeting we had a presentation on student achievement while we got regular budget updates in writing.  The change in meeting structure better reflected our values and focus.”

She takes her role as treasurer seriously, and she is a member of the Audit Committee.  In addition, she attends meetings of the Colorado School Finance Project and learned everything she could about school finance.  Her advice to new members: “In an environment where board members’ goals and interests are respected, those members ought to be willing to encourage each other to serve in some positions where they can offer the most experience as well as others where they have an opportunity to grow.”

Her greatest disappointment is that we do not have a plan to deal with the tremendous amount of growth in NW Arvada or West Lakewood.  Assuming the predictions by expert demographers are even close to accurate, the district is looking at an increase of 5,000 – 8,000 students and we currently do not have seats for these students.  There are many schools that are at full capacity and adding students to these schools does not make sense.

“I understand the argument against using Certificates of Participation (COPs) to fund schools but, I strongly believe we MUST have schools for all students who live in Jefferson County and using COPs to finance schools in this situation is not only appropriate, it is also a smart, responsible business decision.  Taking advantage of COPs to build schools is the best solution to the overcrowding we are experiencing now and the extreme overcrowding we will see going forward, unless the board quickly adopts and implements a plan.”

It is worth repeating that listening to input from staff is critical too, as is acting upon their sage advice.  As Ms. Fellman told us, “We had a large number of community members write us emails offering ideas, and we had our staff experts provide us with multiple alternatives to address the growth issues (supported by our superintendent). Unfortunately, despite the continued efforts of two members to find compromise, the board did not listen to our community or our staff experts.  There are extremely few black and white issues that we face.  In fact, most are shades of gray, and in order to best serve our students we need to engage with all interested parties, and actively look for compromise solutions.”

As her four year term winds down, Ms. Fellman knows she will continue to be an advocate for ALL children, right up until the last day of her term.  She has literally spent a lifetime involved in Jeffco Schools.

“I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to grow up in Jeffco schools, teach here, work in the Jeffco Schools administration, and serve as a member of the Board of Education for 4 years. I have been part of Jeffco Schools for over 47 years.  I am sure to find new ways to continue to advocate for teaching and learning.  I cannot stop caring about this district!”

Hopefully our readers are looking at this critical board election with open eyes, and ears, and are seeking candidates for the next board who will “walk the talk” as Ms. Fellman has over her long career, listen to the community and their peers, and stand up for ALL students.

Stand-Up-Be-CountedNeed a quick refresher on the candidates? Check out this post about Ali Lasell (running for the District 3 seat currently occupied by Ms. Fellman), as well as Amanda Stevens (running for the seat occupied by outgoing board member Lesley Dahlkemper), and recall successor candidates Brad Rupert, Susan Harmon, and Ron Mitchell.

Remember: vote for Lasell and Stevens, vote yes to recall, and then vote for Rupert, Harmon and Mitchell.