Candidate introductions for the Tuscola BOE election

By Kendra Hennis 
There are three candidates on the ballot for the upcoming Tuscola Board of Education election on April 6. Candidates for the election (listed in ballot order) are James (Wade) Wilcox, Mathew James Kelly, and Jessi Young (incumbent). Wilcox and Kelly are running in Township area 16 N Range 8 E and Young is running in Township area 15 N Range 8 E. 

James (Wade) Wilcox

James (Wade) Wilcox
Age: 53
Family: Michele, Isabelle (Sophomore), Kade (Eighth), Kale (Sixth)
Educational/professional background: Undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois (Health Administration), Graduate Degree (Health Policy/economics) University of St. Francis. Currently employed with Alexion Biotech as a Regional Account Manager. 
Civic involvement: Member of the Moose, Biddy Ball Coach, Little League Coach, Travel Basketball Coach, Youth Soccer assistant coach, Travel Softball assistant coach, Colon Cancer Awareness Advocate,

What prompted you to run for school board?  
I grew up and went to school in Tuscola and am proud to call myself a Warrior.  This town is very special in my heart and I truly enjoyed my time in Tuscola Schools.  After college, I came back to Tuscola to raise a family so that my children could make great lasting memories for themselves. I have a great passion for Tuscola, our schools and the children that grace the halls.  My wife and I have greatly invested our time in helping our towns children grow and be the best that they can possibly be.  My interest in running for school board is keep the financials strong, while trying to upgrade facilities, focus on academics and be an advocate for the trades.  Our young Warriors need options as they all have differing interests.

What traits/strengths do you feel you bring to this position?  
I would be the only board member that grew up and went to school in Tuscola, which could help give insight.  I have great relationships with many teachers, non-teaching staff members, and administration.   I have been in Corporate American in HealthCare for 30 years, so I am a great listener but have high expectations of myself and our school system.  I am driven to help every young Warrior reach their life goals.  This School district gave me a great start in the world, and I want to make sure it keeps churning out great young additions to our society.

What would you consider the top priorities of the school board? 
1) Keep a strong financial status. 2) Develop a 5-year, 10-year and 15-year building and curriculum plan. 3) Continue to make Tuscola Schools a destination to attract young families and great educators.

With the financial difficulties the school district has faced in past years, and further challenges likely ahead (ex.–teacher pension costs returned to the district), how would you handle those decisions? 
I witnessed firsthand the financial hardships that the district maneuvered through.  I am willing to make the hard decisions to make sure this district does not repeat history.  I believe in looking at all possibilities and finding the most appropriate courses of action to insure the survival and evolution of our schools.

What do you feel is the top challenge the district is facing today? 
I feel there are several challenges, but I will focus on two.  There are the challenges right in front of us and the challenges coming.  I see staying financially steady and maintaining and improving our facilities as the big challenge that never goes away.  The other challenge we do not see that has my attention is the aftereffects of this Pandemic on the Teachers, Students, and Staff moving forward.

What do you see as the greatest strengths of the school district? 
Our greatest strengths are our highly motived educators, support staff, administration, and the close-knit people of this town.  This is a special town where we take care of are own.  This combination has made Tuscola what it is today, a great community that has the respect and admiration from Cairo to Chicago.

Mathew J Kelly

Mathew J Kelly
Age: 42        
Family: 3 Children
Educational/professional background: Business Manager, UA Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 149
Civic involvement: Union Member, AFL-CIO Champaign County President, Parkland College Foundation, CU Schools Foundation

What prompted you to run for school board?
I have three amazing kids who are all products of our community’s great public schools. One of my children is still in high school, while the other two have graduated. It is because of them that I am invested in our school district’s future. We have a great community that people love and I want to do all that I can to ensure our children, teachers and administrators have the support they need in order to succeed.

What traits/strengths do you feel you bring to this position?
Like all other parents, I have done all that I can to help my children prepare to be successful in life. That includes encouraging them to pursue what they are passionate about – and even in my own family, that has meant different things because they all have different interests.

After school, I spent time working in the banking industry before realizing the opportunities available in the construction trades and I began building a career there. I recognize that while many of our students will go to college after graduating, not everyone will. But they all should understand the many career options available to them and that they have access to good paying jobs, regardless of the learning path they take.

I want to be sure industrial arts are once again taught in Tuscola and that we introduce the skills needed to succeed in those trades. 

I have worked on the boards of several non-profits including the Parkland Foundation and if elected, I would serve as a conduit for our students to be able to help plan and work toward their future, whether that is a four-year college, community college or right into their chosen career.

I am running to make sure every Tuscola student is positioned for success and I have the background and experience to make sure that isn’t just a dream, but a reality.

What would you consider the top priorities of the school board?

* Return Industrial Arts to Tuscola High School
Our teachers are doing a great job of preparing our students to continue their education after they graduate. Unfortunately, industrial arts classes were lost due to budget cuts and with that, many students interested in trades or other career options have been left with fewer options. I gained great experience when I took those courses in school and I know that thousands of others have, as well. Our students deserve those same opportunities to learn a trade, build a skill and start a career. I would work with our administrators to identify funding to bring high-quality, technical instruction back to our schools.

* Support for our teachers
Our teachers have been on the front lines during the current pandemic, which is hopefully coming to an end soon. They have sacrificed and re-adjusted lesson plans countless times in order to help make sure our children continue to receive the very best education possible.

The School Board should be there to provide balance between administrators, teachers, students and the community. We need each of those groups to leave politics and personal feelings behind and focus on working together to do what is best for our kids.

* Maintain and upgrade our facilities
Our students deserve the very best. Not just in actual education. They should be able to walk the halls, enter the classrooms, offices and restrooms and always be in a clean, safe environment.

As a community, we need to work together to ensure that is always the case and that we monitor the facilities we send our children into every day, to ensure they are in an environment that is conducive to learning. If it’s not, then we need to decide how we, as a community, will support investing in those facilities.

With the financial difficulties the school district has faced in past years, and further challenges likely ahead (ex.–teacher pension costs returned to the district), how would you handle those decisions? 

What is best for our students?
At the end of the day, no matter the question, the answer should always be rooted in doing what is best for our students. How will they benefit from the decisions we are making? We need to make sure that everything we do considers the students and positioning them to succeed.

Certainly, school districts and government bodies across the state are experiencing financial challenges. But like any other challenge, if we can leave personal or political issues behind and focus on what is best for our students, we’ll find the answer.

What do you feel is the top challenge the district is facing today?
Undoubtedly, the biggest challenge our district has had to face over the last year has been responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and, now, managing the return to normal. 

The pandemic has definitely brought out the best in our teachers and shown how resilient our children can be. But it has also shown many of the obstacles facing our students. We as a community need to make sure we don’t forget about the issues raised during the pandemic in planning for the future.

What do you see as the greatest strengths of the school district? 
Tuscola is a community that cares deeply for our children, and our school board reflects that. Every single person involved, whether I agree with them on every decision or not, I know that they are there because they want the best for our students. That gives me the confidence that we can all work together in a true spirit of collaboration for their future.

Jessi Young

Jessi Young
Age: 40
Family: Husband James; Kids Anastasia, Colton, Lillyanna, Logan, & Lawson; Labradoodle Kubbie
Educational/professional background: 
Rantoul High School Graduate
Illinois State University Graduate – Bachelor’s in Marketing with Minor in Economics
CCMSI since 2003 in various marketing positions
Civic involvement:
Current Tuscola CUSD #301 School Board Member 
Tuscola Rotary Member

What prompted you to run for school board for another term?
This school district is extremely close to my heart. Our children represent the future leaders and residents of the City of Tuscola. I feel as parents and community leaders we shoulder the responsibility to provide them the greatest opportunity to succeed in life’s endeavors and pursue their dreams. Education is of course paramount in building intellect, character, and community for their future success. Whether pursuing a college education, technical trade or becoming a homemaker, instilling the importance of education in our children in facilitating their ambitions is vital.

I look forward to the possibility of continuing to serve on the School Board of Education and work closely with each member and the wonderful educators in our system to create the Gold Standard for public education in Illinois. 

What traits/strengths do you feel you bring to this position?
Strong leadership, communication, creative, budget and analytical skills. I’ve worked for CCMSI, a National Third Party Administrator for Worker’s Compensation & Liability Claims, since 2003 in various marketing positions. I would like to contribute in providing a model education system for all the children within our school district.  I want to ensure we bring all resources available (federal, state, local, private) to bear to provide a safe, modern and technologically superior educational system.

What would you consider the top priorities of the school board?
As we find the world around us and within Tuscola becoming more complex and challenging, as community leaders we must become even more vigilant in creating and sustaining a safe, moral and effective educational system for our children. As a Board, we are working to update our school buildings including science labs and classrooms. Other important areas in the future include implementing modernized technology in classrooms and developing a streamlined curriculum plan. Curriculum updates are needed throughout our schools.

With the financial difficulties the school district has faced in years past, and further challenges likely ahead (ex.–teacher pension costs returned to the district), how would you handle those decisions? 
Despite past challenges and most recently, COVID-19, the school district is focused on financial responsibility and stewardship of our tax payor funding.  With the recent retirement of prior, and reissuance of new bonds we have more financial resources to invest in our children’s learning environment.  I will work closely with the administrators, teachers and parents to ensure the funds are invested in such a way to drive the greatest impact for our students and faculty.

The teachers pension deficit remains an ominous cloud over education in Illinois, with no easy resolution at hand.  While our influence may be limited, it is important to secure our teachers retirement while also remaining fiscally responsible. 

What do you see as the greatest strengths of the school district? 
Our staff at all levels are second to none at Tuscola CUSD #301. 

This past year has been especially difficult for everyone our students, staff, community and parents. The pandemic has produced challenges of an unseen magnitude within our district and throughout the entire education system. The District’s ability to provide in-person learning, the entire school year thus far, has been a herculean effort achievable only through the selfless commitment and dedication of our amazing administrators, teachers, parents and of course our students.  We are one of the only districts in the entire nation that have remained in-person and safe throughout the crisis.  This is a critical achievement because most all health organizations have indicated in-person learning is most beneficial for all our students’ mental health and well-being. Our staff at all levels has had the uncertainty of not knowing what each new day holds and has come through with grace and dignity. The District’s staff has worked tirelessly for our students and their families during this unprecedented time. They should be commended.

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