Vinton Today contacted each of the Vinton-Shellburg candidates for the school board asking them to share a bit about themselves and their experience. I also asked the candidates to address a couple of issues that they could face over the length of their term. The first was concerning a statement that the United States Attorney General Merrick Garland issued concerning threats and intimidation of School Board members. (A copy will be included below.) I specifically asked what each candidate thought should merit a call to the FBI. Secondly on the issue of COVID, the risk and prevention I asked them to address their thoughts about mask-wearing and their feelings about mandating a vaccine for school-aged children. Their responses are below.
My name is Jenni Birker and my husband, Scott, and I farm and raise cattle outside of Vinton. We are both Vinton-Shellsburg graduates and chose to return to the Vinton area after college. Having both grown up here, it was important to us for our kids to grow up in a school system where you are not just another face. Vinton-Shellsburg is a school district and community where students, teachers, parents, administration and coaches all care for one another and interact outside their designated spaces in the school and community. This caring community core is what made our choice to stay here and raise our family an easy one.
Scott and I have three kids in three different buildings in the district this year. Our oldest, Izzie, is a freshman, our middle, Cole, is in 6th grade and our youngest Katie is in 3rd grade at Tilford. Two of our three kids are unique learners, one utilizes learning accommodations through a 504 plan and another utilizes the ELP programs. Having two unique learners in our household has given me the ability to see firsthand the spectrum of services our district provides. It has also brought to light for me some "cracks" in these programs where children without a good advocate at home may end up not truly getting the services they need. It has also allowed me to see that our teachers are sometimes just "out of options". Whether it's funding and budget constraints at a school level or state and federal regulatory requirements, we need to always arm our teachers with everything we can for them to do their jobs well and provide our kids with the absolute best education.
While running for school board has been in the back of my mind for many years, I really started exploring the idea in June. My desire to run has nothing to do with the current conditions of the world. We have one of the best school districts in the state and I want to continue to see it grow, thrive and draw more people into our community. When I learned several school board members were retiring it seemed like the natural time to step into that service role and continue the great things they have done over the years.
My location in the district was another motivating factor in choosing to run. I believe that it's important that all areas of our district are equally represented. My family is a rural family from the southwest side of the district. Our address is Garrison and there is not a dedicated seat on the school board for Garrison or the other rural communities our district serves. Transportation is one budget heavy area of a rural school district and as a parent of students on a rural route, I can provide a student/parent perspective to transportation and bussing for our district.
I have been a district classroom volunteer at times over the years, served on the first SIAC committee back in 2012/2013 and have joined the committee again for this school year. I also have been involved with our Farm to School program and now as a parent of a middle and high schooler find myself becoming more involved with extracurricular activities and supporting our students in their activities beyond classroom education.
Outside of our V/S community, I am a board member for the Iowa Beef Council, where we oversee state and national beef checkoff programming and I serve as a director on the Federation of State Beef Councils at the national level. My experience on these boards, a degree in accounting and years of Ag Accounting and budgeting experience provides me with a deep knowledge of setting and balancing budgets and working within the constraints of government funding, USDA oversight and state regulation parameters. In my day job, I am on the Foundations Grain Marketing Team for Ever Ag, we work with farmers to find true breakevens and market their products at profitable levels. It is my hope that I can bring this experience to the school board and use it to help provide our students with the absolute best education through the utilization of all funding avenues available and translate it into continuing to build on our districts solid foundation by finding ways to make room in the budget for growth for students and staff alike.
In regards to the statement released regarding threats and harassment, I think that all threats should be reported and taken seriously. This is not to say it requires reporting at a federal level. We are a country set up with a local, state, and federal law enforcement system for a reason. A local threat should be reported locally and then those local professionals should take the appropriate next steps. We all need to do our best to set a good example for our kids, they are always watching. Threats and violence are not the answer and we all should strive to do better at communicating and respecting differences in views and opinions.
How do I feel about masks and vaccine mandates? I will reference my last statement above, we all should strive to do better at respecting differences in views and opinions. Everyone has the right to choose to mask or not mask as well as vaccinate or not vaccinate. Your choice is yours, mine is mine. Decisions for children should remain with their parents or guardians.
I appreciate the opportunity to answer these questions and look forward to serving our students and community.