by Leslie Ballard
Three candidates have thrown their hats in the ring for the two Allegan Public Schools (APS) School Board seats being vacated by Jennifer Nicholson and Troy Carns. The new board members will serve a six-year term. Nicholson and Carns chose not to run again.
Candidate Mary Colborn is an Allegan native who graduated from Allegan High School and spent a stint traveling around the country during her husband’s Navy career before returning to Allegan.
She attended Western Michigan University and later earned degrees in horticulture from Michigan State University and a masters in education from Old Dominion University.
While teaching in Washington State or working with youth in the Allegan region, she has found that students “really care, not just about their own personal futures, but about the future of the world.” Colborn found students to be enthusiastic about garden end environmental projects, from Earth Day Clean-ups to school waste audits.
She has experience as a grant writer and is the author of several books, including the children’s books, Rainy Day Slug and Where Wonder Takes You.
The mother of three AP Honor Scholars, she is a strong proponent of gifted and talented education, serving as a parent liaison for the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth. She is committed to empowering parents as their children’s first teachers and supporting them as equal partners in their children’s education.
Colborn finds the students she has met and worked with in Allegan “extraordinary and remarkable.” Concerning district personnel, she thinks “we’ve got some brilliant people here, who need more support.”
The challenges she sees for Allegan Public Schools (APS) include creating a really strong sense of community in the schools. Colborn also believes that all stakeholders need to feel safe and uplifted. “Teaching is super hard and schools are not always a safe world for teachers, let alone students,” she said.
She would like to see communication and conflict resolution skills taught intermixed with project based learning starting in upper elementary and throughout middle school, resulting in students who can navigate interpersonal challenges more effectively.
Some of the environmental initiatives Colborn would like to see in the schools include waste and energy reduction, project based learning in outdoor settings, the growing and serving of nutrient dense foods, efficient recycling and possibly solar energy.
“Creating resilient students who are prepared mentally to take on whatever challenges they’re facing,” is her goal, and she believes that she has the vision to see where the school district needs to go. She sees her role as a board member “to be an important advocate for students, parents and teachers.”
Dr. Drew Isola
Drew Isola, who majored in math and minored in physics at Michigan Tech and later earned a master’s and Ph.D. in Science Education from Western Michigan University, spent 32 years teaching math and science with 26 of those being in APS, from where he retired in 2018.
His four children “all had a wonderful education in APS,” and he believes APS students are “well prepared for an amazingly wide range of fields.”
Friends encouraged Isola to seek a seat on the school board and after attending a few recent school board meetings, he eventually decided to run as a way to get involved. He believes voters deserve having choices on the ballot. He noted that in some previous elections, so few candidates ran that voters didn’t have a choice.
Isola believes that his knowledge and experience of the system as a teacher and his involvement in the local teacher’s union for several years is an asset for a board member. He has had a good working relationship with the various boards over the years.
He states that alumni are very positive about their APS experience, and parents and community members have multiple opportunities to be involved. He cites good communication and good academic and extra-curricular offerings as other strengths of the system.
Isola has served on school improvement teams, accreditation review teams, and curriculum committees at the local and state levels, as well as national projects such as Get the Facts Out (GFO), a National Science Foundation-funded initiative to recruit math and science teachers and reverse the negative image of the profession. He serves as the GFO Project Manager.
He believes it is “important for schools to have a proactive and engaged board, especially with the school renovations underway and the new elementary school being built.” The board will be involved in that project for multiple years.
While there has been some dissatisfaction expressed over the new elementary school, Isola thinks it will be beneficial financially and educationally for the community, students and teachers, and looks forward to ensuring that the transition is as smooth as possible. Helping to determine what the district can do with the three older elementary schools also interests him.
“It’s definitely not the role of a board member to micro-manage but to make policy and budget decisions as well as decisions about staffing, textbooks, and curriculum. You have to take into consideration what everyone has to say,” he said.
Isola is “excited about getting to work on district-wide planning with the board and about dealing with the interesting challenges coming up.”
School Board candidate Amanda Nash works as a part time nurse, who has worked with patients from hospice to correctional nursing. She has also served as the Volunteer Vendor Coordinator for Allegan Heroes for the last five years. Allegan Heroes is an organization that provides care packages to active military service men and women stateside and overseas, including the veterans residing in local nursing homes.
While Nash hails from the Grand Rapids area, her husband is an APS alumni, and her son Kyle is having a positive experience in school.
She has been actively involved in the school system for the last five years as a parent volunteer. “I have been a classroom helper, chaperone, popcorn popper and served on the PTO board.” She plans to continue her involvement as her two sons progress through the system.
She decided to run for the school board because “I feel parents of current students should be represented at the table and be involved in the decision-making process about the future education of their children.”
Nash thinks “the role of a school board member is to help set long term goals and help guide the school district in a positive direction, to make decisions that will benefit our students in their educational future.”
“As a mom of a current student, I will bring real world insight, teamwork, common sense, positivity, an open mind and the ability to respectfully disagree. I am a leader not a follower. I will be a voice of reason for our students,” she said.
Nash believes the school system has many strengths. “We have well trained and qualified teachers. When we look at our students test scores, their growth is phenomenal. We are also blessed to have many programs available to our students.”
Her goal is “to rebuild the trust between the community and school administration.”
“I am hoping to be able to bridge the gap between our community and the school district. There has been so much turmoil lately the focus is no longer on our students. I want to restore the board to a positive student-focused group of leaders that we as a community can trust and be proud of.”
The two winners in the November 8 election will join fellow board members Vicki Knuckles, President; Nathan Kelley, Vice President; Mary Kasprzyk, Treasurer; KD Lake, Secretary; and Christopher Hodge, Trustee.