Question 1). What educational or other education specific based community work or experience do you have to bring to your role on the school board?
My Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from Drake University, during which I focused on developmental and child psychology issues, and my Masters degree in Organizational Leadership from Grand View University, provide the foundation to help lead and make thoughtful and tough decisions to support the future of our district and the students in it.
I have served our community through years of volunteering in our schools. Beginning when my children were in kindergarten and continuing through their high school years, I spent many hours a week volunteering in classrooms, and I served in several board positions on the Centennial PTA from my start as the restaurant fundraiser chair, to my final year as president. I have also previously served on the Superintendent’s Advisory Council and have supported our band program by volunteering through SEP Band Boosters. I currently serve on the Southeast Polk Education Foundation Board, raising funds for curricular enrichment, programs, scholarships, and projects outside the normal funding stream of the district, to provide enrichment opportunities that would otherwise not be available.
My work experience includes teaching preschool at Adventure Life Preschool and Bondurant Christian Church Preschool during the years that my children were in grade school. My professional career since then has been in higher education at Grand View University where I work as a Completion Coach providing support to students through academic advising, financial planning for their degree, and guiding and counseling them through a multitude of challenges and experiences. I am also certified in Youth Mental Health First Aid through the National Council for Mental Wellbeing course facilitated by through the departments of Education and Social Work at Grand View University.
Question #2: In your opinion, what are some of the district’s strengths and weaknesses? How do you feel you could support the strengths and turn around the weaknesses?
Brigid Ernst: One of our district’s greatest strengths lies in our leadership, teachers, and staff who make Southeast Polk Schools a great place to learn and grow. Our tradition of academic excellence has led to strong academic performance and the district’s use of data-driven, proven practices translates to increased academic success. Our high school offers a wide variety of challenging academic opportunities that prepare our students for success in both the trades and higher education. We have a great sense of pride and community surrounding our schools. I would support these strengths by continuing to hold a high standard for academic performance and by making decisions that provide our schools with the best resources possible in a sustainable way.
One weakness that I have recently observed is tension between different groups of students that stems from perceived differences. This has led to situations of bullying or harassment and can both contribute to, and be a product of, mental health issues. The difference I can make here is by leading by example, modeling the value of inclusion and respecting differences, and supporting the use of district resources to provide programs that support student mental health. The district has done a good job investing in programming to help prevent bullying and boost student mental health, such as the Olweus Bullying Prevention program, which I would continue to support. I would also champion the introduction of new programs like the “Leader in Me” program that has recently been introduced at Altoona Elementary and Spring Creek, which has shown positive, transformational results in schools where it has been implemented.
Question 3). Are you willing to listen to various viewpoints with an open mind and weigh all sides prior to making a decision? Are you willing to work with others to reach a common goal?
Brigid Ernst: Listening to others is one of my strengths that many who know me would confirm. I always try to keep an open mind and look at situations from a viewpoint different from my own and with empathy. I know the way I experience the world is not the way that everyone else does, and that our own unique experiences shape our viewpoints. I would weigh all sides of a situation and take in all of the facts to make well-informed decisions. I enjoy collaborating with others to reach solutions and am more than willing to work with others to reach a common goal and consider options that I may have not considered on my own. The more voices and perspectives at the table, the better the decisions.
Question 4: What do you feel is the bigger obstacle facing school districts today; proper funding or proper spending?
Brigid Ernst: In the Southeast Polk school district and in many others, I feel that proper funding is the issue. Our schools and teachers have been tasked to do more with less due to decreases in state funding per pupil. Our property tax rates that are allocated to the school have actually decreased over recent years, and I support continuing this trend. I have witnessed a time in our school district when we were in a financial crisis and budget cuts had to be made. Since then, our district has been very careful with its spending and our solvency ratio is in much better shape. SEP has done a great job at cutting its tax levy, improving its bond rating, and then still being able to address the needs of a growing district by passing the recent bond with no increase in the levy rate.
Question 5: What are your feelings regarding equality and inclusivity? What are your strategies to make sure all students and families are treated with dignity and respect regardless of sexual orientation, ability, race, religion and socio-economic status?
Brigid Ernst: I strongly believe in the importance and value of equity and inclusivity. The first strategy I would use is to lead by example and model behavior that shows respect to those who may identify differently than I do or have a different set of life experiences. I have had the opportunity to participate in ongoing professional development regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion in my workplace where we serve students who have differences in sexual orientation, ability, race, religion, and socio-economic status. One of the strongest strategies that I know of is to continue educating others about differences as well as similarities we have as humans. When we learn about others who are different from ourselves, we can develop appreciation, empathy, and respect. Representation of these different experiences in leadership and in our classrooms matters to groups who may be in the minority. A successful strategy I have witnessed is creating a special task force or group composed of people who identify with different minority groups to offer feedback on their experiences to leadership to help improve policies and experiences.