COLUMBIA — Jan Mees carefully stirred a packet of Splenda into a skim milk latte at Kaldi’s. She chatted briefly with two people she knew and would wave down a third before an hour-long interview had passed.
As president, Mees is probably the most public face of the Columbia School Board, for which she is seeking re-election to a three-year term. She has worked in the public schools for 21 years. A former media specialist, or school librarian, and former president of Columbia Public School Employee Organization, formerly called the Columbia Community Teachers Association, Mees has been invested in the schools since her children started attending them.
2746 Willowbark Court.
61. Married to husband Bill for 39 years. They have two sons: Jeff, 35, and Greg, 32, and four grandchildren.
Retired. Formerly a media specialist in several Columbia public schools from 1989 to 2006.
Received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Purdue University and a Master of Arts degree in library science from MU.
Member of the Assistance League of Mid-Missouri, Boone County Retired Teachers, Missouri School Boards Association. Participant in the "Stand By Me" mentoring program since 2007. Served on the Columbia School Board since 2007 and is board president.
ON THE WEB:
Mees has a campaign page at janmees.com and is also on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Jan-Mees-for-School-Board/305034749753.
“Once my kids started in school, I was both feet in with the PTAs and the chili days and the library,” she said.
Mees, running against James Whitt and Dan Holt on the April 6 ballot, thinks maximizing student achievement is among the most important issues facing the current board. But she points out that achievement cannot be measured solely by test scores.
“How can you say that everyone is going to be 100 percent proficient on a certain test on a certain day?” she said, referring to the current 2014 mandate under the No Child Left Behind Act. “You can’t guarantee that, but you have to lay (the) framework as a board member so that that can be happening for our kids.”
Mees recalled seeing a bumper sticker while driving that read, “A child is not a test score.” She agrees, but thinks the statement can be extrapolated further.
“Neither is a school a test score,” she said. “… But that is how we are judged, and you can’t argue with that.”
Mees said a problem with making test scores and numbers the measure of merit is that the individual progress of certain students isn’t recognized. She spoke highly of the work teachers in the district do that the public can't always see.
“Teachers do incredible things that the public isn’t aware of ... from spending their own money for school supplies, which is easy, to knowing that a kid’s had a crisis at home and needs some clean clothes," she said.
Mees explained the shift in thinking she went through from being a teacher who went to board meetings to sitting at the dais herself. She said her core values remain the same as when she ran for the first time three years ago, but her perspective has broadened.
“That’s been really hard, for me, as a School Board member, to shed the cloak of being a teacher and realize that I have to understand all parts of decision-making,” she said.
Her husband of 39 years, Bill Mees, remembers observing this adjustment in his wife's thinking. “Once she got into the position, it was one of those situations where sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know,” he said.
Mees said there have been decisions that were personally difficult for her to make in the past three years. For example, three of the current media specialist positions are going to be cut as a part of the recent overall School Board budget cuts.
She said being retired gives her more time to commit to board activities. “People don’t understand the hours that go into this job,” she said. “... I admire my fellow board members who work, who have children, who have family lives that they’re involved in.”
The two topics most important to Mees for the board in the coming three years are closing the achievement gap between students of different races and income levels and balancing the district budget. For Mees, enhancing student achievement would involve several key plans, such as:
- Getting the best teachers and paying them adequately.
- Ensuring students have the best learning environments.
- Starting early to build a good educational foundation.
- Intervening any time a student is having a problem, birth to senior year.
However, Mees stresses that the School Board cannot close the achievement gap on its own. She thinks the community needs to get involved.
She mentors a sixth-grade student at Smithton Middle School every week; they have lunch and talk about what’s going on in each others' lives.
“I don’t know that I can make the difference, but I’m trying," she said. "I’m just a plain community member when I do it.”
Ines Segert, who has served on the board with Mees for two years, said she’s been impressed with the way Mees has allowed public comment in board meetings.
“I think she has become very inclusive,” Segert said.
Board member Michelle Pruitt said Mees has to respond to more e-mails from the public than the rest of the board and does so graciously.
“She’s very thoughtful and very kind and very caring about the emails we get and the district duties she has to do,” Pruitt said, referring to the extra tasks, such as accepting awards on the board's behalf, that fall to the School Board president.
Bill Mees said his wife operates with the same kindness she shows the public in board meetings in every area of her life.
“I defy you to find a person who is nicer, more thoughtful, more considerate than she is,” he said. “I’ve never met one.”
He said that sometimes, his wife’s non-confrontational, consensus-seeking style has drawn criticism from people who think she’s parroting administration opinions rather than standing up for the good of the students.
“There have been some people who have said, ‘She just goes along with the administration,’ ” he said. “… I just have to laugh a little bit when I hear people say that.”
Segert said she would like to see Mees become more comfortable questioning the administration’s recommendations for the School Board.
“I would like to see her be a little more assertive,” she said, though she also said she’s seen Mees begin to do so recently.
Her husband said Mees’ number one goal is helping students achieve their full potential.
“That’s her primary motivation,” he said. “Don’t get between her and the kids.”