Columbia School Board: Meet the candidates

Wednesday, February 12, 2014 | 6:02 p.m. CST; updated 5:41 p.m. CST, Thursday, February 13, 2014

*A previous version of this article gave the incorrect time and place of a school board candidate forum.

COLUMBIA — On April 8, voters will choose from four candidates for three open seats on the Columbia School Board. Those seats are held by Jonathan Sessions, Helen Wade and Tom Rose. Sessions and Wade are running for re-election; Rose is stepping down after almost seven years on the board.

Upcoming School Board forums

  • *The Columbia Council of Parent Teacher Associations, the Columbia Parents for Public Schools and the Columbia Missouri State Teachers Association will host a forum at 6:30 p.m. March 6 at the Activity and Recreation Center, 1701 W. Ash St.
  • The League of Women Voters will hold a forum at 6:30 p.m. March 18 at the Columbia Public Library at 100 W. Broadway. 
  • The Columbia Missouri National Education Association will host a forum at 5:30 p.m. on March 20 at the Neil C. Aslin Administration Building at 1818 W. Worley St. 
  • The Columbia Chamber of Commerce will host a forum in March. A specific time, date and place have not yet been announced. 
  • The Boone County Democratic Central Committee and the Columbia Pachyderm Club have not yet announced dates for forums.

Related Articles

The Missourian will publish profiles of the candidates in March and will attend  candidates' forums. Here is an introduction:

Jonathan Sessions

Age: 31

Years in Columbia: 31

Occupation: Owner of Tech 2, a technology consultation firm.

Education: Attended Russell Boulevard Elementary, Smithton Middle, West Junior High and Hickman High schools; bachelor's degree in music and education from MU.

Personal connection to district: "It's a district that I grew up in. It's a district that I benefited in as a student."

Community involvement: "I've been on plenty of city commissions. I've been in charge of several youth programs. The list goes on. I've always been very actively involved in the community. This is just one other way I can give back to Columbia."

Political involvement: Four years on the Columbia School Board.

Reason for running: "I've been on the board for four years and part of the long-term planning. I want to see the district succeed and stay true to the promises we've made to the community."

Biggest challenge facing the district: "There are many challenges facing the district. The one that impacts all the others is finances. We don't necessarily know what we'll get from the state. ... That unknown budget makes it difficult to continue to improve the quality of our district while closing the achievement gap."

Contact information:, website, Twitter, Facebook, phone: 573-424-1999.

Helen Wade

Age: 37

Years in Columbia: About 20.

Occupation: Family lawyer for Harper, Evans, Wade & Netemeyer.

Education: Received a bachelor's degree from Columbia College and graduated from MU's Law School in 2004.

Personal connection to district: "When I ran initially in 2011, my daughter was entering kindergarten, and I wanted to be a part of the process and decisions that would affect my daughter's education."

Community involvement: Privately raised funds for local charities; worked on various committees with the Missouri Bar; previous board member for Voices, a professional women's networking organization.

Political involvement: Three years on the Columbia School Board.

Reason for running: "In a short clip, I think that there's a lot more work to do."

Biggest challenge facing the district: "I think that it's still probably managing growth and ensuring that we continue to manage the achievement gap."

Contact information:, Facebook, phone: 573-289-8453.

Joseph Toepke ('Tep-key')

Age: 42

Years in Columbia: 10

Occupation: Sexual assault response coordinator for the Missouri National Guard

Education: Bachelor's degree in earth science and geography from Central Missouri State University (now the University of Central Missouri) in Warrensburg. 

Personal connection to district: Children previously went to school in the district before transferring to private school. Wife, Amanda Toepke, teaches at Smithton Middle School. 

Community involvement: Previous parent volunteer for School Board committee.

Political involvement: None 

Reason for running: "I think I bring a very different perspective to the board. I'm a military officer. … I think the board has done a really good job up until now, but I would like to be a part of what takes them to the next level."

Biggest challenge facing the district: "The district's biggest challenge is balancing competition for resources with expanding to meet the needs of the community. We are trying to provide the best education possible to our kids. To execute that plan, it takes resources, a lot more than what is currently allocated. We need to inform the public, determine the best way ahead and then bolster the support of our fellow Columbians." 

Contact information:, phone: 573-529-1684.

Paul Cushing

Age: 51

Years in Columbia: 13

Occupation: Programmer at White House Custom Color

Education: Vocational degree in electro-mechanical engineering from Pinellas Technical Education Centers in Clearwater, Fla. 

Personal connection to district: "Well, I live here for one thing. Basically I want to give back, and this is a good way to do that."

Community involvement: Previously volunteered with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Missouri. 

Political involvement: School Board member from April to September 2012 before resigning because of a temporary relocation. 

Reason for running: "I really enjoyed the time working with the staff, board and community. … I feel good about doing it. I know it's good for the community." 

Biggest challenge facing the district: "That's kind of a toss up between overcrowding, which we've all been talking about … and reaching kids that are at risk." 

Contact information:; phone: 573-864-3034.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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