COLUMBIA — Jonathan Sessions, Helen Wade and Paul Cushing were elected Tuesday evening to the Columbia School Board.
- Helen Wade — 8,142 votes, 31.98 percent
Jonathan Sessions — 7,508 votes, 29.49 percent
Paul Cushing — 5,521 votes, 21.68 percent
Joseph Toepke — 4,289 votes, 16.85 percent
Wade was surrounded by family and friends donning T-shirts supporting Wade’s candidacy in a packed room at Bleu Restaurant and Catering.
Wade’s parents, Terry and Carol Crouch, came out to support their daughter.
“Helen’s focus is very much on the community,” Terry Crouch said. “She has a good vision, particularly on where the district needs to go.”
As votes continued to roll in, Wade stood up on a chair to address the entire crowd.
“Without everyone’s support, we wouldn’t be here,” she said.
Wade said she felt “fantastic, relieved and excited” as the results were finalized. Wade will serve her second three-year term on the board.
“I can’t wait to get to work,” she said.
Wade said her first priority will be addressing the budget.
“We’ll be looking at what funding levels will be and what we are capable of doing,” she said. “The pursuit of excellence for each of our kids is the priority.”
She said another priority is evaluating school programs, such as the Common Core State Standards and Missouri School Improvement Program. She said it’s important that programs be evaluated throughout the school year.
“The key to success is early and often,” she said about assessing the programs.
School board incumbent Sessions joined fellow incumbent Wade at Bleu Restaurant and Catering, where supporters mingled both inside and outside the venue.
With a telescope set up on the patio, Sessions and the guests viewed the International Space Station as it crossed the Columbia sky. Later in the evening, they peered at Mars.
After watching the final votes roll in, Sessions and Wade crossed the room for a high-five and a hug.
"I'm excited the community has voted to allow me to continue my work on the board," Sessions said. "I'm eager to continue."
Sessions said the board's immediate priority will be to set the budget. "Moving forward, the big-picture goal is academics and achievement," he said.
Delores Hemphill, a longtime friend of Sessions, said he sold her the first Mac computer she owned. Hemphill said Sessions helped her set up her computer and has helped her maintain it several times over the years.
“I think the world of him,” Hemphill said before the final vote was calculated. “I have every faith it will be a good outcome.”
Cushing held a relaxed, intimate gathering with close friends and family at Flat Branch Pub and Brewing. Diners and guests shared in the excitement as Cushing's election to the board was announced.
“Back to work” were the first words Cushing said as the results came in.
Cushing was previously elected to the school board in 2012, but he resigned because of a temporary work relocation to Minnesota.
“I knew what to expect this time," he said of the 2014 election. "I found myself stumbling a little bit because I was less opinionated because I knew more about what I was saying. This time I know how things work and what’s going on."
Friends gathered to offer Cushing their congratulations, including Annelle Whitt.
“I think it’s fabulous. It’s going to be a strong board, and they’ll deal with the problems facing us really well,” she said.
Cushing said he hopes to start addressing the Common Core State Standards as well as district programs.
“I would like to see the performance of CPS programs and how they impact the kids. I want to make sure our money is going towards the programs that benefit them,” Cushing said.
“Just making a difference in any way I can is important to me," he said. "It sounds cheesy but it’s true.”
Toepke was surrounded by his family, friends and school district teachers in a side room of The Heidelberg. While enjoying appetizers and beverages, he shook hands with and hugged supporters donning their “I Voted" stickers.
Jill Clark, who used to teach with Toepke’s wife, Amanda, said she voted for Toepke because of his sense of community.
“It takes a village to raise a child, and I like how he looked at the whole picture,” Clark said.
Clark’s husband, David, has known Toepke for a few years, and he has a different perspective on his ideas.
“He’s had the benefit of hearing each part of the system through his wife being in education,” David Clark said.
Although he lost the election, Toepke said, he will likely run again.
“I’m excited. I had over 4,000 votes for, two months ago, a politically unknown candidate. I would have liked it to be different, but I’m happy that so many people have supported me,” Toepke said.
Toepke said Cushing had called him after the results came in to tell him that he had learned a lot from Toepke’s campaigning.
“I was told by several people there is no quitting now,” he said.
The Columbia School Board will meet for the first time with its newly elected members at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Aslin Administration Building, 1818 W. Worley St. This will be Tom Rose's last meeting, and the newly elected members will be sworn into their terms.
Makenzie Koch, Christa Corrigan, Kylee Gregg and Casey Nighbor contributed to this report.
Supervising editor is Allie Hinga.