As a student at Hickman High School, Jonathan Sessions felt a heavy push from the school to pursue higher education. He was a poor student in terms of grades but kept himself involved with student government, theater and debate, he said.
After graduating in 2001, Sessions went to MU and quickly left. “It wasn’t my life,” he said.
Sessions eventually returned to MU and majored in elementary and music education in 2006, but he wasn’t a traditional college student. While attending classes, he started and managed an information technology support company.
“By the time I was graduating from college, I was signing leases on my first office space,” he said.
Carrying this experience of working against typical expectations, Sessions, 37, is focused on different ways to prepare Columbia students for the workforce.
He is one of four candidates running for three seats open on the Columbia School Board. COVID-19 forced postponement of the election from April. A board member for 10 years, Sessions serves now as the group’s vice president.
Sessions ran in 2010 to give back to the city that raised him. As he built up his first business, Sessions realized “the tools he had in his tool belt” — among them, being a small business owner with connections, a nonpracticing educator and a Columbia Public Schools graduate.
Eryca Neville, a former teacher at MU’s College of Education and current Douglass High School principal, convinced then 26-year-old Sessions of his credibility to file as a School Board candidate.
Former board member Steve Calloway told Sessions at the time the job “is not for the faint of heart.”
Session knew Calloway from a young age, having grown up with Calloway’s sons in the same subdivision. Calloway remembers driving his sons and Sessions to school in the morning.
“He was a mixture of a techie kid and a music kid,” Calloway said. Creative students can feel lost with a college-focused curriculum, and Calloway said he believes Sessions can relate to them.
“Every student has a different need, every student has a different path and every student is going to need a different plan,” Sessions said.
His path turned to technology, specializing in Apple computers and devices. Recognizing that many marketing firms in Columbia worked with Mac computers, Sessions started Gravity in 2015, an officially licensed Apple repair service provider that also provides information technology support for businesses.
Listening to people’s needs and providing assistance are skills from his business that translate to the School Board, Sessions said. He finds his relationships within the Columbia community, business and otherwise, to be beneficial in accomplishing goals in the district. Sessions is a member of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce and served on several of its education committees.
Sessions joined the board at a turbulent time, when the district was struggling financially and cutting positions. His goals have shifted since, he said, now that the district is in a better position and plans its budget looking five years ahead.
“The big difference between then and now: Then, it was about catching up. Now it’s about keeping up,” Sessions said.
These shifts in his goals included taking a closer look at how the district prepares students for different directions after school. Sessions said he wants to create more career opportunities for students within the district through early workforce and college programs.
Beginning in August, the early college program at Columbia Public Schools will allow students to graduate with an associate degree or with two years of college completed.
“I want to make sure that we continue ... to expand those services and those opportunities in equitable ways so that every student has a chance to succeed,” Sessions said.
Another priority is matching Columbia’s population growth, which includes constructing new facilities and expanding and renovating current buildings. Ensuring that the district continues to reduce the number of trailers used is one reason he wants to continue to serve on the board.
“In 10 years from now, I want to make sure we haven’t back slipped any — that we’re not solving problems of a growing community by adding trailers wherever we can find a vacant field,” he said.
The main reason Sessions is running for a fifth term is to help students find their waythrough school.
“An individual doesn’t need to run (for School Board) with an axe to grind,” he said, “but with the agenda of servicing the community, supporting our students and helping the Columbia Public Schools be better.”