As an attorney working in family law, Helen Wade thinks analytically.
“It teaches you to look at things from multiple angles, to try and understand perspectives that may not be the prevailing perspective or your own,” Wade said.
With the Columbia School Board, Wade has found this methodical form of reasoning to be beneficial with understanding parents, students and the rest of the community. One of her priorities is communicating the district’s practices more efficiently by sharing her practical decision-making process.
“I like to look at what’s possible,” Wade said.
Wade, 44, looks to continue addressing and supporting the community with a fourth term on the board. The election Tuesday was postponed from April because of COVID-19. She is running for one of three open seats on the seven-member board and serves as board president.
Wade’s family moved constantly when she was young until they settled in Missouri. She majored in psychology at Columbia College in 2001 before graduating from MU’s School of Law in 2004. She works as a lawyer at Harper, Evans, Wade & Netemeyer.
Wade ran for the School Board in 2011 as her way to personally contribute to the education of her daughter, who was just entering kindergarten. Nine years later, with her daughter now attending Rock Bridge High School, Wade’s reasons for running have changed with her experience.
“Public education, now more than ever, is the tool that we need to effect broad social change and improve everybody’s lives,” Wade said. “There are limits on what you can do through a public school system, but without it the options become so limited.”
Wade said she wants to take concrete action instead of simply stating ideals. In regards to communicating about the district’s growth, she said she encourages promoting solid partnerships within the city and paying attention to what points people are making.
“I know that she is listening with an open ear to constituents,” former School Board president Jan Mees said. “Those constituents can be everything from students to administrators seeking guidance.”
Wade and Mees worked together for seven of Mees’ 12 years on the board. Mees praised Wade’s ability to express board issues to the public and speak to their concerns.
Wade said newsletters have been a surprisingly successful method of communication, but she also wants to see the district expand the ways it reaches out to parents.
Parent-Community University is an example of a program that impresses Wade. The program teaches parents about approaches and projects within the district in a collaborative discussion. The conversations are then uploaded on the district’s website.
“I like those more hands-on, personally interactive things that the district is doing,” Wade said. “I think that’s effective, and I think it’s more personal.”
The current year has been challenging, Wade said, but she thinks the board is better for it.
“As difficult as it is to hear criticism from your constituents and your stakeholders at times,” she said, “if you take enough time to separate yourself from your image ... it makes you a better representative of everybody.”
One criticism regards seclusion and restraint and the district’s contract with Special Education Services Inc. (The board voted last week to not renew its contract with SESI.) Wade said she recognizes the concern with conduct not matching policy but finds it difficult to address individual instances due to federal lawrestrictions. She said she finds all criticism is fair when it comes from a good place and uses feedback to research policy effectiveness.
“What does the data say? What you’ll find is there’s not a lot of data,” Wade said.
Evaluating each students’ individualized education program, or IEP, is the only way to check the program’s effectiveness, which Wade said is difficult to measure.
Her decision-making is deliberate, she said. “I want to know the facts, and sometimes that takes time. I do think there ought to be changes in all sorts of things around this topic.”
Wade believes the recording of IEP meetings between parents and teachers would further transparency with the community but also considers that teachers might leave the district if they disagree with the policy. She said she would like to see statewide policy change to effectively apply it.
Her law background, especially when dealing with families and children, taught Wade to take an objective approach when striving for the overall educational achievement of students. It also taught her the reach of the district’s impact.
“Columbia Public Schools touches everybody,” Wade said. “It really drives to me the kind of community that we’re living in.”