Meet Union Twp. Zionsville Community School Board candidates

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Jennifer Valentine, Michael Coussens and Marcus Such are running for the Union Township seat on the Zionsville Community Schools school board.

CIZ COM 10.04 Jen Valentine Headshot
Valentine

Name: Jennifer (Jen) Valentine

Age: 50

Education: B.S. Human Resource Management – Training and Development, Oakland University 1994

Occupation: Stay-at-home mom of 4, weekly volunteer at HVAF (Helping Veterans And Families – homeless shelter in Indianapolis) and Christamore House Guild (house in Haughville in Indianapolis) that supports a preschool, after school care and scholarships to graduates.

City of residence: Zionsville

How long have you resided in your school board district? Nine years

Immediate family: Husband, Kevin; children: Lily, 20; Noah, 18; Marcus, 14; Chris, 13

Website or best way for voters to learn more about you: valentine4zcs.com/

Previous political experience: None

Why do you want to run for school board?

After attending school board meetings, especially over the past year, I am driven to represent the many families of the community that support the excellent history of our school system and want to see ongoing improvement and growth. It is important to me that teachers realize their value to us, as parents, and to our kids. I will listen, learn, and understand issues before judging or voting. I will be an advocate for parents, students, and teachers.

What are your qualifications for this office?

In my previous career as a manager for a CPA firm, I oversaw time and monetary budgets of accounting software implementations and conversions. Our main clients were automotive, repetitive manufacturers, so I know prompt, concise communication is key to success. I have been involved in various capacities with Zionsville schools since we arrived in 2014. I have spent hours with teachers and administrators discussing complicated issues, trips, logistics and helping to be a voice for parents when not all are available and present.

What are the top three issues that your campaign will focus on?

While I alone cannot solve the issues that I feel most passionate about, I can champion discussions to have a significant impact on collaborative decisions amongst the board members around these issues.

1. Championing our teachers as highly-qualified educators. They are the ones who have put in the time to do a job they have earned. A favorite quote of mine is “The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don’t tell you what to see.” By Alexandra K. Trenfor. 2. Prioritizing Mental Health efforts to make sure that students know it’s ok to not be ok. If you think a friend is struggling, say something. It’s always ok to ask for help.  3. Advocating that Everyone Belongs Here. I will help to make sure that voices are heard before making decisions about complicated topics. It is important that we listen and hear diverse viewpoints in our community to make the best decisions that affect our schools and students.

What do you see as strengths at Zionsville Community Schools?

Administrators and teachers. Communication and safety at all campuses has been well-thought out and my kids have never felt anything other than confident heading into school. Families move to Zionsville because of our great schools and the partnering culture between families, teachers, and schools.

What do you see as areas of improvement at Zionsville Community Schools?

Collaboration of school leaders and the school board. I appreciate different perspectives; I encourage all different ideas to be brought up and discussed, and I think that everyone should have a voice. The board members are representing the different townships in our school district and therefore vote as a representative of their district. I expect to work with and learn from others on the board with differing opinions. I am excited and positive we can affect change for the better to improve ZCS to be the best they can be and strong in every way.

How do you believe public school districts should address diversity, equity and inclusion matters?

Talk about them. Normalize having difficult discussions with kids and allowing them to ask questions – answer them using age-appropriate language. All are welcome here. All are included here. Our differences and our experiences are what make us grow and strengthen our community. I’m always interested in other families and their traditions/customs and think they should be celebrated.

How can public schools help student test scores reach pre-pandemic levels?

We should ask teachers what tools and strategies they would suggest getting our test scores up. Personally, my younger kids don’t have as much stamina doing homework and repetitive concepts as my older kids did. When my older kids were in elementary school in Michigan, we were told they would have 10 minutes of homework for 1st grade, 20 minutes for second grade, 30 minutes for third, etc. That stuck with us even when we moved here. If my daughter didn’t have 80 minutes of homework in 8th grade, she took the extra time to read.  It was an easy gauge for us to make sure our kids were putting in some extra work in addition to school days. I know kids are busier now more than ever but if we could incorporate ways in and out of the classroom to give them the tools to succeed in life with balance, then that is the end goal.

How do you feel about Zionsville Community Schools’ efforts to address student safety?

What changes, if any, would you like to see made? Overall, as a parent I have been pleased with the efforts and communication surrounding events related to physical and psychological safety. Being able to react to specific concerns and general safety should remain a top priority of our school system and our board.

What nonprofit, social clubs, volunteer groups, PACs or other organizations are you involved with?

I serve every Thursday at HVAF (Helping Veterans and Families) in Indianapolis. HVAF helps homeless and at-risk veterans return to self-sufficiency. On June 4, 2022, I was honored to receive the Daughters of the American Revolution Volunteer of the Year Award for my volunteer work at HVAF. I am also on the Christamore House Guild helping children in the Haughville community in Indianapolis. We plan and organize events and fundraisers to help these children thrive in preschool, after school care and all the way through college. I have also been on the Habitat for Humanity Women Build team for three years.

Has your campaign received any endorsements?

Verbal endorsement from Jennifer Carman, past president of the Christamore House Guild.

Something most people don’t know about you?

I’m the youngest of 7 kids. My mom went back to work when I was in the 2nd grade, so I started going to work with her the summer between second and third grades. It was a deli and I got to work cleaning windows, stocking shelves and coolers and even using the cash register when I got to the fourth grade. I worked there every summer and then throughout college and truly believe that is where I learned confidence to talk to all types of people, patience to listen to others even if we disagreed and my hard work ethic. I will never forget the time I was 10 years old, and I was asked to clean the windows (inside and out) on the doors of the tall drink coolers. I forgot to clean the inside of the rubber seals around the edges, so the owner called my mom that evening and asked me to come back the next day. I had earned $20 for that six-hour day cleaning windows and doing other tasks but had to go back the next day (for no pay) to do the job right.  That was an invaluable lesson that I never forgot.

Something you want people to know about you?

I’m a learner not a “knower”. I don’t always have to be right, but I like to get it right through listening, researching, and documenting the topic or issue in front of me. I will listen to the experts, but I will also validate details whenever I can. I work hard to make sure that what I say is truly what I believe and not just what others want to hear. I think those supporting me and voting for me know that I am a do-er. I am a positive, genuine person with a giving heart and fight for what is right for the many. I don’t need accolades or credit; I just need to know I did my best and that I’m trying to make a positive impact on the community around me.

CIZ COM 10.04 Michael Coussens Headshot

Name: Michael (Mike) Coussens

Age: 50

Education: B.S Aeronautics and Astronautics Engineering from Purdue University

Occupation: Chief engineer for manufacturer of fire protection and municipal pumps

City of residence: Zionsville

How long have you resided in your school board district? My family and I moved into Zionsville more than 20 years ago.

Immediate family: My wife Tracy and I will celebrate our 27th anniversary in December.  We have four children who have graduated from Union Elementary and Zionsville Middle School.   Our two oldest children are Zionsville Community High School (ZCHS) graduates, and our two younger daughters currently attend ZCHS.

Website or best way for voters to learn more about you: coussensforzcs.com.

Previous political experience: For almost four years I have been honored to represent the entire school district as a school board member. While my seat is based on Union Township, the entire district (that’s to say Union and Eagle townships) elected me to this office.   

Why do you want to run for school board?

I feel that a refocus of support to the students and staff of ZCS is needed rather than a focus on school board and administrators. Secondly, as ZCS will have a new superintendent in early 2023, I feel it’s important that we have a board ready to support this transition as we continue to strive for ZCS to be one of the top schools in Indiana. While there are many worthwhile reasons to run for school board, I am running for reelection for these two main reasons.

What are your qualifications for this office?

The past three-plus years have really opened my eyes to what it takes to be on a board for a public school in Indiana. In addition to this on-the-job training, my engineering background has helped me to look at each problem or opportunity from a very analytical perspective. During school board meetings, and every conversation I have with administrators and Zionsville residents, I strive to obtain the facts of the matter as I listen to input from others. I then research before acting or making a decision. Community members have shared their observations of me taking notes during meetings, and I also take meticulous notes on every email, phone call, and conversation in order to represent residents in my decisions.

What are the top three issues that your campaign will focus on?

I have three focus areas for ZCS:  academics, safety, and financial responsibility.   

Academics.

I believe that our schools’ core mission is to educate our students. I also believe and have seen firsthand that students learn best in a supportive environment, taught by a staff that also feels supported and safe.

In an ideal learning environment, students of all ages must feel connected to and encouraged by a web of supportive adults. We are best served when we provide learning opportunities and encourage cultural understandings while we teach our students. For three and a half years, I have based my board votes on whether our actions will aid or impede our mission to teach and support our students.

Safety.

As a Board Member, I feel that the safety of our students, staff, and visitors to our nine campuses must be a priority. I have supported Zionsville Community Schools’ continued journey to improve our schools’ safety by learning more about and encouraging our partnership with our local police partners at Zionsville Police Department and the Boone County Sheriff’s Office.  School safety is never about a single event, rather it is something that is improved upon each and every day.

Financial Responsibility

As the lowest publicly funded school per student in the state of Indiana, Zionsville Community Schools has continued to find ways to offer premium education to our students. Thanks to the support of our community, nearly one quarter of our teachers are funded by a local referendum. As a Board Member, I continue to support the financial strategic plan for the district as it aligns with monitoring growth while keeping close watch on taxation rates.

What do you see as strengths at Zionsville Community Schools?

A key strength of ZCS is the ability of the families to come together and to support and make a difference in the lives of the students.   

What do you see as areas of improvement at Zionsville Community Schools?

ZCS consistently ranks as a top school in the state each year. An area for improvement would be to help ensure there are programs and paths for students that may not be college-bound after graduating ZCHS. Additionally, there are concerns raised about the transparency and trust between parents/guardians and the Board of Trustees and Administration. By working together, we can achieve improvements in students’ education while being transparent in the process.

How do you believe public school districts should address diversity, equity and inclusion matters?

ZCS has been on a journey to create Strong in Every Way (SIEW) since 2016. One of the domains is focus on Developing Cultural Understandings in age-appropriate ways, which has helped lead to the Everyone Belongs Here statement created by students and staff. I believe in these programs and support them with my actions by volunteering with our performing arts departments and in our community.

How can public schools help student test scores reach pre-pandemic levels?

The entire world experienced learning loss and mental health decline during the pandemic. I believe that if we expect our students to catch up to our pre-pandemic academic standards, we need to ensure our students are mentally healthy, which sets them up to successfully learn. We also need to support our educators as they work hard to help our students “catch up.”

How do you feel about Zionsville Community Schools’ efforts to address student safety?

What changes, if any, would you like to see made?

School safety continues to respond to the changing environment which is why I feel it’s important to keep a focus on it and regularly revisit policies. Monitoring our facilities and cultivating strong working relationships with our police partners at ZPD and BCSO are key factors to keeping our students and staff safe. I would like to see these relationships strengthened.

What nonprofit, social clubs, volunteer groups, PACs or other organizations are you involved with?    

I actively support the nearly 100 members of the Zionsville High School Marching Eagles every weekend. My youngest daughter, wife, and I volunteer with the Humane Society for Boone County. In 2017, we started volunteering as a family at the Zionsville Rotary Triathlon, and it has become a tradition we enjoy. I currently serve wherever there are needs at Zionsville United Methodist Church and in the community through ZUMC.   

I am also a member and contributor to the mechanical organization Hydraulic Institute, which sets global standards for the pump industry.

In 2004 I joined the Union Elementary School Dads Club and served several years as President. I have also served the entire district as a volunteer with the Zionsville Education Foundation (ZEF) Grants Committee and the band programs at Zionsville Middle School and ZCHS.

Has your campaign received any endorsements? Please check my website (www.coussensforzcs.com) for current and future endorsements.

Something most people don’t know about you?

I grew up on a small farm and put myself through college by raising and selling sweet corn, which definitely shaped my strong work ethic. Also, I have a dry sense of humor. I love a great dad joke!

Something you want people to know about you?

I have a passion for giving back to this community that is my kids’ hometown. My time as a School Board Member has enabled me to help support not just my family but the entire community of Zionsville.

CIZ COM 10.04 Marcus Such Headshot

Name: Marcus Such

Age: 35

Education: Graduate of Carmel High School, bachelor’s in actuarial science and in mathematics, master’s in business administration, Fellowship with the Society of Actuaries

Occupation: Vice president and senior actuary

City of residence: Zionsville

How long have you resided in your school board district: Three years

Immediate family: Wife Dawn, son, Andrew, 6, and daughter, Amelia, 3.

Website or best way for voters to learn more about you: Suchforschoolboard.com

Previous political experience: None

Why do you want to run for school board?

I would like to make the school system better by leveraging my skill set and experience and making sure that parents have a voice in the education of their children.

What are your qualifications for this office?

Business and finance background while leading organizations and teams, strong education, parent of ZCS student.

What are the top three issues that your campaign will focus on?

Academics, accountability and transparency.

What do you see as strengths at Zionsville Community Schools?

ZCS has some great teachers and routinely achieves academic excellence compared to other schools in Indiana.

What do you see as areas of improvement at Zionsville Community Schools?

ZCS needs to be more open with parents regarding curriculum, plans and timelines for policies and projects, and intent surrounding controversial topics. The school board and administration must listen and consider the voices of the community in governing the school system.

How do you believe public school districts should address diversity, equity and inclusion matters? All students should feel safe and accepted at ZCS and within our community. I believe public school districts should rely on parental responsibility in educating our children on these matters, as they will be the best equipped to understand their child’s maturity level and ability to understand the complexity of the topic.

How can public schools help student test scores reach pre-pandemic levels?

Reevaluation of curriculum and how it has changed since pre-pandemic times, and the shifting of SEL and DEI education to being a parental responsibility such that teachers can focus on academics.

How do you feel about Zionsville Community Schools’ efforts to address student safety?

What changes, if any, would you like to see made? I believe some efforts have been made, however there is always room for improvement. Recently a physical altercation occurred at the High School, resulting in a video spreading across the community. The school board and administration should communicate more broadly condemning such actions. In addition, I would suggest the formation of a committee consisting of teachers, administrators, and parents to assess risks and develop solutions that can be implemented across the school system.

What nonprofit, social clubs, volunteer groups, PACs or other organizations are you involved with?

Brookhaven HOA Board Member, Union Elementary Dad’s Club

Has your campaign received any endorsements? If so, please list.

None

Something most people don’t know about you?

I enjoy woodworking in my garage and baking with my daughter.

Something you want people to know about you?

I deeply care about making our school system a safe and enriching environment to prepare all our children for the rest of their lives.


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