Years ago, Jen Schottke fell in love with Grand Rapids Public Schools when her daughter began attending a Montessori academy. Now, the parent of two is about to bring that love to a different level as the newest member of the School Board.
After interviewing five highly qualified candidates to fill the seat vacated by David LaGrand, who was elected to the 75
th District State House seat, the Grand Rapids Board of Education
unanimously selected Jennifer Schottke at the end of March. She will be sworn in this Monday, April 18.
Schottke and her husband have two children at North Park Montessori Academy; one is in pre-K, and the other is in fourth grade.
It is worth noting that GRPS is one of only two public school districts in Michigan that offers Montessori education for pre-K through 12th grades. In Grand Rapids, Montessori is available at North Park Montessori Academy and Grand Rapids Montessori for students in elementary school through grade eight and at Central High School for grades nine to 12.
“Ultimately, it’s about being a parent in the district,” Schottke says about her decision to serve on the School Board. “My daughter started at North Park when she was three, and it was then that we fell in love with that school. We lived in a neighborhood that is served by North Park, and once we saw what they had to offer, we didn’t need to look at any other schools. After our daughter started there, we moved, but leaving the district just wasn’t an option for us—we wanted our children in GRPS."
Serving on the School Board is a commitment of time, talent and energy. The group, a nine-member body elected by the public, gathers every other Monday for an open meeting and has other work sessions and committee meetings. The members, who serve four-year terms, work closely with the GRPS Superintendent on policy, budget, legislative, academic, and operations matters.
Schottke, who will need to be elected by the public in November's general election to keep her seat, is serving on the finance committee, a position vacated by LaGrand. Besides all this, board members are expected to participate in community and school events such as graduations and, as Schottke says, “other opportunities to meet with students, parents and educators.”
“It is exciting that there are so many options in GRPS,” Schottke says. “The district offers unique programs like Zoo School
and the new Grand Rapids Public Museum School
, as well as a wide variety of theme schools
Schottke serves as Director of Workforce Development & External Affairs for the Associated Builders & Contractors Association, Inc. (ABC). In this role, she connects students with the skilled trades. Schottke works with ABC, Grand Rapids Community College and its M-TEK (Michigan Technical Education Center), as well as businesses throughout the area. This blend of experience and skills brings a new perspective to the board, and this was one of the reasons members wholeheartedly backed Schottke.
For the open seat, board members also interviewed
Dale Alan Dieleman, the vice president of Tent Schools International and a former teacher and principal; Lynne Pope, an investment consultant and a former attorney and wealth manager; Ashima Saigal, the owner of the business Database Sherpa; and Jacob Walls, a senior financial analyst with Amway Corporation.
“I appreciate being able to link students to opportunities in the construction industry,” Schottke says. “Like so many of the skilled trades, the industry is finding it difficult to find employees. I spend much of my time in student outreach exploring the opportunities in construction and working to change perceptions about the industry as a whole and the career pathway to enter the field. Students need to know that a successful electrician, for instance, can earn a six-figure income. I love the time that I spend with students of any age when I get to bring them out to a job site or to a contractor’s office and engage them in a hands-on activity."
Schottke’s work has brought with it a special connection to Innovation Central
, a GRPS high school that offers four themed curricula within its walls. She serves on the advisory board for one of the programs, the Academy for Design and Construction.
“I am excited about all the opportunities offered within Grand Rapids Public Schools and hope to work with the School Board in continuing to make GRPS a great option for students,” Schottke says.
Photo courtesy of Jen Schottke.
Jane Whittington is a freelance writer and editor in Grand Rapids. When she's not writing, she likes to go to New York City, volunteer and spoil her grandchildren.