Hello! I’m Nika Waitsman, and I’m running for the Zone 1 position on the Fayetteville Public Schools Board of Education. Last October I was appointed to the board from a pool of 15 applicants to finish out the term of Jim Halsell who had moved out of the area.

I grew up in public schools in Boulder, Colorado and then attended the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill where I earned a degree in Business Administration. After college I worked in communications, fundraising and public relations for the YMCA. My family eventually landed in Arkansas and we have lived here in Fayetteville for 18 years now.

My son graduated from FHS in 2013 and is currently a senior at the Colorado School of Mines. My daughters are in 12th grade and 9th grade at FHS this Fall. They allow me a very helpful window into the challenges facing our district as well as the many reasons we have to be grateful.

Growing up in Boulder, I always felt like the public schools were a foundational part of our community — they had a very direct impact on the unique character of our town. Partially because of my great experiences with public schools growing up, I have tried to stay involved with them ever since.

For several years, I served as the Fayetteville Director of Community Kids Closet — which provides new clothing to low income or transitional students identified by school counselors. I also volunteered in a variety of roles in the schools my kids have attended. At Vandergriff, I coordinated the WatchDog Dads program for years and volunteered as a Homeroom Mom and classroom tutor. At McNair, I coordinated the 7th grade parent volunteers — who worked tirelessly to raise the funds to purchase exterior lighting and laptop computers along with staffing various school day activities and celebrations for the teachers and students.

At both Woodland and FHS I served as PTO President during the second millage campaign and the high school construction which gave me a front row seat to the discussion and decisions made by our district during that time — and the reasons for those decisions. In these various roles, I developed a deep appreciation for our teachers and our administrators as I witnessed first hand their commitment to our students, their energy and creativity and dedication to making our district continue to rise and meet the expectations of a demanding community of parents who want the very best education possible for their children. Students have more choices today in the world of public education. All 16 campuses of Fayetteville Public Schools need to maintain a competitive edge, and present the opportunities for students from all backgrounds and income levels to compete nationally and internationally for spots at top universities all over the country.

More recently, I was one of three sitting board members that played an active role in the Framing Our Future conversations and the creation of a strategic plan that will be presented to the board in the coming months. In the process, I feel like I gained a greater understanding of our community of parents, teachers and students and the challenges the various task forces have placed before the board for consideration. Fayetteville has changed quite a lot over the last 18 years. The more time passes, the more diverse Fayetteville becomes, which makes public policy decisions a bit more challenging — but I really do appreciate that about this town. We will never have a public school system that reflects or satisfies one stereotype, and we should never strive to create that.

As a newly appointed member of the Board of Education, I was also privileged to be a part of the interview and selection process of our new Superintendent. Collectively we invested hundreds of hours in recruiting applicants and contacting references and vetting our top candidates. I got to listen to these academic leaders from all over the country talk about how blessed our district is, and how much these men and women wanted the opportunity to lead it. I was reminded again of how much we have to be proud of here in Fayetteville — especially as I heard about many of the challenges that these leaders had faced in their current or former districts.

Every public school system faces serious challenges in today’s political climate, but the challenges we face are the envy of most districts in this state. We don’t have 25 serious problems. We have 4 or 5 big gaps that need to be addressed.

We need to do a better job with our lower income students. We need to make sure our middle of the road students are challenged and given a variety of options. We need to make sure every student gets treated like an individual, not a number, and that both teachers and students have advocates and mentors within the system. We are making progress in all of these areas.

We need to be more innovative — to push ourselves to think outside the box and adapt to an entirely new world of education — where kids have constant access to instant facts and figures, where they carry an extra “brain” in the palm of their hand everywhere they go. We can’t have the same priorities that we had even 5/10 years ago. The world is changing quickly and our young people have more tools and more opportunities than we ever dreamed possible.

We hired a great leader as our next superintendent. I have no doubt that we are beginning a great journey with Dr. Wendt. His experience in much larger, much faster growing districts than ours will be very valuable. The conversations that have begun as well as the priorities being set in place for our district are exciting. He has already begun to implement more open communication and is developing an infrastructure that will set our district up for increased academic rigor as well as performance. Dr. Wendt places great importance on extending respect to all 1400 district employees, and allowing leaders to lead.

I think my connections as a long time parent and volunteer in the district have allowed me some open doors and trust levels that enable me to bring an important and necessary voice to the board. For that reason, I have decided to run for re-election to the FPS Board of Education.

Thank you for taking an interest in our school district. Involved parents and community volunteers are a huge part of what makes this district so great.

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