By Okon Ekpenyong
Thirty years ago, Kara Coates arrived at the campus of Ohio University bubbling with the zeal and excitement to follow her dream of becoming a college graduate and to move on with life. But she has made Ohio her home ever since and now running as candidate for Gahanna Jefferson School Board. “I fell in love with Ohio and decided to make it my home for the past 30 years.,” Kara Coates told New Americans magazine.
I grew up in New Jersey and attended college at Ohio University, receiving a Bachelor of Science in Communications. I fell in love with Ohio and decided to make it my home for the past 30 years. I moved to Gahanna with my husband, Kevin, in 2006 just in time for our twins, Lily and Evan, to start school at Gahanna Lincoln Elementary.
We chose Gahanna as a place to raise our children because we could see a diverse and caring community that takes the time to invest in the lives of its citizens. 2021 is a big year for my family; Lily and Evan just graduated from Gahanna Lincoln High School in the spring and are attending college.
I currently work at OhioHealth as a Director on the Marketing Communications team.
I have 30 years of experience as a marketing communication professional with 23 years in leadership roles.
I want to give back to a district that has been so good to my family through the years through both good times and challenging times. In addition, for the past two years, I have been a volunteer on the Gahanna Jefferson Master Facilities Planning Committee. During this time, I have worked alongside teachers, administrators, and community members. I have seen the opportunities we have as well as the deeper needs. It was someone on the committee who suggested I run for the Board. I did a lot of research on the Board role and what is needed and realized that it would be rewarding work, but I also have skills to bring to the role. The purpose of a school board is to establish policies and programs that create the foundation for students’ academic achievement. To do so, you need vision, strategic planning, attentive listening skills, the ability to collaborate with many different perspectives, and the ability to unite diverse groups. My time as a 15-year leader in marketing communications for OhioHealth has prepared me for my role. I have led many diverse teams setting long-term goals, problem-solving, and finding common ground. I also have great empathy – a strength that got me assigned to critical projects the past two years working alongside Well-Being clinicians helping the frontline with fatigue and burnout.
I have three areas of focus:
Support robust mental health programs – The pandemic has been challenging, with loss impacting so many of us (loss of loved ones, loss of job, loss of life moments, loss of life as we knew it). A well-being focus will be vital as we move into the years ahead. Undiagnosed, untreated, or inadequately treated mental illnesses can significantly interfere with a student’s ability to learn, grow, and develop. Since children spend much of their productive time in educational settings, schools offer a unique opportunity for early identification, prevention, and interventions (National Alliance on Mental Illness).
I applaud our district for increasing the number of mental health professionals on staff. Based on my OhioHealth experience working alongside our Well-Being Team and mental health experts, I understand the support needed to evolve programming and resources. As a parent of a child managing anxiety through the teen years, I’ve also witnessed the power of exceptional behavioral health.
Age-appropriate conversations in school settings help remove the stigma of asking for help. School personnel and students can learn to identify the warning signs of an emerging mental health condition and connect someone to care. Through my daughter’s experience, she was able to identify a student using social media to call out for help. She reached out to her school counselor to quickly get the support needed for that student.
Foster unity and collaboration/increase engagement – There is a lot of excellent, transparent district communication available, but not everyone is engaging and seeing it. As I canvass in our community, the comments I have heard include:
- School families felt there was too much communication to sort through and felt overwhelmed at times or couldn’t easily find what they were looking for
- The rest of the community feels there isn’t enough, and they don’t have the same access or visibility
I would support the development of a strategic communications plan with action steps to further dialogue and meet people where they are with the communications they need, using focus groups and surveys to gain insights.
Champion innovative and hands-on educational programming – Our students learn in different ways. We can continue to evolve our programming with the expansions at our schools and the building of the new high school. New learning environments allow the connection with different learning styles, create a further exploration of career paths, including trades opportunities, and equip students for success in life after high school. My son was in pre-nursing at Eastland Fairfield Career Center (EFCC), and I saw firsthand how this provided hands-on opportunities to explore and discover passions for life after high school. However, not many students are comfortable leaving their home school during the academic day. I would like us to explore bringing additional trade and career programming into our buildings with continued partnerships with EFCC and new partnerships with businesses and apprenticeship programs.
I do not have any formal training in education development for children, but I love to support those that do. I volunteered in the district as a room parent K-5 and PTO in elementary and middle school. I have recently served as a volunteer member on the Gahanna Jefferson Schools Master Facilities Planning Committee for the past two years.
This has been such a fantastic experience. I have met many wonderful people in the Gahanna community, walking door to door, speaking at PTO meetings, attending community events and candidates’ forums. I have had great conversations about our district, hearing many thoughtful ideas. The support from the community and all the volunteers helping with my campaign has been so energizing. As someone running for office for the first time, I have been so thankful for all the advice and guidance from fellow candidates and community leaders. I am running alongside two other candidates, Dion Manley, and Sue Horn, who have been a great support system. All three of us are newly running for office, and when we found that out, we decided to pull our resources together and support each other. I have also been honored to receive endorsements from organizations such as Gahanna Jefferson Education Association, Ohio Association of Public-School Employees (OAPSE), and the Matriots.
We have an exceptional school district with tremendous opportunities for the future.
We need a board that can work together and lean into a positive and productive dialogue, that considers all students’ and families’ safety, support, and needs. I have the skills and passion for public service and the desire to serve even when times get challenging. I genuinely want to create an environment where all feel a sense of belonging so that all may thrive.
My promise to Gahanna is to:
- always listen to all perspectives
- to always seek to understand
- to always have the students at the center of all decisions
- to continue to create a transparent and inclusive environment