March 21, 2012 10:47:35 AM
Jason Spears has had an eventful two days. Monday, he and his wife, Paige Spears, had their first child, a boy named Barrett, and Tuesday the city council appointed him to the Municipal School Board. After his appointment, Jason sat down with me to discuss his background and his vision for the school district. During this conversation, it didn't take long to recognize the birth of Jason's child and his appointment may have been a divine coincidence. Because, now, whenever Jason looks at Barrett he'll have a reminder of what's at stake with his new appointment: the future.
Not long ago, Jason's parents dreamed about his future. Born in Philadelphia, Jason's mother had him when she was 16 and, as a result, had to drop out of high school. His father graduated from high school and immediately started working at a factory to provide for him and his three siblings. Jason's parents made daily sacrifices to give him the chance to succeed. Jason recalled the times his father made sure he got off to school in the morning, even after working the night shift, and how his mother made sure he did his homework, even after cooking dinner for six.
Because of these sacrifices, Jason not only became successful, but he also found a passion and a career. Attending Ole Miss, Jason decided he wanted to help people manage money and create wealth, as his parents had done to help him pay for college, so he majored in managerial finance. After graduating, he took a job as a financial specialist. In 2004, he had a choice to transfer to Tupelo, Starkville, or Columbus. He chose Columbus because he researched "the economic pulse" of the different cities and decided Columbus had the most promise.
Jason opened his own firm in 2010 because he wanted to focus more on the relationship with the client. He treats financial advising as a ministry to help improve the overall health and well-being of his clients by providing advice about budgeting and asset creation. In the interview, Jason made clear he thinks these skills and approach to advising could benefit the school district.
Jason admits he believes the "school district is at a tipping point," one where it "could improve exponentially or completely fail." Before applying to the school board, he researched the MDE grades for school districts similar to Columbus and found that Hattiesburg's school district spends $1000 to $1500 less per pupil than Columbus but still had significantly better student outcomes based on the criteria set by MDE. Jason's research found additional evidence of other school districts doing more with less. Therefore, one of Jason's short-term goals is to look at where CMSD spends its money and make sure the students are getting the most for the taxpayer's buck.
In the long term, Jason wants to "flatten" the school district so teachers and parents can be more a part of the district's decision-making. He also wants to find ways to incentivize better parent involvement with the school district and create a better partnership between teachers and parents. On the controversial issues of the day, such as sex education and charter schools, he requested more time to research them before taking a position. He did indicate support for the idea of merit pay for teachers, saying he is a "proponent of rewarding success."
The city council had several good applicants to replace Bruce Hanson on the school board. Most would have served the city well. Nonetheless, I think the council made a good choice in Jason. He has skills and educational background helpful to the district in these tough economic times. And he has had life experiences that will help him understand the obstacles facing many parents. Most importantly, though, he believes in public schools. He's a product of the public school system and believes they can teach children at the highest level. He's even counting on these schools to teach his son one day.
Scott Colom is a local attorney. His e-mail address is email@example.com.