Blake Willoughby is the youngest candidate for the Columbia Board of Education, by a sizeable margin. While some might see this as negative, Willoughby sees this as one of his greatest advantages.
“I bring a fresh perspective of being a young, community engaged, artist-educator,” Willoughby said. “I am the closest in age to understanding what our kids are navigating when they graduate high school and become life-ready.”
Helping students become life-ready is one of Willoughby’s goals for the school board. Willoughby is a graduate student at the University of Missouri, working toward his PhD in Theatre and Performance Studies. As a PhD student, he serves as an educator for undergraduate students. He said college professors nation-wide are seeing freshman not adequately prepared when they begin their schooling.
“We feel that the students coming in as freshmen aren't well prepared in their writing essays, their critical thinking and the way that they're comprehending information,” Willoughby said.
This is why he believes it is necessary to have current educators on the school board.
Willoughby said as a graduate student receiving a tuition waver and paid assistantship, he feels a duty to give back to the Columbia community. He currently serves as the vice-chair to the Substance Abuse Advisory Commission, and previously served on the Public Transit Advisory Commission.
“Because the citizens have given me a gift to be able to get my education and attain that goal, I want to give a service back,” Willoughby said.
He said this is a value instilled in him by his family. His father was an army ranger who passed away in the Iraq War, and Willoughby said the values of duty, respect and selfless service carried a lot in his family.
In addition to helping high school students be life-ready at graduation, Willoughby wants to make changes to reduce the disciplinary gap between white students and non-white students, increase mental health resources and improve community engagement.
The election for the Columbia Board of Education will be April 2. Willoughby is running for one of the two open seats, alongside Ardella Streaty-Wilhoit and Jay Atkins.
Exam is hosted by Molly Dove