After years of collaborating with the Lawrence school district in various volunteer roles, it wasn't until Jill Fincher served some time on a committee tasked with redrawing attendance zones that she knew she wanted to shoot for the school board.
She said working the puzzle-pieces of the boundaries was one the most difficult endeavors she had done for the district, and that "trying to find a solution that worked for the whole community" made it more rewarding than her past experiences.
"It was hard and it was frustrating, but I felt engaged," she said. "I enjoy projects and I enjoy problem solving. That was just a sample of one of the problems they deal with."
Jill Fincher bio:
Address: 1700 Inverness Dr.
Occupation: Business manager
Education: Bachelor's degree, University of Texas at Austin
Family: Divorced, with two children
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Fincher, 47, is one of seven candidates running for four four-year terms on the Lawrence school board on April 7.
A native of Junction City, Fincher came to Lawrence in 1990 after receiving a finance degree from the University of Texas at Austin. She worked in the banking industry for nine years and now manages a family-owned fishing lodge called Charlotte Queen Adventures in British Columbia.
She said she started volunteering with Lawrence schools in 1994 (before she started having children) when she would teach a class about finance one day a year through a program called Junior Achievement.
Through the years, she's also been a site council member at three schools and helped campaign for the Free State and Langston Hughes schools to be built. She currently sits on the board for the Lawrence Schools Foundation, which raises funds and establishes partnerships for the school district.
She said her volunteerism -- she has also served on the board for the Lawrence Public Library -- has been powered by her parents, who were also active, and a Leadership Lawrence class she took in the 1990s that connected her to many community members.
"Everyone is always 'Oh I love Lawrence.' It's this way because everyone before us stepped forward and made it what it is, so it's just important to give your time," she said.
Fincher said she is running without a particular issue in mind, other than to use her financial background to help the district navigate expected budget cuts from the state government.
Diversity is something she seems to have an interest, having touched on it several times in an interview. She said her hometown, which is near For Riley, had a relatively large Korean and German population. When she spoke of Lawrence's schools, she marveled at the diversity of its students (about 69 percent are white, according to the Kansas Department of Education). And when she learned of a reporter's out-of-state hometown, she asked him to compare the level of diversity.
Fincher has stated on several occasions that her main goal is to represent the interests of all students equally. During a candidate forum in March, she said the district's three-year old Advancement Via Individual Determination program, which teaches good study practices to students with average or below average grades, will be essential in closing achievement gaps among different groups of students.
"There's a big ethnically diverse cross-section at every school," she said. "I think it's really important to think of every kid in the district."