Jefferson City School Board President Lindsey Rowden said the compassion she's learned working at a funeral home and the connection she has to the district as a parent of three students has shaped the way she serves on the board.
Now serving in her fifth year as a member of the Jefferson City School District Board of Education, Rowden often mentions her children's schools and experiences at board meetings when discussing issues.
Rowden had a student at each level of school when she decided to run for the board: elementary school, middle school and high school.
"It's a lot easier to take the temperature of what's going on in the building when you've got a student there," she said. "I do think, too, it makes my door a little more open because people know, 'Hey, she's got kids there.'"
Her son, Cooper, graduated from Capital City High School last year and is attending trade school after participating in programs at Nichols Career Center. She also has a sophomore daughter, Sadie, and a sixth-grade daughter at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, Nora.
"Also, it really makes me think about all the kids that we're advocating for because it's not just my three kids -- it's Nora's friends and Cooper's friends and Sadie's friends and their peer group. I really care about all of them."
Rowden grew up in Jefferson City and graduated from Lincoln University with a degree in business. She and her husband, Ryan, own a lobbying firm, where he works.
Rowden worked as a corporate trainer for a telecommunications company in Overland Park, Kansas, for two decades. She said she traveled often, and the career was fun and rewarding, but her life trajectory changed after the unexpected loss of her mother in 2015.
"After I lost my mom, I just kind of realized, 'Wow, I am earning a great amount of money, but this isn't rewarding to me anymore. This isn't filling my bucket,'" she said.
She began working at Freeman Mortuary, which she said is something of a family business since it is owned by her brother-in-law.
Rowden sees it as a way to take the lemons that life handed her and "make lemonade" by using her own experience with grief and loss to help others on their hardest days.
"Everybody that walks through the doors here are here because they need us, and everybody that I get to talk to every day, I'm helping," she said. "And I just think that there couldn't be a better way to spend the day."
Rowden said her role at Freeman affects the way she does her job as a board member.
"I think the level of compassion and empathy that I've learned here definitely helps me kind of look at all sides of something that we're discussing," she said.
Rowden said the district has a lot of momentum right now, from beginning a new STEM school, having a new high school, making renovations to existing schools and starting a new early childhood center. Then there's the pay increases for teachers, greater athletic and extracurricular participation, and increased Advanced Placement opportunities.
"The best part of our job (as board members) is we get rewarded by being able to give kids their diplomas at the end of the year, and it's just an awesome thing to look at," she said.
The biggest obstacle she sees as a board member is the need for parental involvement.
"Parents are working hard. Lots of our parents are working multiple jobs and have more than one kid. And so it's tough, but we need them to know and understand that their involvement is a key to their kids being successful," she said.
"This year, we're going to focus some more on attendance. We need those kids to be in those seats to learn," she said, adding the district is also focusing on helping students catch up academically after COVID-19.
Teacher pay and teacher retention are also top-of-mind right now, both in Jefferson City and across the nation, she said.
Rowden volunteers with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Jefferson City and serves on its advisory board. She also spent time on the Parks and Recreation Commission and has volunteered with Helping Art Liberate Orphans (HALO) and parent-teacher organizations at her children's schools. She's a member of First United Methodist Church.
Rowden enjoys cooking and baking. She likes to spend time in the sun and is an avid reader; she often combines the two hobbies. Rowden tries to read a fiction book a week from the library, and although her goal is 52 books a year, she generally ends up reading around 40.
Watch the accompanying video at https://youtu.be/eJ6ave9VeZk