Business/Community Leader Tom Downing Announces Intent to Seek Re-Election to School District Eight Board of Education
Last updated 8/14/2019 at 1:32pm | View PDF
Former District Eight School Board President Tom Downing announced last week his intention to seek re-election to the Fountain-Fort Carson School District Eight Board of Education. He has taken a required four-year sabbatical from serving on the board, as he was previously term limited. But his love for his community and the school district has prompted him to make this choice in hopes of returning to the position he so very much loved.
Originally, Downing became interested in running for the school board several years ago, when his son Michael was battling cancer.
"There were two places he loved to spend time. The first one was church, our church family loved on us and he was very involved as a teenager," he shared. "The second place he loved to be was at school with the teachers, counselors, students and teammates. Michael was active at school, he loved playing football for Coach Mitch Johnson, he wrestled and also ran track."
Downing said that after learning Michael had cancer that was terminal, he was determined to finish his high school education and graduate with his classmates. He wanted his high school diploma.
"He did so well he earned a full ride scholarship to college. Unfortunately, he went home with the Lord at young age of 18. However the scholarship he earned was able to be used by another student to finish their degree," he said.
"During our battle with cancer, teachers volunteered to come to our home to tutor and help Michael not fall behind and graduate with his class," he recalled with a full heart. "Teammates would stop by and play video games with Michael before football practice. If Michael was feeling down, and we as parents were weary, we could call Coach Johnson and late at night after a full day's work and coaching, he would come by our home to coach us all up. It was at this time I developed a strong love for this community, and our teacher, students and coaches that embraced my family in a time of need."
In November of 2007, with the support of the community, Downing started the first year of eight years service on the school board. His first term he served as Vice President and led meetings and events when then-President Greg Welch was not available. For Downing's second four year term, he served as President of the school board.
"One of the focuses during those terms was dealing with growth. We built several schools to include Welte Education Center, our new Preschool- The Conrad Early Education Center, Wiekel Elementary School on Fort Carson, and the new field house at the expanded the high school," he explained. "By building and expanding our high school it has allowed us to keep our class room numbers manageable. Students have a better chance to learn if class sizes are more manageable for our teachers."
Downing said he has loved learning from and meeting the heroes and people who have and do make a difference in our community.
"Ian Weikel was a local kid; he was a leader on our football team, he was proud to be a Trojan. He was a sharp student who went on to graduate from West Point. He was stationed here at Fort Carson,"
he recalled. "Unfortunately he lost his life protecting us, our community and this wonderful country. I was able to meet his parents, his widow, and his son. While visiting our congressional delegation I was able to visit his grave. The reward of blessing his family, our troops, and this community by honoring him by naming a school after him is a lifetime memory I will always cherish."
Since leaving the school board due to term limits four years ago, Downing has not sat idle. He serves as an Elder at Pikes Peak Christian Church, where he and wife, Lacene are active leaders. Downing leads the Dave Ramsey Financial Peace Universe classes at his church, helping young and retired couples who are behind on their retirement planning get out of debt and start some solid financial habits that will get them on track financially.
He is also on the Care Center Board that helps families who are hungry through the church food pantry. Families are also helped with rent, utilities, and a broad range of counseling needs are also available. "Most of all I provide leadership to the pastors and staff at the largest church in Fountain Valley, over 2000 people attend our church regularly," he said.
Downing is also an active leader with the Fountain Valley Scholarshipsorganization.
"Lacene and I, and our daughter Ashley, provide a four year scholarship called The Michael Downing Scholarship for Trojan graduates every year, that we personally fund," he said. In addition, Fountain Valley Scholars gave 30 scholarships away last year to include over 20 Scholarships to Mesa Ridge and Widefileld students.
One might think that's a lot on this top real estate professional's plate, however Downing still finds time to give back to the local business community as well. He is in his second year of serving as President of the Fountain Valley Chamber of Commerce and is also the Chair of the City of Fountain's the Economic Development Committee (EDC.)
"Last year the Chamber of Commerce was in a critical state as our membership drifted to only 63 members, and we only had one sponsor' we were near insolvency," he shared. "However I am blessed with a new board, most of our nine board members have served less than two years," he said. "Together we have rallied and today we have almost 150 businesses in the chamber and six sponsors. We are in a better place financially so we can better serve our business leaders and community."
Downing aid his focus as the chamber president has been to connect the business leaders with our community and community leaders with the chamber.
"Our regular breakfast meeting has charity leaders, pastors, school leadership and business leaders sitting down bi-monthly to learn, connect, and grow together," he said. Understanding that what the EDC does is work with the city to bring business to Fountain; Downing explained the chamber is a source of support, education, and retention of those businesses.
"To quote our City Manager Scott Trainor, 'If we have a strong Chamber of Commerce, we will have a stronger city.'" Downing added.
"When I am elected to the school board this November I plan to turn over my leadership role to our very competent chamber board, as we are in a much healthier place today," he said.
Regarding his intention to serve on the school board again Downing said he wished he would have never had to leave.
"I was term limited in 2015; I feel I still have a lot left to offer this community in a leadership position. I have the right history and background," he said.
Downing shared how his own education K-8 was very poor.
"I grew up a poor kid in the streets of Detroit, Michigan. Our schools were not safe; it was a fight daily to keep your tennis shoes and lunch money. Our classrooms were over crowed and we didn't have enough books to go around. We shared books that had covers ripped off, pages missing and were all marked up," he said.
"Teachers could not control classrooms because they were over crowded. Violence, drugs, and gangs were a problem. They did the best they could to manage an unmanageable situation," he added.
In his freshman year, Downing's single mom got remarried and they moved to Grosse Pointe, (the "Beverly Hills" of Michigan).
"My high school education was the best I could have asked for. I remember the smell of the glue in the binding of my first book that was just for me," he said. " I didn't have to share and could take my book home and study. Unfortunately, I was way behind academically. I struggled in math, and I could not write a complete paragraph. I had a great teacher named Mr. Ritter, who took the time and was patient with me. He became my best friend and a lifetime mentor for life."
He continued, "My wife and I flew Ray and his wife, Linda, out here to meet this community. He was proud of me giving back and using my life experience to serve others. I didn't graduate at the top of my high school class however; my education improved enough to get into the Air Force. I used my youth and strength as a young Air Force firefighter and was able to earn four college degrees to include degrees in Human Resource Management, a degree in Business Administration and a Masters Degree in organizational Management while serving in the Air Force."
Regarding the biggest concerns and challenges facing the school district Downing said, "Our biggest concern is the same concern in every community in our country. The safety of our children. When I was on the board we made the security of our children a priority. We supported construction projects that changed the visibility in our schools to see who was entering the building. New schools have better entries and visibility. Currently we are the only school district in the state that has a resource officer in every school in our district. I will do everything in my power to work with parents, teachers and community leaders to exhaust our efforts and resources to protect our children," he assured.
"In every mass shooting report we see and hear of someone that knew this person was mentally ill or had social challenges. We need to continue to educate our staff, PARENTS, and students to be proactive in reporting ANY concerns they feel are unsafe," he stated. "I have a fantastic relationship with our Police Chief Chris Heberer. His dedicated professional police force is committed to our schools and our student body. We need to continue to train and be ready to battle this real fear communities have about this issue. I feel we are heading the right direction on this issue, but one yearly budget can't meet all the needs; it needs to stay on the top of our list of priorities' every year," he added.
Downing also wants to see the district focus its efforts to improve "The Achievement Gap."
"District 8 has the facilities, teachers, and resources. I would love to help our kids understand regardless of their gender, race, or background, that they have the ability to achieve at the highest level in this district," he shared. "There is no reason District Eight should not have the same reputation and results of districts like District 12 and District 20. There is an expectation at those districts we have yet to achieve here yet. I strongly believe we can. It is the school board's job to stretch our goals and give the support needed to our Superintendent and staff to help them strive. I will listen to the needs of the teachers and provide them a safe and healthy environment to teach their hearts out."
He also said he sees a need for more connection, adding the district's teachers and staff need to feel a greater sense of appreciation.
"Over the last few years I consistency have heard. 'Tom we have not had the presence in our schools as we did when you were on the board.'"
Downing said he has spoken with employees, teachers and coaches who felt they had a stronger connection with the school board when he was serving.
"Their perception is my reality. When I walk into schools I am looking for someone doing something right. It is my goal not to be intrusive, but stop and thank everyone for their service, leadership and impact they have on lives. I visit bus drivers, facility folks, IT, Resource Officers, teachers and students," he said. "We have outstanding people serving our kids. Teaching is an exhausting job that sometimes feels thankless. I will do everything in my power to let our team know they are appreciated. It doesn't cost anything but time to visit and recognize our teacher, staff, and coaches for all the wonderful things they do in developing our children. Many successful young students are given encouragement, nourishment, and some love before they head off to school. My goal on the School Board is to provide that level of encouragement and support for our teachers."
Regarding the new concept of building a Fountain Valley-wide recreation center, which is the focus of a task force that includes a partnership between City of Fountain, FV Senior Center, YMCA, School Districts 3 and 8, Downing said he loves the idea.
"Building a Recreation Center/ Pool that supports the whole community will take everyone's support, he said. " I think it is a great idea to combine city and school districts resourses to make it happen. No one organization has been able to do it alone yet, however, a collaborative effort from this community will get a recreation center built."
If City of Fountain were to seek a tax from citizens to help pay for construction of a new rec center, Downing said personally he will support this.
"If it is a desire of the community it will pass, if not folks do not feel it is a need they will continue to meet this needs privately," he added.
When asked "What are your greatest strengths you will bring to serving on the board?" Downing replied, "My first terms of service to the school board I brought a lot of passion and love for Fountain. That love and passion has not faded. However, now I bring a lot of experience and relationships. I have proven in this community to be a team player. I have a fantastic relationship with city leadership, church organizations, non-profit and charities," he explained. "When I am discussing important issues with our U.S. Senators and Congressional delegation, locally or in Washington D.C., I will make Fountain proud that I am an ambassador for this community."
Downing cited how he has worked successfully with current school district Leadership and I knows that together they will continue to improve this great school district and the young lives that will impact generations to come.
"During the last four years I have worked very hard with the district, churches, business and community leaders to connect more. I hope to continue to connect our business leaders with DECA and marketing programs so our students can get first-hand experience with business leaders. I have asked many pastors of all denominations to continue to prayer for the safety of the schools, children, and community," he added.
Downing said he has been blessed to be married to his wonderful wife Lacene for over 32 years and he could not serve this community with the passion that he does, without her continued support.
"She has been willing to sacrifice personal time together, because of her love for this community as well. Every day I wake up my first conscious thought is, 'GOD thank you for the gift of life today,' my second is praise him for another day with my beautiful wife, and third, I ask GOD how he can use me on this day, to honor him."
Downing said he has developed the person he is today with a relentless desire to continue to improve. "I grew up street wise. I served our country for over 20 plus years in the Air Force, so I know the challenges that come with 'The mission comes first lifestyle,' and trying to lead a family."
He said his life experience of a poor education K-8th grade, in an unsafe environment, drove him to do better for this community.
"I also have been blessed the with the opportunity to earn four college degrees to include graduate education. The positive impact education has had on my life as a successful Real Estate Professional and business man is unbelievable. I am passionate about education. I know the impact it can have on a life, and a community," he added.
Downing said he is proud that the school board election isn't like others that find people slamming the other candidates.
"I have tremendous respect for (incumbent board member) Don Grubbs. Before I joined the school board, Grubbs had served for several years prior. Don and Dave Herman's (President of School Board at the time) were kind enough to sit down with me and explain realistic expectations of thes position," he said. " I loved serving with Don's wife, Jill, on the School Board during my second term. They both have a lot of love for this community."
He said there will be other good candidates to choose from as well, explaining he goes to church with incumbelnt Teresa Wright, adding, "she is a terrific lady and a super mom."
Greg Welch, who he served with on the School Board previously and on the Economic Development Committee, has also taken out a petition to seek re-election to the board.
"Greg is a fantastic leader and visionary in our community. I do not feel our voters will have a bad choice only good or better as to how they feel our priorities line up with their expectations," he concluded.
"I love Fountain and Lord willing I will help School District 8 continue to grow in the right direction."