Jason Growe: School Board Profile


Jason Growe

Jason Growe, a Meramec parent, will become a Clayton school board member in April.

On May 19, 2021, David Gulick, a sales director at a software company, National Guard veteran and Meramec Elementary School parent, resigned from the Clayton Board of Education, citing concerns about the way the board conducted its business. The board nominated Steve Singer, a former member, to temporarily fill the position until an election could be held. When the filing opened for the April 5, 2022, municipal election in St. Louis County, Jason Growe was the only one to file. According to state election rules, no election will happen because the number of people who filed equaled the number of positions open. When we spoke, Growe had not yet officially become a board member — his oath of office will occur at a board meeting in April.

Growe and I spoke at a coffee shop in late February, and I talked with Gulick about a month prior. Gulick remains involved in Clayton politics and the school district (his son is in the district). The following interview is slightly edited from my conversation with Growe in February, and includes context in footnotes from Gulick’s in January.

Can you tell me a little bit about your background and your connection to the district?

Yeah, sure. So, you know, born and raised here in St. Louis. After college — I went to Indiana University — I moved back here to do Teach for America. So I really wanted to do some form of community service after college and Teach for America, if you’re not familiar with it, it’s exactly what it sounds like. It takes recent college graduates and it places them in low income areas of the country to teach the public schools for two years. And that was something that spoke to me, that mission spoke to me. Improving the achievement gap in public education is basically the ultimate goal, right? That’s sort of a line in the organization. That spoke to me for a few different personal reasons, and so I wanted to do that. And I wanted to come back to St. Louis to do that. So I taught at Roosevelt High School for a couple years in St. Louis Public Schools, and had a great experience.

Fast forward to today, professionally, I own a small home health business. We provide nursing, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and medical-social services in the home setting for patients who are able to safely be at home but maybe need a little bit of extra care and education on how to manage whatever they’re going through independently or with caregivers. That’s what I do professionally.

I’ve lived in Clayton most, if not all, of my adult life; I moved back to the district in 2016. And now I have one daughter in the district and will have a second daughter in the district come next fall. So I’m very invested in it.

How old is your first daughter?

My daughter’s in second grade,* so she just turned 8. And it’s a fun age. And then my other daughter just turned five, so she’ll start kindergarten next year.

What was your inciting incident for why you chose to run for the board? What was your reason?

Yeah, I don’t think there has been a more important time to have good quality board members on a board of education. Regardless of political perspective, boards of education are just under fire right now across the country. Now, I spend my professional career working with boards of directors for for-profit and nonprofit entities. And I just thought, you know, I have the values that I think represent our district. And if I can bring those values with a set of skills that allow me to be an effective board member, then that’s what I want to do for my community.

Aside from the priorities on your website, do you have specific ambitions for the term coming up? Are there any problems or areas of improvement in the district that you’d like to advance on or to address?

Look, Clayton School District is a great school district with a proud tradition. And so, I don’t come to it with a specific agenda. I don’t have an ax to grind on anything. But, I call it a “carry the torch” mission. There are some things that I’m interested in. I think the big overarching one is just ensuring our school district’s and our board’s stated commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, and as a board member, I look forward to asking questions across subject matters to make sure that we’re always looking at things with an equity lens.

Do you see your role as a new board member as being more of a policymaker or a question-asker?

I think both. My responsibility is to our community and the taxpayer. So I don’t come into it thinking I’m the expert. We rely on our staff and leadership to be the experts in K-12 education. And my job as a policymaker is to ask as many questions as I can so that I can come to an informed decision for myself.

When I spoke to David Gulick in January, he mentioned that you and he had talked about the board, because, obviously, it was originally his seat that you will be filling. Can you tell me a little bit about that conversation?

We actually met about 10 feet or so from here. My oldest daughter and one of David’s sons are in the same grade. And when I was serious about doing this, you know, I reached out to him, and obviously, we got coffee. And you know, I think David is someone who does what he thinks is right for the district and clearly has a strong passion for the Clayton School District. He made the decision that was best for him and his family, and you gotta respect that.**

So, I noticed that you have worked for the Missouri Democratic Party. You were the finance chair. Can you tell me a little bit about that? And maybe other political involvement?

So yeah, in 2018 I was the finance chair for the Missouri Democratic Party. The way that works is we’re the statewide organization that supports Democrats up and down the ballot. In 2018, our main mission was to try to get Senator Claire McCaskill reelected, came up a little short, but you know, had some successes with ballot initiatives and some state legislative races. And we put together just a tremendous field program that next sets of leadership could build off. Politics is something that — you know, that sense of service to community is something that has been just sort of taught to me since I was little, and a lot of times it’s manifested itself in politics. And through some party relationships, I was active as a layperson in [former Missouri Secretary of State] Jason Kander’s 2016 U.S. Senate races, which is what led me to being the finance chair in 2018. And when I was younger, I would work on political campaigns; you know, congressional races and state legislative races. Now obviously, I don’t do that professionally. But I was happy to contribute in that way. And I still look to find ways to contribute in that sphere as well.

So maybe this is a connection you made at the party. I did notice that your campaign had hired a political consultant. And then you made use of the party’s voter activation network. Were you expecting a bit of competition in the race? And then is that also in anticipation for a future run?

I’ll answer that in reverse order. I fully intend to be up for reelection next spring.*** I hired Michael Ousley, who was someone that I met through the Democratic Party. Running a small business, running a campaign, and some other stuff, I just needed someone to help me keep the campaign organized and get things done in a timely fashion. And Michael did a great job of that. The party does a great job of that for some other clients. And I hired him just on a consulting basis to help me out, and yeah, I mean, I was fully expecting a competitive, spirited school board race. I was fortunate enough that that didn’t materialize, but I’m still going to go out and knock on doors, introduce myself to voters. I think everyone deserves to meet their school board member and share their experiences and their thoughts. And so I’m doing that, and I’ll be ready again a year from now when I gotta do it all over again.

  • He later joked that his second grade constituents (his most outspoken, I assume) were very pro-snacks.

** Gulick had two main reasons for resigning: first, that the board was conducting business over phone calls between only two or three members of the board, which did not violate Missouri’s Open Meetings Law but did go against the nature of that law. The discussions were over whether or not to refer to the state a resident’s concern that one of the members had not paid all of their personal property taxes in past years. His second reason was that he felt the board was avoiding having difficult or uncomfortable conversations. When I spoke to him, large parts of our conversation involved his advocacy for school choice legislation and his criticism of the gifted program at the elementary schools (he says the district lowers thresholds for Black students’ acceptance into the program to attain a more diverse racial makeup; “Are we really serving students right that way?” he asked. His claims have not been verified). Gulick joked that when Joe Miller, a board member, asked him to run, he said he wasn’t an electable person: “I don’t care if we can agree or not, we can still break bread … I don’t go with the popular flow … I kind of joked that would be a problem for a Clayton elected position.” He also pointed out the common unanimity of school board votes in Clayton.

*** It seemed as though Growe doesn’t have a political career, per say. As he says, his work for the Democratic Party was voluntary; he’ll be seeking reelection to the school board next April, but he didn’t mention any aspirations to run for higher political office. Gulick told me it takes about 3 years for a member to fully understand how Clayton’s school board operates.