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Woodridge BOE member happy to return to district

1/23/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

Linda Ocepek
CUYAHOGA FALLS — For Linda Ocepek, a former principal in the Woodridge Local Schools District, serving on the Woodridge Board of Education is a little like going home.

“I like the community and I really got involved when I was working there,” said Ocepek, who was principal at Woodridge Middle School from 2004 to 2010. “I was just glad to come back.”

Ocepek had been living in Medina with her nephew. When he died in 2012 at age 26 after a motorcycle accident, she didn’t want to remain in her home there. She moved to Cuyahoga Falls more than a year ago.

“At the first board meeting, somebody said ‘Welcome home,’” Ocepek said. “It’s a positive place.”

Since retiring as a principal, Ocepek, 64, has worked part-time as a communications specialist and grant writer for Parma City Schools. She decided to run for office because she had the time and was so familiar with the district.

“I’ve never been good about retirement,” she said. “I’ve retired a couple of different times. … At the first meeting, I really enjoyed it. I thought, this is a good job for me. I’ve been preparing for 40 years now. I know about the different things in education, but I know I’ll have to learn a lot, too.”

To prepare to take office, Ocepek joined other local new school board members at an Ohio School Boards Association training session earlier this month. She was sworn in Jan. 13 with returning board members Jan Flasco and Tammy Heffernan, who also won in the Nov. 5 General Election.

Ocepek is a Copley native who earned a bachelor’s degree in education, English and political science and a master’s degree in curriculum, both from Kent State University. As an undergraduate, she was a resident adviser (RA) in a dorm at the school when the May 4, 1970, shootings of four students took place.

“It was quite an experience,” she said, noting that as an RA she had to stay on campus even after students were sent home. “It was almost like being in a war zone with helicopters flying overhead.”

She earned a doctorate in educational administration from The University of Akron. Most of her career, from 1972 to 2003, was in the Medina City Schools, where she served as a teacher, curriculum specialist, principal and grant writer.

Ocepek said she can tell already from her first board meeting that her experience as an educator is going to be valuable as a member of the board.

“There was some question about the high school schedule, and I could say what we were doing five years ago,” she said. “I will be able to give some of the history, and that would be helpful. Also, I know a lot of the laws and the initiatives the state is putting forward.” 

But she also knows that there’s a lot more to school districts than just education.

“You’ve got to be worried about the total program, not just the academics,” she said, noting issues such as transportation and facilities. “There’s a lot more to it than you might think.”

As for Woodridge, the district will be asking voters to support a 10-year renewal operating levy on the May 6 Primary Election ballot. It will combine two current levies that expire this year that district officials said need to be renewed to maintain the necessary operating revenue. Ocepek said she plans to work to promote the levy, and it would be the 18th time she’s done that.

“Any time, you have a better chance if there aren’t going to be new taxes … but with every levy, you really need to put your reasons out there for it and never assume that something is going to pass easily,” she said. “You need to get out there.”

She added that even though she’s not new to the district, she plans to listen and learn in her first few months as a board member.

“As a brand new person, I have an obligation to listen,” she said. “I don’t have reason to go in and give my opinion right away.”

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