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Position paper: Akron Public Schools Board of Education

10/15/2009 - West Side Leader
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By Staff Writer

Bruce Alexander vs. Ginger Baylor vs. Jason Haas (incumbent) vs. Rita Hosch vs. Lisa Mansfield vs. Virgil Anthony Ortiz vs. Dianna Smith vs. Mexie Wilson

Voters living in the Akron Public Schools District will vote for four candidates for Akron Public Schools Board of Education member on the Nov. 3 General Election ballot. This race is nonpartisan.

Editor’s note: The answers to the following questions are provided as submitted.

What are the two most important issues facing the district and how would you address them?

Alexander: 1. Funding Challenges. This is the most challenging issue Akron School and other schools face. We must first find out the reason the enrollment of Akron schools is decreasing. The fewer students the school system has the less funding they will receive. We must research the reasons parents have been withdrawing their kids from the school system then develop a plan of attack that will regain the confidence of the community and come up with ways to make the school system attractive so parents will want to enroll their kids in Akron Schools. Ensuring high quality teaching and learning while maintaining safety in the classrooms

The school system may need to raise the bar for teachers and the students. The teachers are taught to teach to a variety of learning styles which means they must be able to teach to the student whose below grade level or behind as well as to at the highest level and where the majority of the students will fall in the middle. Today’s students learn better from teachers who use non traditional ways of teaching. This may call for more training for teachers to equip them with other non traditional ways of teaching. If teachers are able capture the attention through teaching styles which make it fun to learn or lessons that attract students attention, this would ultimately lead to less problems in the classroom because students are focused on learning instead of other things during class.

Baylor: The two most important issues facing the district are the financial budget and student achievement. In dealing with the school budget, I would first assess everything that is not geared towards providing our children with a high quality education, and then determine in order of need where to make budget cuts. I would also conduct a search for viable community partners to share some of the expenses for some of our existing programs that contribute to our students’ education. In order to maximize efficiency to the district budget, I believe it will take a calculated and strategic joint approach between both state and local government.

In the area of student achievement, I believe that launching an initiative to increase parent involvement that shapes educational values in youth while providing needed parent awareness and support would be an adequate beginning in raising student achievement scores. Statistically, children who have parental support tend to perform better academically. By incorporating an informative based parent-ally governed program promoting the fundamental concept of each parent in each household taking an active part in each child’s education, should in its own unique way provide parents with constructive and efficient ways to remain actively involved in their child’s education. This process would not only encourage the child but promote and reshape the child’s values for education from inside the household reinforcing teacher’s efforts at school. Another way to raise student achievement is to develop a unique type of tutoring program whereby college students can earn credit toward their college degree program by tutoring high school students in their subject of strengths. It will increase tutor availability and afford the opportunity for more children to receive more one-on-one help.

Haas: First, the district’s graduation rate must increase to meet or exceed the state average. Students who do not graduate hold little hope of supporting themselves or a family on the meager income non-graduates earn, nor do they substantially contribute to the local economy.

Often, non-graduates begin to struggle in middle school when peer pressures and academic workloads test their ability to cope and adapt. Now that the state has agreed to remove the high-stakes Ohio Graduation Test, I will push the district to use OGT resources for appropriate academic interventions in middle schools.

Finally, student success is the primary goal of the school board. APS must continue to find ways to engage students in traditional learning environments. The new STEM and Early College programs joined Miller South as schools which draw strong interest from both students and parents for their academic successes. Classrooms in these schools should serve as laboratories and models district-wide so that all students are engaged and encourage to succeed at the highest levels. I have, and will continue to, ask district leaders to implement successful classroom models from these schools across the district.

Hosch: 1. I believe the one of the most important issues facing our schools district is the loss of students to private schools. These schools seem to offer what the parents feel they need. Everyone has a right to choose the school they believe in. The overall ratings for the private schools appear to be split almost between “Continuous Improvement” and Academic Emergency.”

Akron Public Schools in Summit County appears to be at the bottom of the list for subject matters in grades three through six. I suggest smaller classes for weaker students using hands on activities as opposed to reading only. Industrial classes of the past could be returned — students left schools with a trade and a possible job skill to be used in the community.

2. Equally important is the drop out rate. Where are the students that drop out? Why did they drop out? It really isn’t a new phenomenon. There will always be some students who will work better with hands on as opposed to reading and processing. I propose that some of the older buildings be used as industrial/positive training centers for students that we know will not make it academically.

Mansfield: 1. I believe that the most important issues facing the Akron Public Schools are adjusting the budget and school buildings to reflect enrollment and reaching achievement levels that prepare students for the global job market.

The state needs to address the school funding formula. Most of the headway that the Governor called for this year was eventually eaten away by state legislators. Meanwhile, urban districts like Akron need to be fiscally responsible by adjusting our schools to match changing enrollment and making cuts when necessary. These cuts need to be kept as far away from the classroom as possible with a minimal affect on achievement.

Akron continues to match or surpass Ohio’s eight urban districts in the state report card. There were many reasons to celebrate this year with several Akron schools making strides. Much work remains if we hope to reach an Effective rating. Many of the programs instituted this year to help our district’s most at-risk students will hopefully continue to improve these scores. Meanwhile, the addition of the STEM school and the continuation of academic success at Miller South show the district isn’t just treading water but is striving for Excellence.

Achievement cannot take place unless our students and parents are confident about school safety. The district’s zero tolerance policy needs to continue with more than just a shuffling of students between school buildings. Intervention opportunities, such as the latest suspension program recently implemented in the former Erie Island School, will address some of the underlying reasons that children misbehave and will prepare them to be successful when they return to the classroom environment. Parental involvement and participation is key to achievement. Success is often within reach when parents partner with teachers in a student’s education. 

Ortiz: The two most important issues facing the Akron Board of Education are the fact that some schools are under state academic watch and that concerns me a lot as I want the schools to be under Akron control not the state. I want to make sure that every student graduates and to see that all become productive members of society. The other issue that concerns me a lot is the spending gap of approximately $10 million and this needs to be addressed and taken care of so that the Akron Board is not taken by the state of Ohio under receivership. We must be financially solvent and secure under our own control totally.

Smith: Two of the most important issues facing the Akron School Board today are the difficulties in funding allocation in the district, and state test scores.

Funding student’s education has always been a source of great debate. There is no formula that will solve all of the problems that our schools face. However, I believe that we can work to better allocate the funds that the district already has to reach a more efficient budget. To do this, I believe that the parents, faculty, and community members need to be kept abreast of considerations brought before the board. As well as having their opinions duly considered by the board.

State testing gives districts a tool with which to benchmark their performance and to gauge improvement. However, I do not want students and teachers to feel as if there is no flexibility in the subjects or learning styles. Students are at their best when fully engaged in interactive learning between the teacher and themselves. I want to encourage teachers to integrate different learning styles of the students and the advent of new technology into the classroom.

Akron Public Schools needs to raise their state test scores at all levels. In part, this is connected to the issue of funding, in that I believe with current materials and updated technology students could be better prepaid for testing. All districts face budget constraints. I pledge to work within our given budget while seeking state and government funding to procure the tools necessary to raise the standard of education in Akron Public Schools.

Wilson: The two most important issues facing the district are the recent performance ratings and financial resources for future growth. The district report card C grade (continuous improvement) identified several local areas for improvement, especially in the middle schools. The district only met six of 30 state indicators and did not make Adequate Yearly Progress on federal math and reading goals. District improvement and growth are essential to combating declining confidence in public schools by some. We do not want to get in the habit of celebrating mediocrity. I would advocate curriculum and programs targeting students in grades four through eight that will keep them engaged in classroom learning; especially if community networks and resources can provide added support and benefits.

I would also assist in duplicating low-cost initiatives that are working in schools that showed improvement. The current economic climate has caused well-documented financial hardship for the entire nation, and Akron Schools are not exempt. Diminishing financial resources are a reality that cannot be overlooked. New sources of capital will be essential in meeting the funding needs for district growth. Successful models from districts of similar size should be consulted for developing solutions. An ideal educational economic plan will engage all stakeholders working together on behalf of education reform at the local, state and federal levels. Funds will also be critical to fully utilize community learning centers during non-school hours.


What makes you the best candidate for this position?

Alexander: My proven experience working with youth, families, and the community through the Summit County Juvenile Court System for over 22 plus years along with my 16 years of service working within the Akron School System would allow me to apply my knowledge, experience, and skills to help take the Akron School System to a higher level.

I am an advocate for students and learning, love the Akron community, and who loves to see students rising and overcoming obstacles to become the best they can be. This brings me joy because I was once labeled at risk and doom to fell but with determination, perseverance, and help from family and others, I was able to overcome the odds and I know our students can do just as good if not better.

Baylor: I have over 10 years of combined experience as an educator, teacher and college instructor. I understand many of the challenges teachers face and the great responsibility they have to provide each child with a quality education. As a parent and grandparent, I understand the hopes, dreams, concerns, fears and uncertainties experienced by children of all ages. It is my strong desire to see that every child receives a quality education. I believe that every child can learn and wants to learn and has a right to experience learning at the highest level. Having been born and raised here in Akron, graduated from Akron Public Schools and The University of Akron, I know this community and herein lay my commitment. I have a vested interest in this community and have participated and served in many community organizations, committees and on a number of governing boards. I understand my fiduciary duties and would make decisions to cut first those things that are unrelated to our children receiving a high quality education. As a taxpayer, I know how important it is to seek viable alternatives to school levies eliminating the need for citizens to pay additional taxes. I am an advocate for public education, committed to raising graduation rates and decreasing dropout rates, and I am willing and ready to put the time in to get the job done.

Haas: I remain convinced that a strong public education system is key to a robust local economy because it provides a highly skilled, flexible, and entrepreneurial workforce. As the largest area district, APS must be a partner for regional success and continue its path to an effective ranking on the state report card.

I am committed to opening a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) high school as a counterpart to the new STEM middle school. Experience based learning in these schools will help produce a collaborative, highly skilled, and results driven workforce.

APS must raise its graduate rate to at least the state average, an increase of 10 points from the current 75 percent. Research shows that dropouts and students who struggle to achieve graduation begin having significant graduation barriers in middle school. Addressing these issues before they become excessive is key to becoming ranked an effective district.

Although the state legislature recently enacted educational reforms, they did so without a fundamental change in the funding structure. APS has been a good steward of revenues provided by local taxes. I will continue that tradition by exhausting every measure, which doesn’t affect educational quality, before seeking a levy increase.

Hosch: I have been an Akron resident for almost 50 years. I am a retired Akron Public Schools employee. I have a total of 30 years of classroom experience. I retired with 27 years of teaching experience. Prior to becoming a teacher, I worked as a classroom assistant for three years. I also founded and operated a nonprofit tutoring program for many years. This was an After School Program for students, it sometimes continued throughout the summer months. I also have children, grandchildren, relatives and friends that have attended Akron Public Schools. I have worked with people of most economic, education and cultural backgrounds. The experience that I have listed allows me to see our issues from the eyes of a parent, a support staff employee, a taxpayer and an administrator. I am a person who loves to learn and serve. As a result, I have continues to take various classes and conferences that extend beyond the classroom. I am interested and involved in some community issues and how they affect out children, families and learning.

Mansfield: I am a third-generation graduate of the Akron Public Schools and the mother to three sons currently enrolled in the district. I have one each in high school, middle school and elementary. With this legacy comes an historical perspective on where the district has been, a vested interest in where we are now and a vision of where we need to go. I have spent time connecting with parents from many Akron schools to learn their concerns, and I’m confident that our parents passionately want their children to succeed.

Education has always been a focus in my life. I earned a B.A. in Secondary Education from The University of Akron in 1990 with a concentration in English and History. I student-taught at Garfield High School and served as a substitute throughout the district. I was blessed to be able to stay home when my children were first born before returning to the workforce as they entered school. Still, while I was not in a traditional classroom, education dominated my volunteer time. I led La Leche League meetings to help mothers with breastfeeding and toddler issues, worked with teen moms through the Children Services’ program “Mentoring Mothers” and taught expectant mothers at Pregnancy Care on North Hill.

As Patron Services Manager at Weathervane Playhouse, I often interact with Akron Public Schools students both in and out of the classroom. I helped write curriculum, introduced Kindergarten students to theater concepts through “Akron After School” and served as director of “Neighborhood Playhouse,” a free, two-week summer camp in 2007 and 2008. 

My experience, commitment and passion make me the best candidate for Akron School Board.

Ortiz: I am the best candidate because as a former substitute teacher I have seen the way that schools are run and I have seen the issues that plague the schools and I want to help fix the issues that need fixed. It is my plan to provide every child with all of the latest technological advantages so that they can be all that they can be. I plan on seeing every child graduate. I want a special initiative to make sure that no child is left behind.

Smith: I attended Akron Public Schools from pre-kindergarten through 12th; this first-hand experience makes me aware of what needs to be done to improve the education system. As a young candidate, I believe that I will offer the board a view that is closer in perspective to today’s education of students. I am finishing my last year of my bachelor’s in Business Administration, which well equips me to handle the business-transaction side of a school board. I remain active in the Akron community, I am well aware of issues that Akron Public Schools are facing, and the concerns held by community members. My unique qualifications will allow me to offer intuitive decisions to school board issues and act in the best interest of the students of Akron Public Schools.

Wilson: I am the best candidate for the Akron School Board because I understand the shared responsibility between schools and community working together to prepare children for future success. I have a unique perspective on addressing the needs of the children and the community from my education, professional experiences and community activism. As the parent of an Akron Public School student, I have a vested interest in district performance. I believe education should engage and inspire children to be and do their best. Not only do I want the best education for my son, I want the same for each and every child in every school. As a former Akron Public Schools substitute teacher, I had the opportunity to visit almost every school at every grade level in the district working directly with students and teachers. This allowed me to daily witness great work being done throughout the city and will assist me in being an effective Board Member. I believe we should invest in creative and innovative curriculum that will challenge and empower children. We also have to acknowledge poor performance and seek sustainable solutions that will provide measurable improvement. In making decisions, I assess situations and create action plans utilizing my education in Business Management and professional work in Marketing. I will be dedicated to devoting the necessary time and research to all issues concerning the operation and performance of the school system. I am the best candidate because I am prepared to accept the challenges and opportunities in providing new and innovative leadership for the next generation.

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