Newly elected APS members take seats

Valerie McKitrick Photo courtesy of Valerie McKitrick

Derrick Hall Photo courtesy of Derrick Hall

N.J. Akbar Photo courtesy of N.J. Akbar

AKRON — Three new members joined Akron Public Schools (APS) Board of Education Jan. 2.
Six candidates, including incumbents Tim Miller and Morgan Lasher, ran for three open seats on the board during the November General Election. The Rev. Curtis Walker did not file for re-election. Valerie McKitrick won with 19.8 percent of the vote, N.J. Akbar took 19.1 percent and Derrick Hall received 17.2 percent, according to the official count of the Summit County Board of Elections. Diana Autry was the fourth highest vote-getter and was appointed to the board Jan. 13. [See related story on Page 10.]
McKitrick, 60, won a seat on the board in her second try at it, having previously run in 2015. She has served on several APS district committees since that time.
The Southeast Akron resident stated her primary focus while on the board will center on improving academic achievement in students. As a retiree with 16 years of experience as a French teacher in Green Local Schools and five at Our Lady of the Elms in West Akron, and with bachelor’s degrees in French and English and a master’s in education, all from The University of Akron (UA), McKitrick said she understands the need for doing more to help students living in poverty be successful in school.
“Kids coming from high poverty face a lot of learning difficulties,” she said. “Stressors [from living in poverty] create disruptive behaviors. I would like to see a resource center established that can offer wrap-around services such as the ones for the families of I PROMISE School made available to all students in the district.”
McKitrick added that a social-emotional curriculum could be created to help these students manage poverty-associated trauma and stresses to help them make responsible decisions and improve self-awareness and self-management. She stated she hopes to identify community partners that can help with this effort.
“I will work to foster relationships with community partners to expand services so that they can become available to all our children,” she said. “Some of these services can include food pantries, uniform closets, medical/dental/legal services and courses for parents. If children’s basic physical needs are met before they arrive at school, they are better equipped to succeed once they are there.”
McKitrick said the APS College and Career Academies “are a good start” in helping students succeed, and she would like to see them expanded.
She also identified “restorative justice,” defined as an alternate method of disciplining students that seeks to balance being too permissive and being too punitive, as something she would like to work on.
“I want to ensure kids come to school, and work with families of students with disruptive behaviors instead of just kicking them out of school, as the students are not learning when they are not in school,” she said.
McKitrick stated that, initially, she wants to take the time to better learn “how things work” in the district.
“You can’t implement changes without knowing what is realistically possible,” she added.
Akbar, 35 and a West Akron resident, also comes from a background in education.
He has a doctorate in education from Kent State University (KSU); a master’s degree in educational leadership from Eastern Michigan University; and a bachelor’s degree in history/English for secondary education also from Eastern Michigan. He has been assistant dean at KSU’s University College for 10 years, and previously served in various administrative positions at KSU and also at the University of Michigan.
Akbar previously ran for a seat on the APS Board in 2017 and has served on various district committees. He is a member the Alpha Library Committee Board of Directors, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. and the NAACP — Akron Chapter.
Akbar said he is a “professional educator who brings the business aspect of education” to the board.
“As a student, I could easily have fallen through the cracks and been left behind, except for a few good teachers who showed they cared,” he said. “I know what it is to struggle.”
He added he believes the I PROMISE School model should be used district-wide and the College and Career Academies expanded.
Akbar said he would like to work with the board to create priorities to ensure there is a “common language” in communications, a commitment to serve the community and to build public trust and increase transparency.
“I am committed to doing what is best for all students, regardless of where they start, and I want to be an advocate for students who are falling through the cracks,” he added.
Akbar stated his goals involve making policy changes, as “a teacher’s effectiveness is only as good as the policies.”
“I want to examine our current practices and policies to ensure there is equity for all students,” he said. “I hope to use data to benefit the greatest number of students but at the same time look at the impact any related decisions will have on the others to understand and mitigate any detrimental effects. Schools cannot ignore difficult students. We have to serve all equally, as many of our social problems are a direct result of poverty and a lack of education.”
Akbar stressed a quality education for all students “will make our community strong.”
He also stated he wants to work on the “negative perception” about public schools.
“We have some great schools and some great programs, and I want to make sure we share these best practices to help all students fulfill their dreams,” said Akbar.
West Akron resident Hall, 43, said he hopes to help APS students succeed by expanding summer enrichment and vocational education programs and enhancing corporate partnerships.
He has a law degree from The Ohio State University’s (OSU) Moritz College of Law; a master’s in business administration from the OSU Fisher College of Business; a doctorate in pharmacy from OSU; and a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, with a minor in applied mathematics from (UA). He has worked as system director of bundled care and episode-based payment at Summa Health for the last three years and previously as systems director in complex and chronic care operations at Riverside Health System for two years. He also was a regional operations compliance officer for over three years at Walmart Inc. and a partner at the law firm of Elder & Hall LLC for three years. He ran for the Ward 1 seat on Akron City Council in 2014 and as state representative for District 34 in 2012. He serves on the board of the Boys & Girls Club of the Western Reserve and Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, is a member of Torchbearers Class of 2013 and participated in the Leadership Akron Summa Heath Community Leadership Institute.
“The APS College and Career Academies are a good start to link students to the business community, but there is more we can do to involve large- and medium-size businesses,” he said. “I would like to expand the vocational track by offering it in sixth grade rather than waiting until grade 10. We lose a lot of kids in grades six through 10 because more students are interested in a trade rather than preparing for college. Also, aligning our schools with the needs of the local job market will help to ensure employment opportunities for more students.”
Hall stated another area to help more students succeed is through summer enrichment opportunities that offer an introduction to vocational trades and experiential programs, as well as college-prepatory classes. He suggested these efforts could begin with a six-week pilot program for 100 students, measure their performance and build a case to expand the offerings. He added APS could partner with UA in the program or create its own.
“If we are trying to close the achievement gap, we have got to find sponsors to offer these types of classes,” said Hall.
He said he believes board members should be engaged in the community, and to accomplish this he plans to visit two schools per week to see what they are doing. He added these efforts will assist the district when it comes to asking the community for levy support.
“I don’t think we can run a levy campaign by telling people what we will cut — we have to tell people what we plan to do with the funds,” said Hall. “We also have to let people know how we plan to improve school report card results.”