The Oberlin Review
<< Front page News November 4, 2005

School board race contested

Simply because the excitement of city council elections has settled down into an uncontested race, voters should not assume that there is no suspense left to the Nov. 8 polls. Oberlin’s Board of Education is turning out to be an unusually hotly contested race, with eight candidates vying for three seats. Marci Alegant, the current vice president of the school board and associate dean of the Conservatory, as well as Lorain school district teacher Carol Williamson, will keep their seats for another two years.

“In the last two elections there hasn’t really been an election,” said Dennison Smith, president of the Board of Education and member of Oberlin’s neuroscience faculty, who is not running this year. “This time, there were candidates that declared themselves early. I think a number of people jumped in because of that.”

“There have been a number of hot button issues this year,” said Alegant. “Most of it having to do with money — how to save money. It’s a good thing that so many people are running. When so many want it, it means a lot of people care.”

Despite some skepticism in the community this year about the extent to which Oberlin College students should be involved in local politics, others say this is something they should indeed care about.

“[Oberlin] students are a part of this community, and the health of the public schools add to the general well-being of a community,” said Alegant. “If you don’t have good schools, then good faculty with young children don’t want to come here. We do have a problem attracting faculty because of the school’s reputation.”

“Having a good school system does affect Oberlin students,” agreed Smith. “A good public school system is vital to the new graduate program, faculty recruitment and the Center for Service and Learning.”

A major event in revamping the system’s administration occurred on Tuesday, Nov. 1 Candidates Night, an occasion shared by the presentation of six ballot issues and the city council candidates.

The candidates were allowed three minutes to answer any one question they chose from a selection of three. These questions were: - What do you want to accomplish as a member of the school board? - What do you consider to be the most significant shortcomings of Oberlin schools? - What do you consider to be the most important responsibilities of the School Board?

First up was Stephanie Jones, a former intervention specialist and local substitute teacher who serves as a parent representative on the Oberlin School District Site-Based Management Committee. She chose the first question.

“I would like to work with teachers, parents and administrators to make sure everyone is accountable,” she said. “Many students leave the district without the skill they need either for higher education or on the job market.”

She described the need to look into “alternative methods” of preparation for life after graduation.

Next was Kevin Michael, the current principal of Lake Ridge Academy, a local private school. He chose the third question.

“There is a very basic axiom,” he said. “The first obligation is always to the students. You have to see yourself as an advocate but not just for one group. You have to have the courage to weigh what you’re hearing with your own convictions. You have to be aware of when you’re listening to visionary views and when you’re not.

“It’s time to start thinking differently about race relations and to build a common vision,” he continued. “‘Tolerance’ is a racist term.”

He also mentioned the vital need of looking for a replacement for Superintendent Beverly Reep, who is leaving and has been described by Alegant, Smith and many of the candidates as “amazing.”

Michael denied that his position with a private school would be constitute a conflict of interest and said he was running as a “concerned citizen.”

Beth Weiss, associate director of admissions for the Conservatory and an Oberlin parent, chose the second question.

“I think [the most significant shortcoming] is the general approach to discipline,” she said. “It needs to be more effective with more repercussions, but coming from a place of respect and love for our kids, so that they understand that we’re holding them to the highest standards. There is no excuse for certain behaviors. Kids need to know where they stand and where the line is.”

Weiss also said that she would advocate for the implementation of uniforms in the schools.

Ian Yarber, assistant director of recreation for the city of Oberlin, selected the first question.

“As a native Oberlinian and a student who attended the schools, I said when I started to run that I have one concern: the children in Oberlin schools,” he said. “Simply, I want to make sure that they receive the best multicultural education they can get in the United States. They are our future and our legacy.”

Mary B. McKee, lawyer and parent, chose the second question.

“The biggest shortcoming is the same thing as its best part,” said McKee. “It’s tiny and — you know what — it’s poor. It’s the hardest thing, but it’s what makes it such a neat place to live.”

McKee also touched on the need for a news superintendent and ballot issue involving a substantial tax levy to benefit the schools.

“We got Reep because it intrigued her that we had passed such a levy before,” she said. “There is money. We have to tap the people who want to fund the schools and keep their kids in a small school. Being poor makes it such a rich experience.”

Katharine Ladina, a local educational aide and parent, answered the second question.

“What we really need are more taxpayers,” said Ladina. “When people move they look at state report cards.”

She stressed the need to improve Oberlin’s performance on standardized tests to meet state school requirements, although in the past five years Oberlin has moved from “Academic Emergency” to just under the second highest classification of “Effective.”

“We need to become our own community’s cheerleader,” she continued. “And that means people calling up the schools and asking, ‘What can I do?’”

John Hieronymus, current board member and businessman, went last and chose the third question.

“I would summarize [the responsibility] in one word: accountability,” he said. “It starts with us as a community doing a good job looking for a world-class superintendent. Beverly Reep has done a great job but now we need to find someone even better. Teacher, principal and support staff accountability do a great deal in making students good citizens, making them achieve scholastically and improving behavior.”

Robert Williams, former teacher and school administrator, current businessman and farmer was not in attendance, but is quoted in the Plain Dealer as saying, “I will increase our state rating to ‘effective’ by supporting the superintendent in implanting student-retention strategies such as district virtual education program.

“Tight-fisted cost-cutting is now affecting the quality of services and morale of many personnel,” he continued. “Therefore, I would work to reduce insurance costs and address federally mandated shortfalls.”

The polls open Tuesday, Nov. 8.

“We’ve got to get students out to vote,” said Alegant. “It has the potential to determine the outcome of all these elections and it should.”


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