New State Board of Education Members Agree on Much

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The state legislature holds most of the power in determining education policy in Ohio.  But the 19 member State Board of Education can play a large role.

A half dozen new board members will take office in the new year.   Five won election in November to represent districts in Ohio and one member, who has not yet been named, will be chosen by the Governor to fill a vacancy.

State Impact Ohio’s Mark Urycki has part 2 in his look at the new board members. 

One of the new board members is Meryl Johnson, who taught English for some 40 years and was active in the Cleveland Teachers Union.  She believes the state legislature is hoping to privatize public schools in Ohio.

“So it’s about getting rid of unions.  It’s about taking the power away from teachers who should have the power because we know what works.  But people don’t like to listen to us. We have a lot of non-educators making decisions which is why we are in the shape we are in.” 

The new board member representing Northwest Ohio’s District 1 is Linda Haycock.  She’s been a member of the Shawnee local school board in Lima for 8 years.  Her degree is in economics and says we need to prepare our children for the career and college path they need. 

“If we want a healthy economy, if we want a healthy society I think it’s reflected in how we educate our citizens.   And I think how we care and educate our children mirrors the economic and societal health of our state.”   

It was a public education that got a third new board member to where he is today.  Nick Owens attended Batavia public schools in Clermont County and was able to take free college classes from the University of Cincinnati’s Clermont College, while still in high school.  He went on to get a law degree and is now an assistant prosecutor in Brown County.

“So I’ve seen what it’s done for me and the opportunities it’s given me and again I want to ensure that for those who come after me.” 

Owens says one imprtant issue for him is increasing drug education in schools noting that Brown County has the highest per capita rate of overdose deaths in Ohio.

While the Chairman of the Ohio House once called for privatizing the schools, Owens says providing quality education is an essential element of government.  Owens calls himself a conservative Republican but like all of the new board members, says charter schools in Ohio must be held accountable for their performance.

“If we don’t keep the voucher schools accountable, if we don’t keep the charter schools accountable then we’ve defeated the whole purpose of diverting tax dollars for that child.” 

Although court rulings have allowed charter companies a great deal of leeway, Linda Haycock would like to follow the money.

“The public wants to and deserves to know how much money is going to administrators and how much money is going to advertising.  And all of those seem to be pretty large budget items in charter schools.  So I do think there has to be transparency, financial transparency, academic accountability.”  

The new members are also largely in agreement over the proliferation of standardized testing in Ohio.   Former teacher Meryl Johnson believes it has hurt the school experience.

District 11 board member Meryl Johnson was a teacher in the Cleveland Municipal School District. [Mark Urycki/ideastream]

“Teachers are no longer able to enjoy teaching.  We have wonderful teachers who are leaving the district because they feel like what they really went to college to do, they are not being allowed to do.  And we are losing our kids.  We have younger children that are starting to hate school.”

Ohio has measured teacher success partly on the basis of before and after tests that students take, the so-called “value added" rubric.   Like other new Board of Ed members, Linda Haycock wants that de-emphasized.

“The administrators, if they’re good administrators, they’re not learning anything new from those evaluations.  So I would call on them to do a better job, to do a quality, not just quantity evaluation for the teachers.” 

Nick Owens of District 10 once worked for Congressman Jean Schmidt (R-Cincinnati) (photo Nick Owens)
Nick Owens of District 10 once worked for Congressman Jean Schmidt (R-Cincinnati)  [Nick Owens] 

And while it was conservative Republicans who first pushed for a statewide emphasis on test scores to measure schools and teachers, Nick Owens questions whether it has gone too far.

“We should be about the student not the test score.  We should be about the student and not what the state report card says.”

Whether conservative or liberal, the new crop of Ohio’s State Board Of Education members are so far showing an open mindedness as they begin their four year terms. 

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