Candidates for the Washington Court House City Schools Board of Education at the Nov. 5 general election recently took time to answer a series of questions from the Record-Herald to establish their perspectives on the district for voters.
At the general election this year, those within the WCHCS school district will need to decide on three of five candidates: Craig Copas and Jennifer Lynch seeking reelection and Leah Foster, Dennis Garrison and Janelle Teeters Mead challenging. Below are the first two of five questions asked of the candidates.
What do you think are the best and worst parts of the district and how would you improve the worst?
Copas: The best part of the district is definitely the people. I feel that our district’s moral is higher than it’s been a very long time. Feedback that I have received from community members has been overwhelming positive at each of the schools and during extra-curricular activities. The worst part of our district is our test scores. While we have some bright spots throughout the district there is still work to be done to improve our scores. I feel the best way improve them is through teacher resources and training, technology accessible to the students and staff salaries that are more in line with school districts near us and compatible to ours.
Mead: The best part of the district is the people. Anyone who has ever had a kid get hurt or sick at school knows exactly what I am talking about. The teachers and staff at each school step up and care for your children like they are their own. It is at those times when you realize how valuable the relationships are in this community. My guess is this happens every day, all of the time, and it is wonderful to know someone is taking care of your kid when you are not there. This district is always going to be challenged with access issues because we are not a major metropolitan city. We are not going to have the financial support of a broad base of tax income because of the size of our community. The same goes with some of our job opportunities, access to technology and the resources that come with being in an urban center. But I suspect that we have all rationalized that trade-off as acceptable, because we continue to live in a community where every teacher and administrator knows our child – and we have deemed that more important. If we want to improve our challenges we have to realize the value of our assets. I read all of the time about children who don’t have a positive adult role model in their life – and I look at our school district and our community and I realize our kids always have the ability to connect with someone who can make a difference in their life – and that is a great thing. Those connections make each and every student better.
Foster: Our best attributes would be the recent improvements in communication to parents and students, passionate commitment from many of our teachers and the strong support from our local community. Our main challenge would be the “readiness” of many graduates as they face life beyond high school. We tend to focus on College “Prep” within the district, which is fantastic for the minority of the student population. College is not for everyone and alternative viable options exist – trade programs and/or local career placement programs. I would strongly support our district to dive deeper into further structuring, mentoring and guiding those students into these future paths.
Lynch: The best part of the district without question are the kids! We have the most amazing and talented kids. The work that our teachers and support staff do every day with each student gives them the opportunity to showcase their accomplishments. Some kids may take a small step everyday towards being their best, and that is something to celebrate because here in WCHCS everyone grows. I wouldn’t use the word “worst,” but I would say the area that causes the most difficulty is unfunded state mandates. A couple of examples would be all-day kindergarten and state testing. The all-day kindergarten mandate required more teachers, classroom space, busing, etc., but no additional funding or support was offered by the state to convert from half day to full day. Similarly, all of the state testing requires additional technology to be implemented, but again there are no state funds provided to cover the costs associated with administering these tests. The state mandates the “project” and the district foots the bill. Many of these mandates are worthy projects, but without funding, they can put a strain on the district’s resources and financial success.
Garrison: “Best and Worst” are pretty broad terms, but to point to one of our best “parts” it would also be our most valuable, the people. Inclusive of students, teachers, administration and staff. It all starts with them. “You Win with People.” I believe the district’s recent report card from the Ohio Dept of Education in the areas of Progress (A) and Gap Closing (B) are in indication of the success and hard work. The worst may well be on the same report card however. It is the grade of “F” in the prepared for success component. This isn’t unique to our District, as only 17 percent of the Districts statewide earned higher than a “D.” Curriculum development and the need for a balance between College Prep and technical skills is evident. Graduates wanting to go directly into the workforce aren’t being provided with adequate technical skill programs.
QUESTION TWO (one question for incumbents and another for challengers):
Incumbents: Is there a particular achievement you are most proud of since you started on the board?
Copas: Hiring Mr. Bailey, our Superintendent. He is a visionary leader with a strong passion for education. Coming from Cincinnati, he has a lot of great ideas for our district in and out of the class room. He has done a tremendous job improving morale, putting the right people in the right position and then trusting those people to make the right decision.
Lynch: I don’t think that I could ever choose just one because there have been so many great accomplishments and achievements over the past 8 years. If I absolutely had to pick one, it would be the trending success that our buildings have had in improving our state indicators. The reason this is important is that it takes the effort of the entire team, from administration to teachers to support staff both direct and indirect, in order to make these improvements, and the improvements don’t happen overnight. So as a district we have to stay the course in order to see and sustain the results.
Challengers: What issue would you consider to be the most important facing our district today and how would you work with the board to combat this issue?
Mead: In my opinion, the biggest challenge to our community is generational poverty. Many of our students are growing up in an environment where hard-work isn’t valued or rewarded. Sometimes in those situations it is really hard for kids to see a path forward to achieving the success they would like to have. We have the opportunity to have these kids in a classroom every year, for 13 years. During that time, we need to instill in every child, of all levels, confidence in their own abilities and help them to discover a pathway to success. We need to encourage all students to explore multiple options – be it through vocational/trade schools, higher education or military service. Our children need to be taught to find success in a variety of careers and how to appropriately handle their finances and responsibilities to be successful adults. I graduated from college and had an amazing academic experience. I am working in the industry that I studied (which doesn’t always happen) and I feel I got good value out of my education. For those kids that truly want to go to college for additional education – you should do it. But college isn’t for everyone – and that is more than okay. We need to teach our kids the value of careers in trade programs. Each and every day our skilled people make a difference in our lives – from working on our cars and in our homes, and so many other ways. In many cases, they get a greater return on their educational investment and have a career that they truly love. We need to embrace opportunities to inform students about all their options for careers after graduation. In turn, we should have a community that has successful adults who support our school districts.
Foster: I actually believe we have a couple imperative issues that need immediately addressed. First would be mental well being of the students. We live in a very different world today where drugs, homelessness, foster care and hunger are all at an all time high. While the school system is mandated to focus on “the test,” many of our students are simply just trying to survive. Let’s help give these students the tools to increase self-worth and self-help, so that they can step out into this world with confidence to strive for betterment. I additionally believe that we need to focus on retaining and maintaining our quality teacher base — not only do these folks educate our kids, they act as mentors, consultants and “coaches” on a daily basis. In many cases, this may be the only guidance that the student has in their daily activities. I would like to see Washington Court House provide more tools and resources for this very important job.
Garrison: I don’t think you can point to one single issue. The District as a whole is a reflection of several moving parts. As a board member you have to understand the difference between governance and management. Focus on the big picture and forge a consensus with common goals.
Stay with the Record-Herald for part two in a future edition of the paper and for more coverage of the 2019 General Election being held on Tuesday, Nov. 5. Polls will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on that day.
Reach Martin Graham at (740) 313-0351 or on Twitter @MartiTheNewsGuy.