Fredericktown Talk the Vote

Nearly 20 Fredericktown residents attended Knox Pages’ “Talk the Vote” discussion at the Mill Street Nature Center on Oct. 14.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Knox Pages reporter Emma Davis presented an inaugural Citizens' Agenda during Fredericktown's Jan. 11 school board meeting.

FREDERICKTOWN -- Fredericktown voters gathered at the Mill Street Nature Center this past fall to voice concerns and priorities for their school board candidates to consider as they ran for office. 

Knox Pages launched this voter engagement effort, known as Talk The Vote, to flip the election script by focusing on what voters, as opposed to candidates, believe should be top-of-mind. Following the event, Knox Pages requested the candidates responses to key issues of interest and published those responses before the election.

Tuesday marked the next part of Talk the Vote: presenting the Citizens' Agenda. 

The Citizens' Agenda below specifically details the Talk the Vote topics of discussion. Knox Pages presented the document to the board members at the first board meeting of the year Jan. 11, so the members know their constituents' priorities.

Common issues of interest included a desire to improve communication between board members and residents, ensuring internet safety is taught, incorporating more lessons about practical life skills into curriculum and offering more mentorship opportunities for students.

The Fredericktown Talk the Vote event on Oct. 14, 2021, was open to the general public. Those running for office were invited to attend, but only to listen. 

THE CITIZEN’S AGENDA

The following items were compiled and summarized from conversations with Fredericktown residents who attended our Talk the Vote event ahead of the fall election. Some quotes have been edited for clarity. 

Improve communication

The two groups that residents most frequently expressed wanting to see improved communication between were school board members and parents/guardians. Residents also noted, however, that school communication should not be exclusive to Fredericktown residents who have children attending Fredericktown Local Schools.  

“Parents have the opportunity of hearing stuff from kids when they come home from school, but the rest of the community still votes, but we don’t hear anything,” one Fredericktown voter said. “I want to hear facts and I don’t want to hear somebody’s gossip about this, gossip about that.

"My money counts too, I need to be informed to make good decisions — on taxes, community engagement, etc.”

Another Fredericktown voter missed the newsletter FLS sent out previously. The information was helpful and they liked the idea of having a tangible item to look at, as opposed to virtual communication. 

Transparency was another key idea that arose in conversation, specifically as it relates to board operations and decision-making processes. 

In addition to improving communication with parents and residents overall, those who attended Talk the Vote also voiced a desire for board members to better communicate with the village council. One resident specifically suggested both groups have liaisons designated to attend each other’s meetings. 

Lastly, some residents voiced concerns about the tone of school board meetings in recent months. 

“Civility is an issue,” one attendee said of the meetings. “It is a business meeting. It’s not a gripe session.”

Ensure internet safety is taught to students

The main way residents said internet safety education could be improved upon is by ensuring the district has licensed librarians in each school building. 

“Who is teaching students internet safety, how to search correctly, how to find stuff on the web, and know it is correct stuff and not false stuff?” one Fredericktown resident asked. “What is being done to bring a certified librarian back into the district?”

Another Fredericktown voter, specifically a parent of two students in the district, echoed the aforementioned point. 

“I am highly disappointed our school does not have library services. (My students) are now moving into the middle/high school, but I don’t want that just for my kids. I want it for kids behind mine as well.

"The world is changing. I do my best to teach them internet safety, but they need more in-school instruction.”

Concerns centered around the lack of certifications for staff, as opposed to the lack of library staff in general. However, voters recognized the hiring difficulties the district and districts across the country are facing at this time. 

To alleviate some hiring challenges, voters said they hope the board and district will more often look internally at the pool of retired educators and workers in the community at-large. 

Incorporate more lessons about practical life skills into curriculum

Talk the Vote occurred before the passage of Senate Bill 1, which will now require students to take a half-unit financial literacy course to graduate. During Talk the Vote, residents expressed support for this financial literacy requirement, as well as a desire for students to be taught other practical life skills during the school day. Some ideas specifically included job search and interviewing practice. 

“We need to have a school system that prepares students to be functional, practical adults,” one Fredericktown voter said. “Not everybody’s going to college, not everybody’s going to a trade craft — but all need a fundamental level of knowledge, and I think it’s slipping.”

One voter said more emphasis should be put on practical life skills as opposed to social-emotional learning. Another voter, while agreeing that practical life skills are important, cautioned that too many changes in a short time span to curriculum or school structure could have negative impacts. 

“Curriculum takes time. Students also have to have time to ingest. It’s about finding that balance, maintaining that direction, and having the attitude that we’ve heard about for the village.

"This has been a healthy and good place to raise a family and live — but how to do you maintain that, address growth, and do that in a balanced, informed process and communicate with the community?”

Offer more mentorship opportunities for students

The COVID-19 pandemic has limited in-person interactions for students, with their fellow classmates and teachers but also with outside visitors to the district. Fredericktown voters said they want to see more opportunities for guest speakers to connect with school-age youth and show them different types of careers they can aspire to.  

“Kids need to know about opportunities and to learn from other successful adults they can look up to,” one voter said.

Another voter mentioned a specific idea where professional athletes, specifically football players, come to talk with and inspire youth. The voter said this type of mentorship is not necessarily intended to encourage youth to become professional athletes, but to give them exposure to adults who can share life lessons. 

“I’ve heard these men talk and share with young boys about their lives, stay in school, get good grades, and be a good citizen in the community,” the voter said. “Young men are missing a great opportunity to talk to these players and be successful.”

One voter suggested a program where students could go into the field with a mentor and see first-hand what their job is like. Related, voters also said they want to see a stronger pipeline between Fredericktown students and employers.

In short, they want the district to collaborate more with area businesses so students are aware of opportunities to work locally after graduation, as opposed to moving and pursuing work elsewhere.

________________________________________________________________

Thank you for considering these questions and requests from Fredericktown residents as you and your colleagues start planning for your term in office. We’ll be following along as you navigate your next term to see how each of these items factors into your agenda. 

On behalf of the partners in Talk The Vote, 

Sincerely,

The Knox Pages Editorial Team 

Larry Phillips, Managing Editor - larry@richlandsource.com 

Carl Hunnell, City Editor - carl.hunnell@richlandsource.com 

Brittany Schock, Engagement & Solutions Editor - brittany@richlandsource.com

Grant Pepper, reporter - grant@knoxpages.com

Emma Davis, reporter - emma@knoxpages.com

Cheryl Splain, reporter - cheryl@knoxpages.com

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Emma Davis is a 2021 graduate of the University of Richmond, from which she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and leadership studies. Emma reports for Knox Pages and Ashland Source through Report for America.

Emma Davis is a 2021 graduate of the University of Richmond, from which she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and leadership studies. Emma reports for Knox Pages and Ashland Source through Report for America.