FREDERICKTOWN -- Recent Fredericktown school board meetings have been dominated by public participation about mask policy, but there are several other school-related topics of interest among residents, some of which residents shared during the Oct. 14 “Talk the Vote” event.
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.
A forthcoming Citizens Agenda will more specifically detail the “Talk the Vote” topics of discussion, and will be presented to the officials once elected so they know constituent priorities.
In the meantime, Knox Pages requested the candidates respond to key issues of interest ahead of the upcoming election on Nov. 2.
Voters will choose three of seven candidates for Fredericktown Local Schools' school board: Nathan Bellman, James Blanchard, Jennifer Bostic, Donald Falk, Stanley Miller, Paul Napier and Charles Streby.
Residents said they wanted increased communication between board members and parents/guardians, raising specific ideas including extra meetings and newsletters. How would you address communication concerns if elected?
Nathan Bellman: “If elected, I would address this by having conversations with our Superintendent on ways we can communicate better and more efficiently. We currently have a ‘Superintendent's Message’ that is online that is posted monthly.”
Jim Blanchard: “I am open to platforms that help keep parents and the community engaged. If additional newsletters, web site posts, or the like would help, I'm in favor. Anyone can also email us thoughts and concerns to be discussed. Public participation at the board meetings is another tool, but the board is seldomly prepared to make decisions on the spot.”
Jennifer Bostic: “As a parent, I started to attend board meetings to be more informed of what was occurring. The board currently provides agendas, meeting notes, and board meetings on YouTube. The first step would be to survey community members to understand in what areas they need more communication. The survey should also include communication preferences. This would help to understand the problem and identify ways to solve it.”
Don Falk: “Since one reason why I am running is to improve communication. Several good ideas raised at meeting. News letter to all residents via email and mailings. Perhaps quarterly open meetings for any resident of the school district. Also, just listening to people.”
Stan Miller: “I appreciate the desire for improved communication between parents and the school board. Every public school district in Ohio has a chain of command to honor and follow. Oftentimes, the only time board members hear from anyone in the community is when they are unhappy about a particular issue or want to complain. As I stated at the "Meet the Candidate" event, I believe board members serve as a bridge between the community (all residents) and school administration. Therefore, I will do my best to listen, suggest an appropriate next step and definitely communicate with school officials all concerns brought to my attention.”
Paul Napier: “I would like to work with the district technology coordinator to create a portal that parents and residents can use to reach out to the board members with issues or suggestions. I have met with several groups during the election season and would continue to make myself available to those who would want to meet with me. Also, a quarterly newsletter that could be provided to the community is an excellent idea!”
Charles Streby: “The paradox I deal with, having been a board member for several years, is how difficult it is to educate the public while being in the business of public education. Our district residents obtain their news and other current information from so many different sources and types of sources that it is very difficult to reach them all effectively. We have begun to revisit this area as a board and administration. Some ideas that I have considered are:
Improving our website and updating more frequently.
Possibly restarting a version of the old "Freddie Scope" in a paper format to be mailed directly to district residents.
Small group gatherings in district families’ homes with a few parents/grandparents, administrators, superintendent, and a couple of board members for open dialog and discussion.”
Residents raised concern about not having a certified librarian in each school building, specifically questioning who is teaching the students internet safety and research skills. How would you address this lack of staff, as well as address the desire for students to be taught internet safety?
Bellman: “If elected, I would have a conversation with our Superintendent about ways we can train a current staff member(s) who work or assist in the library in the areas of student internet safety and research skills.”
Blanchard: “I am in favor of anything that helps educate and prepare students for life skills. As far as positions added, the board works with the superintendent and treasurer to ensure we maintain a healthy budget while giving students the best opportunities.”
Bostic: “I would begin by talking with the superintendent about these questions and concerns. I would ask the superintendent to respond to these concerns from the community and to specifically address who is responsible for internet safety instruction. I would discuss these issues with the other members of the school, community, and school board to determine how big of a concern this is. The board could then work with the superintendent to make any changes.”
Falk: “I have a serious concern as to why the position of librarian was eliminated. I was at the meeting when it happened and I am still not sure why it happened. If elected, I want to find out why this happened.”
Miller: “I support recruiting and hiring a licensed Library Media Specialist to serve in the district. In addition to maintaining current resources for our students to access, I would hope this employee will serve as a resource for supporting teachers who are working with students using technology, internet safety and research skills. Ohio's Learning Standards in English Language Arts currently have research standards for grades K-12 which teachers are responsible to teach. Ohio also has Technology Standards which a Library Media Specialist could most definitely help support. Given the age we are living in, technology use and application should be, if it isn't already, part of every K-12 classroom.”
Napier: “Because we are in an educational environment, I would like to see a certified person in the library and that person could work with the Technology Coordinator to develop 21st-century skills for students using technology. There are several free resources provided by the Ohio Department of Education as it pertains to Internet Safety, including cyberbullying awareness and response. Possibly see a course developed for students using resources the school already has, such as Google Classroom, and make it a prerequisite every year before a student can begin to use the school-provided Chromebook.”
Streby: “The function of the school library has been changing rapidly over the last couple of decades. While many enjoy a piece of paper or a book in hand, the reality is that the function of the library has become very technical. Certified Librarians are being replaced by Media Specialists in many school districts around the country. A position for a Media Specialist at Fredericktown has been on the radar for a while now. The Administration and the Board feel this will be an excellent addition to our staff. This position will complement our current computer classes and assist in teaching student’s internet safety and research.”
Practical life skills
Senate Bill 1 will require students to take a half-unit financial literacy course to graduate. Residents brought up a desire for students to be taught more practical life skills, such as financial literacy. Other ideas included job search and interviewing practice. What would you do if elected to address these concerns about curriculum and programming? Are there other specific skills you would want students to be taught?
Bellman: “If elected, I would support our students being taught life skills. Examples: how to budget and manage money, how to manage a checking & savings account, interviewing, shaking hands, looking people in the eye, how to go about having a conversation with someone, the car buying process, etc. etc.”
Blanchard: “I do like the idea of financial responsibility being taught to upperclassmen before they go out in the ‘real world.’ Again, it's the board working with the administration to see if we can make it fit to the budget we work within.”
Bostic: “I agree that life skills education is important. Important life skills include employment basics (i.e. resume writing, interviewing, emailing professionally), money management (i.e. banking, budgeting, credit cards), and internet safety.”
Falk: “We need to bring back a life skills class. People need to know how to balance a check book, what type of insurance do you need and how to use a computer. Hence, good skill that could be coordinated with a qualified librarian.”
Miller: “When ODE moved the requirement for Financial Literacy to be part of the Government/Economics course of study, I was not in favor of that move. I believe Fredericktown had a rigorous and worthwhile Financial Literacy course of study at the time ODE made this decision. My personal belief is a financial literacy course should be required for every student either as juniors or seniors. It could still be offered for one-half credit and count for part of a math credit. Fredericktown offers many opportunities in classes to support applying life skills, such as FFA and Project Lead the Way.”
Napier: “Ohio Senate Bill 1 that was passed in the Ohio Senate and House will require schools to teach financial literacy to all high school students beginning with next year's Freshman class (graduating class of 2026). Next year's freshman class will have to have a half-credit of financial literacy to graduate from high school. I would also like to have Financial Literacy as an elective for all students. We need to find additional "life skills" courses for electives and look to eliminate students having multiple study halls. Possible courses include Consumer Math, Money Management, and Career Paths and Networking. Possibly look at English at high school as a place to teach interview and resume writing skills.”
Streby: “I am definitely an advocate for basic life skills in the classroom. If the money isn’t available for a specific instructor, then maybe we can allocate and integrate these lessons into the required courses for graduation. In a perfect world, a full time position for an Industrial Arts and Home Economics teacher would be beneficial to all our students. I just talked with a staff member at the beginning of the school year and told him I would love for every graduate to have baked some chocolate chip cookies and made a birdhouse. As an individual that loves to work with his hands, I may be a little biased in this area!!”
Residents said they wanted to see more coordination between the school district and local employers. Residents also said they wanted to have more mentoring opportunities for students, such as hosting career professionals as guest speakers. How would you address this from a position on the school board? Are there any specific types of programs you'd push to have implemented?
Bellman: “If elected, I would have a conversation with our Superintendent about what we are currently doing in this area of mentoring and connecting students with employers. I think it would be a good idea to have a contact from FHS to assist with the mentoring/placing process. It's important to have someone at FHS in this role that has a good idea about a student's strengths and weaknesses and also someone that has a good grasp on what each business in the community needs so we can put students in a good position to be mentored.”
Blanchard: “There are already some opportunities in this area, and I fully support exploring any employer relations that will enhance employment skills for the students. This is a fluid area as the job market in Knox County changes.”
Bostic: “Information gathering would be the first step. The board can invite the community and local employers to provide feedback about what types of coordination they want to see between the district and local employers. Similarly, the board can gather feedback about what types of mentoring opportunities would be valuable for students. Based on this information, the board can determine specific ways to engage in coordination and mentoring and work with the superintendent to carry out these plans.”
Falk: “We need to improve the school/business working relationship. What do they need and how can we as school system facilitate this.”
Miller: “Under Governor Kasich, public schools were required to establish a Business Advisory Council. It is my understanding that our school district works with a group of people representing Knox County focusing on work development and career mentoring opportunities for our students. Additionally, we have a well respected Career Center with whom our district partners to teach and equip our students to enter the workforce after graduation. Many students have no idea what career fields exist in the county, state, nation or global marketplace today. It would be of great benefit for our students to have exposure in middle school, grades 5 - 7, to explore career fields that may interest them, as part of their career pathway learning.”
Napier: “I agree that mentoring and connections with local employers for our students. This is something that the Superintendent should be doing on a daily basis. If elected I would like to work with the Superintendent to create contacts in the area with local employers. I would also like to look at elective courses being taught as well as the number of students taking those courses and possibly create courses that align with skills that the Superintendent is bringing back from employers.”
Streby: “I have had the pleasure of representing the School District by attending monthly meetings with an organization known as “WorkDev” over the last several years. Through WorkDev, the position of “Knox County Career Navigator” was established and filled by Sean McCutcheon. Sean has been very busy visiting students in the county schools and helping them realize all the local career opportunities. We need to bolster the Project Lead the Way program and continue to develop it into a more enticing opportunity for students and local businesses. We also have to pursue the opportunities that the State and Federal governments have provided for our students to obtain credits towards education by actually being employed by local businesses for a portion of their school day.”