From our friends at: www.cantonrep.com
School boards in Stark County and nationally have become targets of parents’ passionate pleas over the emotionally charged topics of mask mandates, COVID-19 vaccines and critical race theory.
State election watchers say the social issues have spurred more candidates to compete in Ohio school board races this year, with the number of school board candidates doubling this election compared to the 2017 election. More than half of the 2,628 school board candidates seeking election are newcomers.
But not so much in Stark County. Only five of the 20 Stark County school board races on the Nov. 2 election ballot are contested. And most of the candidates in those contested races say that the hot-button topics weren’t the primary reason for seeking a position on the five-member, nonpartisan boards.
The school board races for Canton Local, Plain and Marlington appear to have attracted more candidates than usual because at least one incumbent decided to not seek re-election. The division among Marlington’s current school board members regarding funding and building repairs also has generated additional interest for those two races.
Here’s a look at the candidates for the Canton Local, Marlington, North Canton and Plain Local races:
Canton Local school board candidates
Dave Brothers, who has held a seat on the Canton Local school board since 1998, is not seeking re-election. That leaves two incumbents, Scott Hamilton and Scott T. Shaffer, and four challengers, Annette Davis, Thomas Kovesci, Brandi Noll and Allen Reynolds, seeking three board seats.
One of the biggest challenges facing the district of roughly 1,850 students is to improve student academic performance, particularly following the coronavirus pandemic that has disrupted education since March 2020. The district has consistently scored below average on the state’s school report card in key academic areas such as overall achievement, literacy and closing the performance gaps between different subsets of students.
During a candidate forum last week, each of the candidates presented their views on how to help the district improve:
Davis, who retired from Canton Local last school year after 30 years as an educational paraprofessional, said her knowledge of the district, its students and the community, as well as her leadership skills as the former treasurer of the district’s classified union and other organizations, will help the board identify areas for improvement and accomplishments. She pledged to visit the schools at least once a month.
Hamilton, a 1980 Canton South graduate who currently serves as board president, said he is seeking his seventh four-year term due to unfinished business. Hamilton, director of quality and engineering with Polymer Packaging, believes the district is beginning to turn its culture and academic performance around with its recent hires of Superintendent Brett Yeagley and curriculum director Tricia Couts-Everett and believes his years of experience will help guide future improvement.
Kovesci, a 1977 graduate of Canton South who is the general manager of Stone Products, wants to ensure the district helps to elevate all students, including those not planning to go to college. He wants to expand the district’s career-technical education program and believes local businessmen he knows would be willing to partner with the district.
Noll, an educator for 25 years and now is an associate professor at the University of Akron, supports the district’s recent hiring of a company to instruct teachers on how to analyze and use assessment data to improve their instruction. Noll, who helped struggling readers during the first half of her career, believes she can use her years of experience in other school districts to help Canton Local with its improvement.
Reynolds, a 1991 Canton South graduate, wants to help the district better motivate parents and students to become more involved in the various activities that Canton Local has to offer, from tutoring and college prep courses to clubs and extracurricular activities. Reynolds, a merchandiser with Home Depot, said involving parents and students would complement the hardworking teachers and staff at Canton Local.
Shaffer, a 1987 Canton South graduate who is seeking his second term on the board, believes the board’s hiring of Yeagley as superintendent and the retooling of the district’s curriculum are good first steps to jolt the district out of the mediocrity that he believes has settled in. Shaffer, who owns and operates Buckeye Seed & Supply, believes his leadership and attention to detail will help the board keep administrators accountable and the district moving in a better direction.
Marlington school board candidates
Four seats on Marlington’s five-member school board are up for election, and the stakes couldn’t be higher in the district of 1,900 students as Marlington continues to lose students and faces the threat of exhausting its cash reserves within the next few years.
The controversial reopening of Marlboro Elementary, the resignation of board member Danielle Stevens and the decision of board member Scott Mason to not seek another term have set the stage for two crowded and contentious races.
Six candidates are competing for the three seats that are traditionally up for election this cycle. The six candidates are incumbents Carolyn J. Gabric and Karen S. Humphries and challengers retired U.S. Air Force veteran Jim Hornyak, former school board member Cathy L. Krupko, former Marlington employee Marie E. Millard and former school board member Mark E. Ryan.
Separately, four other candidates are vying to fill the remaining wo years of Stevens’ term. The four candidates include Matthew Misch, who as appointed by the current board to succeed Stevens, and challengers business owner Luke Cowles, retired educator Kathleen Purdy and former school board member Jonathan Swift.
While each candidate’s name will appear independently on the ballot, there are two distinct blocs of candidates who are campaigning together.
Gabric, Hornyak, Millard and Cowles have aligned themselves and are campaigning on keeping the district’s three elementary schools, prioritizing spending on school building maintenance and repair and carrying out the wishes of the majority of voters in a transparent manner.
Humphries, Krupko, Ryan and Swift have formed an opposing alliance that is campaigning on their years of experience as current and former board members and that they would focus on education rather than school buildings.
Misch and Purdy, who are unaffiliated with either bloc, are emphasizing their independence as candidates and how they could be the bridge builders between the two factions.
More on the Marlington candidates:Marlington school board candidates discuss whether they would support levy, close schools
North Canton school board candidates
In North Canton, the school board’s three incumbents Robert P. Roden, Jessica Stroia, Andrea Ziarko are each seeking to be re-elected to a second, four-year term. They are being challenged by write-in candidate Rikki A. Price, a mother of four girls who is pursuing her doctorate in the communication and information program at Kent State University.
Price, who moved from Berea in 2018 to be closer to family, decided to run for the board after she felt school leaders ignored the parents calling for the district to mandate masks for students. She believes masks should be required in school to protect small children, including her 10-year-old twins, and children with compromised immune systems who cannot learn from home this school year because a remote option isn’t being offered.
School leaders have said they encourage students to wear face coverings but believe parents should decide whether they want their child to wear a mask indoors at school.
More on masks in North Canton schools:North Canton parents weigh in on student mask issue
Plain Local school board candidates
In Plain Local, board member Kristen Guardado, who has sat on the board since 2002, has chosen not to seek a fifth term, leaving a rare opening for at least one newcomer to join one of the county’s most veteran school boards.
Five candidates are seeking the three seats up for election. The candidates include incumbents John W. Halkias and Ambrose S. Perduk Jr. and challengers Rachel Dodd, Jennifer L. Fitzsimmons and Daniel T. Wales.
While only one candidate joined the race specifically due to the hot-button issues of masking, COVID-19 vaccines and critical race theory, the Canton Repository asked each candidate about the three issues because they are the questions the candidates have heard the most often while talking to voters.
More on CRT:What is Critical Race Theory?
Dodd, a 1971 Glenwood High School graduate, is seeking a position because she wants to contribute to the community and give back to the district that gave her a solid educational foundation. She believes her background in clinical psychology gives her a unique perspective.
Dodd, who has a doctorate in clinical psychology, retired in 2018 after working as an assistant professor of psychology for 17 years, with five years at Indiana University – Purdue University Fort Wayne and nearly 12 years at Kirkwood Community College in Iowa. Dodd returned to Stark County three years ago to be closer to family.
She believes that parents should be able to choose whether their child should wear a mask in school or be vaccinated against COVID-19. She’s concerned about the physical and psychological effects that mask mandates have on children.
She opposes critical race theory and the “us” versus “them” mentality that she believes the theory fosters. She wants to help school leaders foster an environment that teaches students how to build character, how to develop critical thinking skills and why they should be proud of America’s values and freedoms.
“If you want inclusion, then give everybody, if possible, the same opportunities for learning,” said Dodd, who doesn’t believe critical race theory is being taught in Plain Local. “We don’t all have the same opportunities because of where we grew up, our parents and things like that, but we should try to provide the same opportunities as much as possible.”
Fitzsimmons, a 1991 GlenOak High School graduate whose two children, ages 14 and 17, attend Plain Local, believes her background as a lawyer, along with her experience managing budgets, personnel and employment issues will help her serve as an effective school board member.
Fitzsimmons, who obtained her law degree from the Western Michigan University’s Thomas M. Cooley School of Law, served as a Canton City prosecutor for 20 years before becoming the chief deputy for the Stark County Clerk of Courts last year.
Fitzsimmons said she has supported how Plain Local has handled its mask policy because she believes the district has followed the health department, the CDC and the state recommendations. If elected, Fitzsimmons said she would need to evaluate what the federal, state and local health agencies are recommending regarding masks at that time.
Regarding critical race theory and a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for eligible students, Fitzsimmons said she would want to do more research before making a decision.
She said she’s most concerned about how the coronavirus pandemic will affect future state funding for the district and its effect on student mental health. She also wants to review the district’s safety protocols to ensure Plain is following best practices and to explore whether Plain should offer its own preschool program.
Halkias, 61, who was first appointed to the board in 1999, said he is seeking re-election for the same reason that he first sought to join the board: His passion for public education and to give back to his community.
Halkias, an employee benefit fund administrator whose two children graduated from Plain Local, plans to use his roughly 20 years of local board experience, as well as his experience with the Ohio School Boards Association and the National School Boards Association to continue to advocate for public education and oppose attempts to steer taxpayers dollars to private institutions. Halkias became the first Stark County school board member to become president of the Ohio School Boards Association in 2019.
Regarding mask mandates, Halkias said, the board’s goal has been to keep students in the classroom and he will continue to follow the guidelines provided by the Ohio and Stark County health departments.
“Our objective was to keep kids in school and masks did that (under the former state guidelines). It wasn’t a political issue,” he said.
Halkias said the state must decide whether students should be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine, not local school districts. “If the state mandates that schools require the COVID vaccine, then Plain Local, just like every other school district in Ohio, will mandate it,” he said.
Halkias, who has a law degree from the University of Akron, does not believe critical race theory should be taught in a K-12 educational setting as it is a legal precept designed for college law students.
Perduk, who was appointed to the board in 2012 and currently serves as board president, said he is seeking re-election because he wants to continue helping the administration create every opportunity it can for the students. He said when board members handle their role professionally and free from unnecessary drama, it allows administrators to focus their time on providing quality education.
Perduk, a 1979 GlenOak High School graduate whose three children have graduated from Plain Local, believes the biggest issue facing school boards is how they can help students recover academically from missing time in the classroom due to the pandemic and related quarantines.
Regarding masks, Perduk said, Plain Local decided to require masks because the district had roughly 530 students out of school in quarantine. Now that the state guidelines have relaxed to allow students to remain in schools, he said the district adjusted its policy accordingly.
“It’s always been about keeping butts in seats,” he said.
Perduk said he would not support a COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
“That should be a parent’s choice,” said Perduk, a chiropractor whose wife is a teacher at Plain Local. “A shot is more invasive than a mask.”
He also doesn’t believe critical race theory would ever come to Plain in its current form.
Wales, 51, said he is seeking a position on the school board because he opposes the district’s recent mask mandate and wants to ensure that critical race theory never comes to Plain Local classrooms.
He believes parents, not the schools, should decide whether their child should wear a mask to school and be vaccinated against COVID-19. While Plain doesn’t teach critical race theory currently, he’s concerned that aspects could be introduced gradually.
“This is one of those proactive things,” said Wales, whose son graduated from GlenOak last year and who has three young children who will attend Plain Local in the future. “There are schools that are teaching it, and me being on the board, I want to make sure it isn’t happening in our school district.”
Wales, a powder coating specialist for EB Display Co. who has unsuccessfully sought election to the board on four previous elections, said he would seek to ensure that Plain teachers have all the tools they need to provide the best education possible for students.
He also wants to make the school board more accessible to residents, such as publicly posting the board’s agendas prior to the meetings.
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