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Published: Monday, 1/10/2005

Children's advocate keeps eagle eye on TPS

Twila Page: Secretary of the African-American Parents Association. Twila Page: Secretary of the African-American Parents Association.

With her outspoken and sometimes confrontational opinions, Twila Page is unmistakable at Toledo Board of Education meetings.

Even though none of her own children attend the district's schools, Ms. Page, secretary of the African-American Parents Association, rarely misses a school board meeting and uses each opportunity to speak about one of her many causes.

"We are unashamedly for children, and we feel we are right on the issues," Ms. Page said. "We are not going to back down until we feel that each child is made whole."

The African-American Parents Association, one of several TPS watchdog groups, represents students at suspension hearings, counsels parents of troubled students, and has opposed some of the district's tax levies.

Despite Toledo Public Schools' publicized success with test scores and receiving the state's continuous improvement rating last year, Ms. Page said the 34,000-student district is still failing many children.

Ms. Page, 62, is a mother of six, ages 8 to 33 - all of whom are adopted. The Old West End resident said she sacrifices what little time she has to advocate for children's rights.

She first became involved with the African-American Parents Association about nine years ago when she says a son of hers was mistreated at a Toledo elementary school.

"He is visually impaired, and when I made a complaint about what happened to him, I was really shocked with how they handled it," she said. "Parents are put on the back burner, and we have no say in what happens with our children."

Her son went to several Toledo schools, but is now home-schooled by Ms. Page along with two of her other children.

Ms. Page's main issue with the school district is its discipline policy.

"They have been overly disciplined," she said. "Kids would just come home from school and be destroyed."

Ms. Page is currently fighting a proposal by the school board that she says would prohibit the African-American Parents Association from attending suspension hearings.

"I can understand expulsion for a violent act, or even a suspension, but for a kindergartner or first or second grader," she said. "And then you go to these hearings, and there is an inequity of discipline."

Toledo Public Schools Superintendent Eugene Sanders said the district is simply trying to limit the number of people at suspension hearings to those with a direct interest in the particular case.

He said that all students are treated equally and fairly.

Ms. Sanders added that he has a tremendous amount of respect for Ms. Page.

"She is an advocate for the issues, and she uses the public education system, like a board meeting, as she should: to address her issues," he said. "Obviously, I don't always agree with her, but I think there is clearly a way we can work together to address mutual concerns."

The association and the school district's administration also strongly disagree over a long-standing program that evaluates new teachers.

Ms. Page told the school board that the program should be abolished; Mr. Sanders believes it has merit. And the African-American Parents Association called for eliminating the program in its campaigns against the district's tax levies in 2003. Ms. Page addresses the Toledo Board of Education about it almost monthly.

The program, dubbed the Toledo Plan, assigns an experienced teacher to new teachers in the district. After a number of classroom visits and evaluations, the veteran teacher makes a recommendation to the intern board of review on whether the teacher should be hired. The review board is composed of five teachers and four administrators. Charles Brown, president of the African-American Parents Association, said Ms. Page has become a powerful spokesman for the group on the Toledo Plan and other issues.

"She works hard and she overworks when a child has a problem," Mr. Brown said. "She makes sure that parents are satisfied and being treated fairly in the process they are going through."

The group works with children of all races and from different school districts in the Toledo area, Ms. Page said.

"Our name, it scares people because, it makes people think we are a radical racist group," she said. "But we are an advocacy group and have helped a rainbow of people."

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171.

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