It was the Toledo Board of Education’s turn Sunday at the Ottawa Tavern.
The Adams Street bar has held a series of candidate nights — it called them “Political Parties” — this election season, hosting all the mayoral candidates before the September primary, and hosting many of the City Council candidates. Sunday, six of eight candidates for the Toledo school board were in Uptown to make their cases for their campaigns, and answer a few questions from the crowd.
There was less chance for questions from the several dozen patrons at the forum than previous events, as each TPS candidate had to get a turn at the microphone and several had other events scheduled that night with the election drawing near.
Three board seats are up for election Nov. 5. Bob Vasquez, the lone incumbent running for re-election, was joined at the OT by candidates Chris Varwig, Perry Lefevre, Polly Taylor-Gerken, the Rev. Randall Parker III, and Darryl Fingers. Candidates Aji Green and Tina Henold did not attend.
Candidates focused on their Toledo roots, many referencing which Toledo Public Schools high school from which they graduated. Candidates were asked about efforts to reduce the city’s teen pregnancy rates, and if the school district was doing enough. They talked about a recent performance audit of the district. And they were asked to give their long-term visions for TPS.
Ms. Taylor-Gerken, who spent 30 years in TPS as a secretary and later a school psychologist, said she feels the district is on the cusp of major improvements. Her experience makes her uniquely qualified for the board, she said.
She said educators know what works to improve schools; the key is to follow the data, and make evidence-based decisions.
She spoke of the performance audit section that focused on board operations, saying board members need to work as a team and be more efficient.
“Get your house in order,” she said.
Ms. Taylor-Gerken said she opposed programs that segregate pregnant students; a TPS charter school, Polly Fox Academy, is dedicated to pregnant and parenting girls.
Mr. Lefevre, a teacher and president of the Sylvania teachers’ union, said he had three main focuses: improving first-grade reading, developing young leaders by providing them role models, and promoting the district’s career-tech programs.
He said the city can be an incubator for new education ideas, citing the transformation plan, which brought districtwide K-8 buildings and calls for thematic high schools.
“We have the opportunity to experiment,” he said.
The performance audit is a road map, he said, and stakeholders need to be included when discussing its recommendations.
Mr. Vasquez pointed to his record on the board.
He noted he helped develop the transformation plan and is leading the effort to implement the performance audit, though he said the community should be involved. And he said the district and Lucas County already have programs that have showed some success in reducing teen pregnancy rates.
The school district should do more to reach out to parents to increase their engagement.
“The responsibility is on us to go out and find parents and get them involved,” he said.
Ms. Varwig, a longtime advocate and volunteer for TPS, focused on the work she’s done in the Bowsher learning community, such as fighting the proposed closure of Beverly Elementary.
She said she wanted to increase education opportunities, referencing chess clubs she helped to develop and a college fair she spearheaded. She said TPS at times gets a bad rap.
“Public education in Toledo is actually first-rate,” she said.
Ms. Varwig said that schools should support pregnant students, and she also praised the Young Women of Excellence, a mentorship and leadership development group launched by TPS Superintendent Romules Durant.
Mr. Parker, the president of Glenwood Elementary’s parent-teacher organization, spoke about the importance of building partnerships in the community. Neighborhoods and families are different than they were, and the school district must reach out to parents and neighbors.
“We have to go back and build that community alliance,” he said.
Mr. Parker, who is a pastor, said that combating teen pregnancy takes a community effort. He said he thinks the district is heading in the right direction, and said the performance audit can be a good tool.
Mr. Fingers said he might not have as much experience in education as his competitors, but he is just as passionate.
“I will work as hard for our children as anyone out there,” he said.
Mr. Fingers admitted he didn’t know much about teen pregnancy rates, but said it is important that girls who become pregnant continue their studies and graduate, and that the district should help them finish school.
And he said the district needs to do a better job building partnerships.
Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6086, or on Twitter @NolanRosenkrans.