Student homelessness, classroom technology, standardized testing, and diversity and inclusion were key topics at a forum Thursday for Toledo Public School board candidates.
All three incumbents — Polly Taylor-Gerken, Chris Varwig, and Bob Vasquez — spoke in front of about 40 people at the event hosted by YWCA Northwest Ohio in downtown Toledo. The lone challenger in the race, Ruth Leonard, was absent.
Ms. Taylor-Gerken, a retired school psychologist, talked about the importance of social-emotional learning in improving a child’s education. She wants educators to focus as much on a child’s social and emotional progress as they do on reading, writing, math, and science.
She also wants to form a student advisory group so that students are involved in the district’s decision-making, an idea Ms. Varwig and Mr. Vasquez seconded.
“I’m talking about a deliberate effort to put together a student advisory council or student engagement and advancement board, where students actually have a voice and are used to solve these problems,” Ms. Taylor-Gerken said.
Ms. Varwig talked about her experience as a parent in the district and said she is focused on growing family engagement with the district and providing a wide variety of educational opportunities for students.
“Offering opportunity is the No. 1 goal in my mind. There’s such a variety of what students want out of their educational system,” she said.
Mr. Vasquez touched on the importance of using district funds responsibly and emphasized the importance of early childhood education.
“We have to make sure that our students are kindergarten ready, and universal pre-K is the beginning of the development of our students,” he said. “It is probably, at this point, one of the most crucial efforts that we can make to trying to change the educational landscape for all of our schools.”
All three incumbents agreed on most topics. They all want to bolster wrap-around services for housing insecure students, offer professional development for teachers on diversity and inclusion, pressure the state legislature to focus less on testing, and boost high school graduation rates district-wide.
Forum organizers said Ms. Leonard wanted to attend the event but had a conflict Thursday. In an online post Thursday Ms. Leonard said she could not make the forum because she had to meet with parents and students during Riverside Elementary parent-teacher conferences.
She is an educator and social justice advocate running on a platform that calls for creating a culturally relevant curriculum, assisting the high number of homeless students, and partnering with Toledo’s small businesses.
A disorderly conduct charge steaming from a Sept. 20 incident where police said she hit her brakes as a passenger in her car, Julian Mack, 33, allegedly yelled an obscenity to police was dropped against Ms. Leonard, 31, on Oct. 24.
She would have to give up her positionas a TPS substitute if she wins a seat on the board.
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