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State Board of Ed Candidates Address Public

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Four of five candidates vying for one seat on the Ohio’s State Board of Education talked issues and experience at Athens High School on Tuesday night.

The candidates are from all over District 8, a part of the board that covers areas from Youngstown to Athens. Included in the candidates is local State House Representative for the 94th District, Debbie Phillips (D-Athens).

Also at the forum was the incumbent District 8 board member and former Governor, Nancy Hollister, who was appointed to the position by current governor John Kasich, and is hoping to continue to serve in the remaining two years of the term.

Kathleen Purdy, of Alliance, and Vickie D. Briercheck, of Canton also attended the forum. Candidate Craig Brown, formerly county recorder in Columbiana County, was unable to attend due to sickness, according to forum officials.

All spoke of their experience in the education field. Purdy is a retired teacher who said she received numerous awards for her teaching and is running to get a “career educator” on the board rather than a “career politician.”

Purdy spoke to her position as the fifth of seven children in helping her learn that adaptation is a part of a child’s development. The child of a sharecropper’s son, Purdy said her parents did not receive traditional education, but emphasized the importance of work and school in their childrens’ lives.

In her 30 years in education, Briercheck said she was still driven by the first time she began thinking about education, when her sister was found to be eligible for the gifted program. She wanted to be a part of an educational system that put the parents first.

“I made a vow that I would never forget that the people who know their children best are the parents,” Briercheck told the audience of about 20 at Athens High School.

Briercheck said teacher and school accountability has “gone amuck” and stressed reading as important preparation for students, whether they aspire to a four-year college education, a trade school or two-year institution.

Phillips noted her membership in the Education Committee during her time with the House of Representatives, a position she is leaving this year due to term limits. She also said despite the size of the district the elected board member would be serving, making time for those within it would be a big part of the job.

“We need people (on the board) who want to listen to the people affected by their decisions,” Phillips said, pointing to her “listening tours” and accessibility at representative as examples of her experience in that area.

Hollister said Southeast Ohio has not had a voice on the board of education, and as a mother of five and current board member, she could do the work.

“Children are our greatest natural resource,” Hollister said.

The candidates touched on topics of trade schools, charter schools, dismal state report card numbers, College Credit Plus and flaws in standardized testing.

Vocational skills are important for students who aren’t sure yet what they want in a career, Purdy said, and Phillips brought up the need for “soft skills” such as timeliness and learning to dress for an interview.

Bringing in virtual reality education and career skills would be on Hollister’s agenda, as well as career and technical skills.

“(Students) need to focus on ‘what do you want to do,'” Hollister said.

On the issue of poverty, Purdy said poverty won’t go away in terms of education until the politicians that keep poverty going are taken out of the equation.

“Poverty is not going to go away until career politicians aren’t put in place to tell parents they don’t have a choice,” Purdy said.

All of the candidates expressed their frustration with the report cards which showed schools in the state were performing below average. Briercheck said she would recommend that money being used for charter schools be brought back to district schools that need the resources.

Phillips said report cards were “set up to make schools look bad,” and solving the funding equity problems within schools should be the focus of the board.

“We have a lot of work to do, both as a legislature, as a community and as people,” Hollister added.

While the candidates all said changes needed to be made to standardized testing, the candidates disagreed on the necessary changes. Hollister said standardized tests would continue along with checks and balances for the tests, Phillips talked about using the ACT as a standard and Purdy said blaming the teachers for bad test results needed to stop.

Briercheck hopes to see more focus on the skills students have than the test scores they receive.

“I want to be a voice for all the schools in Ohio that put students first,” Briercheck said.