Candidates comment on district’s opportunities, challenges, student post-secondary readiness –
By Patricia Beech –
his November voters across the Ohio Valley School District (OVSD) will choose between seven candidates to fill three seats on their local school board. Ashley M. Davenport, Rick Davis, David Riley, and Gay Lynn Shipley will share the ballot with incumbents Judy Campbell, Tom Reed, and John Lewis.
The Defender asked each of the candidates the same series of questions regarding their views on the operation of the district’s schools.
Asked what they believe OVSD’s greatest opportunities are, candidate David Riley answered, “the partnerships and communication it shares with local community members.”
“I believe our district is blessed to have so many community members who care about participating in the education of our children,” said Riley. “My hope is to simplify the process and encourage this involvement, so I support new ideas and programs that get the community involved in our children’s lives because it does take a village to raise a child.”
Riley says he is running for school board because he feels motivated to serve the community.
“I am a candidate for the people,” he says. “I have two young children with many years ahead in our district. It is my intention to help make the best decisions possible so that all of our children can receive the best education.”
Candidate Dr. Gaylynn Shipley, is a North Adams graduate and a university professor. She also believes “community spirit” is a driver for opportunities in the district.
“People from across the county are willing to step up and support our youth,” says Shipley. “We have extracurricular activities, sporting events and after school programs for young people, and we have excellent teachers and staff who are willing to learn new ways to meet the needs of our student population.”
Shipley says her work with school systems is a “full circle commitment.”
“My role is both as an educator and as a parent, and my concern about issues facing our district is real,” she says. “Our district needs people willing to place education first because education empowers our students and all students deserve the opportunity to become successful.”
According to incumbent board member, Tom Reed, the current school board has pursued a variety of opportunities to meet students needs: “Our students can learn in the traditional classroom setting with teacher instruction, or with online courses taken at home or at school, and in post secondary classes at local colleges.”
A former elementary teacher, Reed has served four years on the OVSD school board. He says he “knows what it takes to get the job done as a school board member.”
“I love to teach kids,” says Reed. “And I want to give them every chance to learn, and give their teachers all the tools they need to teach the kids all they possibly can.”
Candidate Ashley Davenport says she too has a passion for education.
“We can be better, and our children’s futures can be better if we can change our mindset about what our kids are capable of doing,” Davenport says. “I have a desire to help change not only my own children’s future in Adams County schools, but also their children’s. I want everyone to be proud they go to our schools and live in our county.
She says exposing students to higher education is a valuable opportunity for the district, “Southern State Community College coming to our county is an amazing chance for our kids to get a good, strong education before they finish high school.”
OVSD students during the 2017-18 school year will have the opportunity to take 18 different College Credit Plus (CCP) courses at all three high schools and the CTC, according to current board member, Judy Campbell.
“CCP allows our students to take college level classes while they’re still in high school,” Campbell said. “These classes provide the opportunity to earn college credits to those students who might not have a license or transportation to travel to another campus.”
Campbell said during the first semester 155 students chose to attend College Credit Plus classes and 79 students enrolled in 161 courses in the ACOVSD Virtual Academy.
She also points out improvements in the schools since the district adopted Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS), a discipline program that focuses on prevention, not punishment.
“PBIS has encouraged good behavior in our buildings,” she says. “It has improved school safety, social, emotional, and behavioral support, and some of our buildings have even been recognized outside of the district for their successes.”
Campbell, is a retired elementary school teacher and administrator.
“I am running for the ACOVSD Board of Education because I believe our young people are the most valuable asset of our county – they are the future. I advocate for students and for the teachers who hold their futures in their hands, and I hope to make a positive difference in the educational process for our students.”
Incumbent board member John Lewis says he believes the district will have unexpected opportunities and challenges arise from the closing of the county’s two power plants.
“County residents will have an opportunity to reinvent their communities as grants become available for infrastructure and job training,” said Lewis. “Our schools will be challenged with being responsive to the needs of new and prospective business and industry, and supporting efforts to expand employment opportunities in the area.”
Lewis says his love for Adams County and his concern for all the residents in the community motivated him to seek a seat on the school board.
“Our schools are both the anchor of our community and the key to our future prosperity,” he says. “I am happy to serve as a member of the Board to give back to the community that has given me so much.”
Shipley also believes that the closing of the county’s power plants and the forecasted funding reductions will represent a major challenge for the district.
“The large geographical size of our district presents diverse communities with varying needs,” she says. “It is important to give each attendance area what they need in order to be successful.”
Reed says the district does work to address the challenge of student differences by providing multiple educational options.
“We give our students different choices – they can go to college or into a technical field after graduating from the CTC, the high school, or the virtual online school, ” he says, “Some of our students are challenged to go far beyond the boundaries of high school, while others choose to join the workforce right after graduation.”
Declining enrollment is another of the district’s major challenges, according to Lewis, who says the OVSD student population decreased by three percent between 2012 and 2017.
“Because our district is heavily state funded, declining enrollment makes funding increases unlikely in the face of increasing costs,” Lewis says. “Responsible spending has left the district with reserves to maintain services for a few years, but it will be challenging to add services to address academic needs while maintaining a positive balance in years to come.”
Misperception, says Davenport, is an issue she would like to see the district address.
“There is a perception that being from Adams County is a handicap,” she says. “We need to change our attitude and our standards – that will be our most challenging hurdle.”
Candidate Riley agrees.
“We need to improve our perception beyond our district,” he says, “For decades this community has instilled a strong work ethic, quality of work, and values into our children, and I know that we have the potential to be the model that other districts follow.”
Riley also says the district should find ways to “implement changes” more quickly: “Technology changes daily, and we need to move fast to keep up with this digital age because better access to technology will help our kids be prepared for tomorrow’s workforce.”
Another of the district’s challenges, according to candidate Campbell, is the high percentage of young students who come to preschool and kindergarten unprepared for learning to read.
“Reading is vitally important as the foundation for all learning,” says Campbell. “The state has placed a large emphasis on reading achievement by the end of third grade, and in the 2016-17 school year our district scored 66.8 while the state average was 63. We have a way to go, but each year is marked by improvement.”
According to Campbell, students not on track in reading are taught by teachers with a Reading Endorsement, they are provided tutors and intervention services, made possible by Title 1 and Disadvantaged Pupils Funds, to try and fill the gap.
Asked what they believe the district has done well (and not so well) over the past five years, Shipley said that improved access to technology and the increasing number of devices the district has made available to both students and teachers is a positive initiative. She also praised the 40 Developmental Assets the district has adopted to address the emotional and social needs of a children.
“We must continue extensive alignment projects to address the changes of the Ohio Learning Standards, and the selection and purchase of new student resources such as textbooks and software to address the revised standards.”
Riley praised the district’s efforts to be fiscally responsible, pointing out that the system has consistently operated in the black.
“While fiscal responsibility is important, I feel that we should work to move this number more to the middle and put more money back into our buildings and classrooms,” he said. “This will allow us to put the best tools and resources available into the hands or our teachers and students.”
Candidate Reed praised the district’s high graduation and attendance rates, but said he thought there should be more supervised instruction for teachers.
“I would like to see our administration provide supervision from those who are highly qualified to help teachers who are struggling to teach subjects that are required by the state,” he said. “We cannot keep ignoring this problem.”
While candidate Lewis noted improvements in professional development programs and recruiting teachers, he called the district’s State School Report Card a disappointment.
“While we excel in many areas that are not reflected on this report,” he said, we must do more to support students for success against these important measures.”
He also said Superintendent Seas and Treasurer Switzer had done much to improve morale in the district.
Campbell also praised the district’s leadership. Calling them capable, she said, “They are committed to student and community success and are focused on empowering students to be successful.”
While she credited the current board with revising and adopting new board policies and district job descriptions to encourage more effective evaluations of staff, she expressed disappointment in the district’s standardized testing results.
“We are teaching the standards in the classrooms, but we don’t test with the rigor of standardized tests,” she said. “The district’s students, for the most part, do not score well on these tests.”
The state provides end-of-year standardized tests in several high school classes and in grades 3 – 8.
The tests are timed and taken on a computer.
“This is not a general practice in our schools,” says Campbell. “It would appear that teachers need to begin timed computer testing in the classroom which would require more access to portable computers.”
Asked to what degree are students in the district on track for post secondary readiness, Campbell admits it is a question leadership in the district has been asking of themselves for several years.
“We have a higher than average graduation rate than the state average,” she says. “But our performance falls short.”
According to Campbell, the district’s poor post secondary rating is the result of certain scoring components which are not available to OVSD students.
“It is based, in part, by the number of Honors, Advance Placement (AP) and CCP classes completed in your school, but we do not offer Honors or AP classes, and just fully began the CCP classes this school year. ”
OVSD presently offers only general, college prep, and CCP classes at its three high schools and CTC. “Graduation is not enough,” says Campbell. “Students must be prepared for further education or work after high school – our goal is to create improvement in this area by increasing expectations, time on task, and providing more practice, practice, practice.”
A university professor, candidate Shipley says many students who lack “college ready” skills in math and language arts must take developmental courses, which do not apply to their degree but are required to prepare them for college level work.
“It is important for middle and high schools to communicate with university faculty to work in a collaborative effort to prepare our youth for post secondary education,” she says. “Students must be provided a rigorous curriculum that challenges them to be ready to complete major projects linked to specific criteria and which holds them accountable for the work that is submitted.”
Candidate Lewis says he believes post-secondary readiness varies within the district.
“Some students do very well, while others that are expected to do well struggle,” he says. “We need to do more to provide all of our college-bound students the skills they need to succeed – remediation free.”
Riley says he has received feedback from parents that has led him to believe there are pockets of students who are not prepared for success in a larger university setting: “This is why I believe we constantly need to be improving our standards and pushing more towards excellence.”
Candidate Reed says he has talked with students who complain they weren’t prepared for college level work, but “with study and hard work, they say they are doing very well.”
Davenport suggests that expectations need to be raised before there will be a change in post-secondary readiness.
“I believe many of our students, and their parents, simply don’t put forth the effort needed,” she says. “Our kids can do better, and so can we.”
The Defender did not receive comments from candidate Rick Davis before the press deadline, after attempts to contact him by phone and via social media. Mr. Davis’s comments will appear in the Oct. 25 issue.