Battling Ohio schools' problems becomes passion for Powell resident
State school board director Rick Lewis honored for leadership
When Powell resident Rick Lewis joined the Ohio School Boards Association in 1984, Ohio schools were struggling to obtain funding and fit more kids into crowded buildings.
Nearly three decades later, Lewis is still helping local school boards overcome those struggles -- and plenty of new issues -- as the association's executive director.
"In some ways, the issues have changed dramatically, and in other ways, we're still dealing with the same things we were dealing with 20 or 30 years ago," Lewis said.
For his steadfast dedication to Ohio's schools and boards of education, Lewis received the National School Boards Association's 2013 Thomas A. Shannon Award for Excellence in January.
It's the highest honor bestowed by the association, which serves as a federation of state school boards from 49 states.
National School Boards Association Executive Director Tom Gentzel said the award goes to one individual in a state school board association each year who has shown extraordinary leadership skills and reaped results.
"Rick is very highly regarded across the country as an exceptionally capable executive leader," Gentzel said.
Lewis joined the Ohio School Boards Association, which provides resources and advocacy for local board members across the state, right out of college in 1984. He held seven other job titles, from labor relations specialist to business manager, before becoming the organization's chief in 2006.
"It's become a lifetime commitment," Lewis said. "It's one of those things that started off as just a job, but became a passion."
When he reflects on his years serving local school boards, he sees progress in many areas -- and a distinct lack of forward motion in others.
"I look at some of the editorials that my predecessors wrote in the '50s, and I see that we're still dealing with the same issues of accountability, school funding and the size of our schools," he said.
Other issues evolved. In the 1980s, Lewis witnessed computer technology being integrated into the classroom for the first time; in the 1990s, he saw a new focus on anti-drug education; and in the past decade, he watched as school bullying came to the forefront.
Also evolving are the roles and responsibilities of local school board members, Lewis said.
"The job is becoming increasingly challenging and sophisticated," he said. "There are so many demands we now place on our school boards: coming up with secure funding for their schools, dealing with global competition and balancing their community's wants with a shrinking ability to pay the budget."
When he looks ahead, Lewis sees funding and safety as the major issues of the day.
He said he's "guarded but hopeful" that Gov. John Kasich's plans will help provide consistent and adequate funding for districts that have struggled to balance their budgets.
After December's massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, Lewis recognizes a new eagerness to keep students and teachers free from harm.
As for his recent recognition from the National School Boards Association, Lewis said running Ohio's state school board association is a team effort.
"It's truly an honor. It's humbling," he said. "But it's really a team award and I'm grateful to be surrounded by so many people doing phenomenal things for public education."
Lewis lives in Powell with his wife, Laura. Their two children, Jason and Jacob, attend Olentangy schools.