With the Nov. 5 Election Day fast approaching -- early and absentee voting already has begun -- campaign signs for school board candidates are visible around the city.
Five candidates are vying for three open seats on the Whitehall Board of Education. Three open seats are full four-year terms.
Candidates running for four-year terms are incumbents Walter Armes, Blythe Wood and Darryl Hammock. Also running are Leo Knoblauch and Lorna Russell.
Joy Bivens, who also is on the school board, is running unopposed to fill the remaining two years of a four-year unexpired term, which was left vacant after the resignation of Ronda Howard earlier this year.
Armes is a veteran board member since 1990 (minus a short hiatus between 1995 and 1997) and currently is the board's president. He is a 45-year resident of Whitehall and has two daughters who both graduated from Whitehall-Yearling High School.
"I believe that education in Whitehall is headed in the right direction," Armes told ThisWeek. "Our staff and volunteers are working hard to meet the demands before them. With our new buildings and quality staff, we will continue to meet the future challenges."
Armes is a retired teacher and administrator at the Eastland-Fairfield Career & Technical Schools and then-Licking County JVS (now C-TEC) and currently serves as a supervisor of field experience and student teachers at Ashland University Columbus. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in education from Ohio Northern University and a Master of Science degree from Indiana State University and continues postgraduate studies at Ohio State University.
Armes said he is a firm believer in quality public education.
"I truly believe that children are our future. Providing a quality education for all of our children must be one of our top priorities," he said. "By continuing to serve on the school board, I can continue to use my experience and the experience of others to provide our children with the quality education they must have."
Armes is a member of the Ohio and National School Boards Association; Phi Delta Kappa; the National Association of Secondary School Principals; the Metropolitan Educational Council; the Whitehall Education Foundation; the USATF; the Ohio Association of Track and Cross Country Officials Association; and the Whitehall Board of Zoning and Building Appeals Board. He has served on the executive board of the OSBA, is past president and current executive board member of the OSBA Central Region executive board and is a past president of the OAT&CCOA.
Knoblauch is a Whitehall City Council member and a lifelong resident of Whitehall. Retired from the U.S. Air Force, he currently works at Nationwide Insurance as an investment-data analyst.
"Since I can't be on City Council any more, I wanted to continue giving back to the community," Knoblauch told ThisWeek.
He said he's already involved in the schools on many levels, including his experience as a founding member of the Whitehall Education Foundation and as its current vice chairman. He said he feels that by serving on the school board, he could continue his leadership and lend his skills.
"I feel the district is moving in the right direction," he said, but he still has a few changes in mind.
Knoblauch said he would like to see the district push legislation to give English as a Second Language learners more time in the country before being required to take the Ohio achievement test.
Knoblauch spent time in Japan as part of the U.S. Air Force and said he knows firsthand what it is like to be thrust into a different culture.
"It takes a little time to comprehend a whole language," he said.
He said he also thinks the district should not use the city's longtime transient rate as an excuse for poor learning. He said he feels strongly that the district could learn from other schools and districts (like the Department of Defense Dependent Schools) how to help students who move in and out quickly.
Knoblauch is a 1977 graduate of Whitehall-Yearling High School and holds three associate's degrees, a bachelor's degree and a master's degree from Otterbein University, Keller Graduate School of Management, and Franklin University. This is his eighth year of serving on City Council.
He served two years on the Civil Service Commission, is currently vice chairman and former chairman of the Whitehall Education Foundation, president of the Whitehall Community Celebration Association; is a committee member of the Whitehall Historical Society (former vice president), is a member of the Whitehall Citizen Police Academy Alumni Association and the city's Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) and is the 2004 Whitehall Citizen of the Year.
He was inducted into the Whitehall-Yearling High School Hall of Fame in 2007.
Russell is a facilities coordinator at Franklin University, where she has been employed for seven years. She has been a resident of Whitehall for 38 years and attended Whitehall City Schools starting in kindergarten. She graduated from Whitehall-Yearling in 1988.
Russell said she believes the district is making slow, steady growth that must be communicated well with stakeholders. She told ThisWeek she believes it is imperative that the district be focused on student learning.
"But in order to do this, we need to ensure our leadership is united in its purpose with teachers, students, parents and other professionals and leaders of our community," she said. "Let the students see this in the schools; let them be aware of the joint effort to give them the quality education.
"I would like to see not only the teaching and learning strategies but (also) ways of managing conflict in our efforts to move forward, to know where the resistance lies and how to overcome it," she said. "This part of planning is just as important. We have to create a vision that everyone can understand and a map that everyone can follow."
Russell said she believes improving education is a long-term process.
"This is the reason I am running for the school board," she said. "I, along with other parents, want our school board's plans to be understood and focused. Something everyone, new or old to the district, can get behind. I believe if the school board shows this to the community, then we will be giving a better education and a better future to our students, with strategies for improvement that go beyond the here and now."
Russell has been married for 18 years and has four children, all of whom are either still enrolled or graduated from Whitehall City Schools. Russell has served as a coach in Little League sports in Whitehall, is a member of the Parent Teacher Association and has volunteered at a number of the district's schools.
Wood has served on the school board since 2006 and has been a Whitehall resident for more than 20 years. She has been employed as an academic and behavior coach for the Pickerington Local School District since 2007 and has been in the field of education since 1992.
Wood holds a bachelor's degree from Ohio State University in special education and a master's degree in school counseling from the University of Dayton.
"One of my personal and professional goals is to assist in providing high-quality, public education in a secure environment to all students," Wood told ThisWeek. "I made this my mission when I started my undergraduate program in special education at OSU 25 years ago. I believe every student can learn and will learn when the expectations are set and they feel safe enough to take personal risks"
Wood said she is pleased with the progress the district has made more recently but feels more work remains to be done.
"One area I would like to see more improvement in is technology," Wood said. "Given that understanding the use of technology is a foundational skill in today's society, I would like to see the staff and students given the opportunity to use up-to-date technology in all classrooms."
Wood has been an Eastland-Fairfield Career & Technical Schools board member for the past four years. She has been an adjunct instructor at Rio Grande University since 2011 and is a member of the Ohio School Boards Association, the International Dyslexia Association, the Academic Language Therapist Association and the Ohio Education Association.
Bivens and Hammock did not respond to inquiries by ThisWeek's press time.