Local voters will select three Upper Arlington Board of Education members from a pool of four candidates.
Incumbent Nancy Drees and challengers Nicolas Fortkamp, Jenny McKenna and Lori Trent will appear on the Nov. 5 ballot, vying for three seats held by Drees, Stacey Royer and Margie Pizzuti.
Royer chose not to seek reelection. The same holds for Pizzuti, who was appointed to the board Aug. 2 to fill former board member Robin Comfort's seat through the end of this year.
Comfort was in the final year of her third term on the board when she died July 8.
The candidates recently answered questions presented to them by ThisWeek Upper Arlington News.
Question: What makes you qualified to serve as an Upper Arlington board member?
Drees: I have been a consistent, proven leader on the UA school board since 2012. Under my leadership, the district has seen tremendous improvements, including the passage of a $230 million bond levy for facilities and athletics fields, and the implementation of one-to-one technology from K-12. I am committed to building on our district's accountability and ownership through transparent, clear, honest and interactive communication. I believe that our community should be well-informed of our school district's progress and challenges. Hiring a superintendent, solving a failed levy, communicating the need for new/renovated facilities, implementing $4.5 million in efficiencies in operations, achieving student success through strategic planning are some of my proudest accomplishments.
I am passionately committed to our strategic plan for 2019-22 focusing on three strategic priorities: focusing on the long-running philosophy of educating the whole child with learner- and learning-centered culture and an instructional framework; fostering student and staff well-being to build on a safe and inclusive environment; continuously improve school culture, and operational efficiency.
Fortkamp: I have a unique perspective on student life in Upper Arlington. As a UA graduate who struggled with multiple obstacles, including diversity, social anxiety, depression and learning style, I'm making it a priority to help others. I am well-qualified to serve as a board member through my extensive service and leadership in many of our community organizations, including youth program director for LeadershipUA; working with school counselors on the Advisory Council for School Counselors; working with parents on the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiative; working with the school district on the recognition of historical figure Pleasant Litchford; member of the Community Relations Assessment Committee for the city of UA; participation in public meetings and private conversations regarding student and staff well-being; youth lacrosse coach; and engagement in support of the school construction process.
McKenna: I would bring a perspective to the board that is currently not represented. One voice that is missing from the board is a parent's perspective. With three boys who will be in elementary school, middle school and high school while I serve on the board, I talk to parents all the time and know what is on their minds. As a former PTO president, I have coordinated programs and events with parents, teachers and administrators. While working on the 2017 levy campaign, I collaborated with board members, district administration, parents and teachers to communicate the need for investment in our aging buildings. When elected in November, I will continue to collaborate with administration, staff and our community to ensure we challenge and support every student, every step of the way.
Trent: With a master's of education (degree) and as a mother of two sons who are actively involved in UAHS, I have seen just how special our schools are. I have seen children grow up alongside our boys, and how UA schools have helped shape each of them.
On the board, I will work to make sure that our schools continue to be a model of excellence in the community and ensure that our children are prepared for the future. I will listen to the concerns of parents, students and UA residents to make sure that everyone's voice is heard. In order to maintain excellent schools, we must continue to improve. I will introduce new thoughts and perspectives, and evaluate and possibly challenge past practices in order to effect true, long-lasting change. I spent more than 20 years in the financial services industry, and served as chairman, president and officer of several mutual-fund boards. I will use my professional experience to ensure that the board is responsible with taxpayers' money.
Question: What is the most significant issue currently facing Upper Arlington Schools, and how would you address that as a board member?
Fortkamp: I will champion improved health and overall well-being for students and staff. To accomplish this, I believe our school district must take the lead in promoting mental-health awareness and provide the necessary resources. This initiative will reduce the stigma surrounding mental health and potentially help students overcome related difficulties. We must also strongly support diversity, equity and inclusion for all students, staff, families and visitors. Finally, when it comes to the daily health of our students, we can improve access to healthy foods; provide opportunities for outdoor activities on school grounds; increase physical activities; and offer stress-reduction programs. This effort will be closely tied to student safety and will ultimately provide students with the freedom to experience a safe, supportive environment in which to learn and achieve success.
McKenna: As our building projects are underway and we have invested time and resources into technology, it is imperative that the district turns our focus to the social and emotional well-being of our students so they are able to use these resources to meet their full potential. As a board member, I will work closely with administration and staff to make sure we implement our strategic plan, which focuses on educating and supporting the whole child through social emotional learning. I will be committed to social emotional learning to develop well-rounded and high-achieving students.
Trent: Our schools and our community are interconnected and so are the issues we face. We are in the midst of change, as (are) many other communities. We traditionally have had a greater senior population than our surrounding suburbs, but that trend is quickly changing. We are experiencing a rebirth as many neighborhoods are welcoming more young and diverse families into our fold. That is a challenge to meet the needs of both populations. As with many suburbs, we live in the "neighborhood bubble." We need to fully integrate our thinking to help our students understand that the world as they may know it now is just a fraction of reality. We are privileged to lead the life we do and should feel a sense of compassion and responsibility for others not as fortunate. This relates to diversity, equity and inclusion and we must build our community to be the best we can be while welcoming everyone. I will strive to make sure that each voice in our community is represented and heard. I would work to build a sense of community where all members of our community feel welcome in our schools.
Drees: The district's enrollment growth is the primary challenge facing Upper Arlington Schools. Based on a third-party report, districtwide enrollment is expected to grow by an additional 20 percent or 1,250 additional students by 2028-29. Of the 1,250 additional students, we anticipate a growth of 500 students by the 2022-23 school year. Based on expected enrollment growth, more students will create a need for more classes and more staff in all areas -- including transportation and nutritional services. This degree of enrollment growth will require the board, with its administration, to carefully review and monitor its financial impact in the coming years. A majority of our expenditures (72 percent) relates to direct instruction for our students and pupil support with only 6.3 percent for administration, board and building secretarial support. A 2020 operating levy is anticipated to generate additional annual revenue for these increasing costs. It will be the school board's responsibility to ensure that we are operating as efficiently as possible while addressing the enrollment-growth challenge and its impact on the upcoming levy.
Question: What steps would you take to ensure the district's strategic goals of enhancing student learning, as well as student and staff well-being, are met?
McKenna: Our strategic plan focuses on two facets of well-being: balance and belonging. When looking to meet the district's goals, it is important that the strategic plan remains the guide. When students and staff feel a sense of belonging, they are safe in and connected to their community. They are better able to engage in learning. The use of social emotional learning helps to provide balance by providing the foundation for self-awareness, self-control and interpersonal skills. These skills are correlated with higher academic success. The continued development of our social emotional curricula will promote whole learning and develop our students to be future ready learners. As a board member, I believe it is important to set the vision for the district and then make sure that vision is implemented and held to account. I would ask our educators to guide in the best implementation of our shared vision and then make sure they are provided with the tools and the support they need to execute that vision.
Trent: Serving as a member of the Strategic Core Group on our recently adopted Strategic Plan 2019-22 and as the Learning Experience chair on our previous strategic plan 2015-18, I have a firm understanding of the goals and aspirations we have for our students. The two new initiatives of whole learning and student and staff well-being build on the work of the previous plan's Learning Experience group.
Student and staff well-being are of utmost priority. We need to work on building a community where everyone feels like they belong. This happens by building bridges, not barriers, embracing differences, not judging. Everyone needs to feel valued, loved and safe. We need to teach our students about school-life balance and create a system where this is possible. We need to have a community where students have trusted adults that they can interact with daily. We need to better identify students who need assistance and act accordingly. Everyone -- including students, staff, administrators, parents, community members, businesses and industries -- is responsible to ensure that we help students become productive community members ready to serve, lead and succeed. This can be accomplished if everyone leads by example and works together.
Drees: In August 2019, the board approved the strategic plan for 2019-22 that sets the path for what we do and why we do it for the next three years. The plan focuses on engaging the whole learner, fostering a safer and more inclusive environment while continuously improving culture and operational efficiency. As a committee board member of the superintendent's Teaching and Learning Committee, I have worked with administration, staff and experts in the field to ensure that the strategic plan is supported. I am devoted to continuous improvement and strive to do everything better.
Districtwide, well-being, belonging and balance will be our priority while continuously improving student achievement. Research supports that building a sense of belonging improves a child's academic achievement by 11 percent while increasing pro-social behaviors. It's a win-win approach that is being intentionally implemented. Our 2019-22 strategic plan will provide a consistent process to improve our instruction and culture. Together with administration, I will ensure that the district will collectively realize our districtwide strategic goals so that every student is prepared to serve, lead and succeed.
Fortkamp: Honest and clear communication among board members and the district is essential to ensure the success of the new strategic plan. I will offer support as an advocate and make sure our educators have the resources that are needed to accomplish these goals. I will make my voice heard and my vote count when it comes to the betterment of our students.
To enhance student learning, we need to ensure each of our unique students is ready for a future that they choose. We must utilize innovative learning designs, tools and assessment techniques, adapted to each student. This will engage students and help shape their own special academic focus.
We need to expand collaborative learning spaces, increase hands-on educational experiences and utilize service-learning opportunities. I want to establish a collective community mentorship program to expand student's vision for potential opportunities.
Student and staff well-being are a priority. We must continue to grow our welcoming and inclusive school environment for all, while promoting mental health. We must support students and staff members by improving access to healthy foods, increasing outdoor activities, establishing stress-reduction programs and providing calming areas throughout the school.