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UAPA Endorses Two for UA School Board!

The Upper Arlington Progressive Action (UAPA) Board recently voted to endorse two candidates for the two seats available on the UA School Board. The selections were made based on responses to a set of ten questions (below) sent to all candidates. Neither Lou Sauter nor Liz Easton responded to our questions.

 

We recommend Nidhi Satiani be elected and Carol Mohr be reelected.

 

Questions for School Board Candidates

1. What motivates you to want/continue to be a board member?

Scott McKenzie – After a difficult year, things are looking up for UA schools: our kids are back full time, and we are opening incredible new buildings on budget and on schedule. I am running for reelection to keep the schools on this upward track and to continue our work on the board to expand opportunities for all UA kids.

Carol Mohr - After I was elected eight years ago to the Board of Education it took time to become an effective member. I had mentorship from the veteran members like Robin Comfort, Stacey Royer, and Nancy Drees. I have even been fortunate enough to serve with Margie Pizzuti, when she stepped up to serve out Robin Comfort’s remaining term after Robin’s passing, too soon.

It took time, during my first term, to see what influence I could have on the direction of our school. By touring lighthouse districts such as Minnetonka in Minnesota as we did in February of 2015, I learned to broaden my long-term goals of changes that could be made. Could we get to full-day kindergarten? I learned the process other schools had taken and thought about ways we could move toward that goal. Could we have a maker-space and more creativity that would be equally appealing to girls as to boys? Seeing examples of where this was working in other districts gave me the vision to demand that here in Upper Arlington.

My kids, Maggie and Nick, got great educations in UA. I continue to want to improve our district for all students, and learn more about how we can do that in Upper Arlington Schools.

Nidhi Satiani - I have always been a person that runs toward trouble when I see it. I like to dig in and solve problems to help as many people as I can. I see a gap in our Board of Education, and I know I can help fill that gap. While our current leadership is well-intentioned, they’ve struggled with ensuring our visions and plans work their way into the students’ everyday experiences. Ideas and resolutions without proactive evaluation plans are not adequate. You have to make sure evaluation pieces are in place, and you need to provide all stakeholders a chance to give feedback. 

My professional training and experience in public health has given me tools needed to provide the families of Upper Arlington effective oversight of our schools. We have all the pieces of the puzzle ready to go, we just need someone to come along and help put the puzzle together. I want to be that person. 

2. What is your vision for education in Upper Arlington?

Scott McKenzie - The UA schools must work for all kids. We must have top notch programs and facilities for all student interests, not only athletics but also STEM, music, drama, and visual arts. We must provide more opportunities for student development, such as all-day kindergarten and additional summer programming to help kids after the pandemic. We must prioritize fitness and nutrition (as a long-time runner, I want all our kids to develop life-long exercise habits). And we must manage our schools responsibly and within our means. During my time on the Board, we have saved $4.6 million through a hiring freeze and other cost-saving measures, and we used those savings to postpone levies in 2020 and 2021. We must continue to push for these types of costsavings and efficiencies.

Carol Mohr - I start with the vision statement, “to challenge and support every student, every step of the way.” That vision does not just mean today’s students; it means challenging and supporting our students in the future. We must be able to change when improvement is needed.

Making change for an organization like the UA Schools is like turning an ocean liner. A quick change will be overridden by the ship’s momentum. The way to change is to envision the outcome you want, though it be far over the horizon.

Take the issue of all day kindergarten. It is something needed in Upper Arlington for 20 years. Longer. Most working parents have had to cobble together a wrap-around program to serve the rest of the needs of the half day kindergarten students.

This year we finally achieved the full day kindergarten districtwide. It took a lot of commitment to a goal, and long term perspective, to make a change that substantial. It took all the board members staying committed to this long term goal, even when, especially when, new members joined the board.

Nidhi Satiani -  I want to restore Upper Arlington’s reputation as the district of choice in Central Ohio, and I’d like to do that by resurrecting our spirit of innovation. I fear that our district has been resting on its laurels from groundbreaking ideas that occurred decades ago, and we’ve lost our desire to try new things and lead the way in creative and impactful learning strategies. I want to build up the structures and resources that allow our motivated teachers to try new ideas that they’ve learned at conferences. I want what happens inside our beautiful new buildings to be headline makers where people turn their eyes toward UA and say ‘now, THERE’S a district who isn’t afraid to lead.’ I want to see us leverage our remarkable residents in Upper Arlington and foster powerful public-private partnerships to give our students experiences they couldn’t possibly get anywhere else. What’s encouraging is we’ve done this before in Upper Arlington. I will help lay the groundwork to do it again. 

3. What do you see as the board’s roles and responsibilities?

Scott McKenzie - Our role is to gather input from stakeholders and set policies for the district. We also hire the superintendent and continually evaluate and provide feedback to the superintendent. Inexperienced board members often make the mistake of trying to micromanage the district. The board is a policymaking body. It sets policies, and the administration implements these policies. The Ohio School Boards Association website has a great explanation of the role of the school board: www.ohioschoolboards.org/role-school-board.  

Carol Mohr - The board’s role is to hire and fire the superintendent and the treasurer, and to set policy and direction for the superintendent and treasurer to administer.

Good boardsmanship is crucial to a functioning organization. UA Schools is the largest employer in our city. For a board member to run afoul of the Sunshine Laws or to let an intemperate remark disrupt a meeting or hurt the credibility of the board, can be very costly to the district and thus to the taxpayers.

Nidhi Satiani - The School Board is, first and foremost, a governing body overseeing the management of the community’s schools. That means we have a responsibility to ensure the schools are using their resources to provide the best possible education to our children that aligns with our values and goals as well as State and Federal Laws.

Practically, I also view the School Board as a hub of communication between the community and school leadership. When it comes to educating our children, everyone deserves to have a voice. However, it’s difficult to navigate all the different stakeholders and ensure that everyone has had a chance to provide helpful input. The Board needs to make sure the avenues for feedback from all stakeholders are in place and are regularly consulted before decisions are made.

4. How would you describe the superintendent’s role?

Scott McKenzie - As noted above, the role of the superintendent is to implement the policies of the board and manage the day-to-day business of the district.

Carol Mohr - The role of the Superintendent is to implement the will of the board. A good superintendent is the communicator in chief of the district. A great Superintendent fosters administrative leaders who are their best selves, and who support the mission and vision of the schools.

Nidhi Satiani - A superintendent is essentially the chief executive officer of a school district. Once the Board has established policies and guidance, it is the superintendent’s job to manage implementation and see them to fruition. 

Again, practically, the superintendent also sets the culture for a school district. As the leadership goes, so goes the organization. This is why it’s important for a superintendent to not only functionally manage policies, but he/she/they need to also show they support the policies if they are going to have any long-term, systemic impact. The way the superintendent implements policies sets the tone for whether or not people feel valued in a school district, and this will eventually affect whether or not employees are willing and/or able to effectively serve. 

5. How can a board know if its goals are being accomplished and its policies carried out?

Scott McKenzie - At its monthly board meetings, the board receives updates and information from the school administration and the public. The board also continually evaluates the superintendent using the Ohio Department of Education’s superintendent evaluation tool. (This tool is available on the DOE’s website, www.education.ohio.gov.) This tool gives us a great picture of our Superintendent and how the district is performing. Our job on the board is to continually update this evaluation and give feedback to the superintendent.

Carol Mohr - A good board gets regular updates from administrators responsible for their key concerns. Monthly or twice a month sessions with special interest groups (PTO Council; Equity Advisory Group; UA Education Foundation) and with Superintendent’s or Treasurer’s Committees (Teaching and Learning; Finance; Communications; Facilities; President and Vice President update) are a good baseline to stay informed. Attending public events, performances, assemblies, Town Halls, and Chautauqua’s also give authentic information and opportunities for the public and staff to interact with board members. Public presentations at our Board Meetings also provide opportunities for Board Members to hear about initiatives and share concerns or suggestions. All of these information gathering experiences let Board Members know if the goals and policies are being carried out.

Nidhi Satiani - No policy should be passed or implemented without a plan for measurement. That is how you get a well-intentioned Board without desired results. Every single conversation that happens at the Board must include the question “how will we know if this is happening and working”? The board will need to task the superintendent and other district leadership to provide methods for evaluation that will not create excessive work for others in the district.

There are plenty of methods that can be employed without further burdening our already over-tasked teaching force. Every day, there are dozens of data points that can be collected and evaluated to make sure progress is occurring, and that the staff both understands their role in the larger picture and feels valued. It is very likely we can do this with our existing systems.

6. What is your position on requiring teachers and students to wear masks in schools?

Scott McKenzie - This is something the board has considered very carefully recently. In making decisions about masking, we have gathered input from numerous stakeholders. Ultimately, we followed the recommendation of our medical advisory board and the recommendation of over one hundred doctors in Upper Arlington to require masks for all grade levels.

Carol Mohr - Currently, the Board is requiring teachers and students pre-K through 12 to wear masks, irrespective of vaccination status. Factors that influence the need for masking are that: 1. Vaccinated individuals can carry the Delta variant of Covid in their nasal passages, and spread the virus to others through breathing, even as their immune system prevents a systematic infection; 2. Masking, as one of the “Swiss Cheese” mitigating factors, protects the family members of those in the classroom; 3. Many students have siblings or friends under age 12 who cannot be vaccinated at this time; 4. Many staff members have children or grandchildren in their immediate household who are not able to be vaccinated because of age; and 5. The Delta variant of Covid is more highly transmissible than the wild type. I will be open to changing my opinion on the best policy for masks as new information arises.

Nidhi Satiani -  A mask mandate allows children who have been exposed to COVID to stay in school. Educating children is the primary job of the school district and a mask mandate allows us to better fulfill that responsibility. As a public health practitioner, I believe in preventive measures that limit disease spread. Similar to how boil advisories are important when the risk of water-based disease is higher than baseline, mask mandates are important when risk is higher than baseline, like in a pandemic.  Once all our students are eligible for and have had time to receive the full efficacy of the vaccine, we can revisit the mask mandate.

7. What is your position on requiring Covid vaccinations for teachers and students who are medically cleared to receive them?

Scott McKenzie - I am vaccinated and encourage people to get vaccinated. Data show that Upper Arlington has one of the highest vaccination rates in the state, and the current K-12 mask requirement is an effective risk-mitigation measure. In these circumstances, the board has not sought to require vaccinations of students or staff, and I support that decision.

Carol Mohr - I can see the good in requiring Covid vaccinations, but I am not ready to force that decision at this time. For example, our under-12 population is not eligible for vaccination yet. Herd immunity through voluntary vaccination may or may not be sufficient to beat the Covid pandemic. I am open to the expertise and recommendation of our Medical Advisory Team. For example, the MAT updates us on the process of mandatory vaccination ongoing in other locations, such as The Ohio State University.

Nidhi Satiani - Again, I must go back to my healthcare training and say I believe in vaccinations, and I believe it is in our district’s best interest to mandate vaccines that are approved by the FDA. I find it discouraging that vaccines have been politicized. Requiring vaccinations is not new. We mandate every student who attends our schools to show proof of vaccination for a myriad of diseases before they enroll. There is no reason for the Covid vaccine to be treated any differently. 

8. What is your opinion on gender neutral restrooms?

Scott McKenzie - After much discussion on this issue, the board ultimately voted to provide all three types of restrooms at the high school: men’s, women’s, and gender neutral. I believe this is a reasonable resolution to the issue that supports all students.

Carol Mohr - The board addressed this issue in our statement earlier this year. To the greatest extent allowed by code, UA schools should have gender neutral facilities. 

No one should have an expectation of being bullied by using the restroom that matches their gender. The new restroom design has already decreased episodes of misbehavior because of the better supervision in the common areas and the privacy of the toilet rooms.

Nidhi Satiani - I fully support single-user bathrooms in our district, and I believe labeling them as gender-neutral is acceptable and desirable. Research has shown that this structure reduces bullying, reduces destruction of property, and provides necessary privacy for all students. 

9. How would you handle the requests, if approached, by an individual or special interest group?

Scott McKenzie - As board members, we deeply value input from stakeholders, and we regularly receive such input through public commentary at our board meetings and through more informal channels such as emails to our district email addresses. How I handle individual requests depends on the nature of the request. In many cases, I refer the individual to the appropriate member of the staff to address the request in the first instance. For example, I would refer a question or request about special education to the special education coordinator, or a question about the high school to the high school principal. It is important for requests to be addressed first by the staff member who is most knowledgeable about the issue, and any problems or concerns can be escalated to the superintendent and the board if necessary. If the request involves a district policy, it may be appropriate to refer the request to the board for discussion at a board meeting. I often remind people that I am one of five board members, and the board acts as a group. At our board meetings, we regularly receive updates and proposals about district policies, and we make decisions as a deliberative body.

Carol Mohr - When an individual approaches me about a personal situation for which I am not the person they should talk to, then I direct them to the person who they should talk to about that situation, whether it be back to their teacher or to the principal or appropriate administrator. I give a heads-up, in a general sense, to the appropriate person. Sometimes an individual or a special interest group approaches me concerning a wider concern. I gather information from appropriate administrators to relay back to the person or group. If there is more than just an information query, I facilitate a meeting with the Superintendent or appropriate administrator. I appreciate issues being brought to my attention so that they can be addressed appropriately. As a Board member, I do not have the eyes and ears that the entire community has. For example, every year at our New Staff luncheon, I welcome our new staff and ask them to be fresh eyes on what we could be improving. Sometimes we can become accostomed to a practice, and it’s only through fresh eyes that we recognize the problems we need to address. 

Nidhi Satiani - As I’ve previously mentioned, any stakeholder in Upper Arlington deserves to have a voice when it comes to our schools. I am not interested in entertaining input from outside groups or individuals unless we are seeking specific information for a potential policy change (i.e. alterations to curriculum, legal matters, etc.).

Once established that a person or group is based in UA, I would provide them with the opportunity to express their ideas or concerns. I would also like the Board to provide feedback to that person/organization within compliance of State law. 

I do not believe any decision should be made at the Board level that relies strictly on the opinions of one person or group. Decisions should be made based on careful consideration of research, potential impact on our students, and long-term effects. 

10. Can you/should you support a board decision that you were not in favor of?

Scott McKenzie - Sometimes yes, sometimes no, depending on the issue and decision. The board tries to govern by unanimous consent whenever possible. We sometimes need to make compromises among the five board members to accommodate everyone’s views and 3 achieve unanimous support for a policy. These kinds of compromises are a vital part of governing through a multimember body like the school board. In my 42 years in education, I’ve seen boards of education that were unable to compromise and work together. These boards were ineffective and governed poorly. Therefore, it is incumbent on me and my board colleagues to support board actions even when they involve compromises or elements that are not precisely how I might want them to be. That is not to say that there is no place for dissent on the board. For important issues, especially those that affect educational quality, I would publicly dissent from a board decision if I felt it was seriously misguided. In such a situation, I would respect and abide by the decisions made by the majority, but I would publicly note my opposition, and I would continue to work to convince my fellow board members to change course.

Carol Mohr - Even if you were not on the winning side of a 3-2 vote, you 100% own the decision. The vote that passes is the will of the whole board. The board is a singular body and speaks with one voice, which is their vote outcome. I do support board decisions in which I was not in favor, because once the vote is taken, the direction of the board is clear. UA Schools, as I mentioned before, is like an ocean liner. The whole ship moves together. The district has many stakeholders, and if part of the board openly warred with another part of the board, that would rattle the stakeholders and of course set up the expectation that the different factions of the board should be played off each other.

Nidhi Satiani - There is a reason our Board is made up of five people. No one opinion should prevail. I expect each decision to receive proper deliberation, and I expect to have my say. However, if I am outvoted by my colleagues, then their vote becomes policy and I must support the oversight and evaluation of that new policy. I expect there will be times I vote differently than the other Board members, but I will not allow my differences to get in the way of our shared work to serve the students and families of Upper Arlington.

 

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