In Kettering, The Challenge Is To Help The Local School Board -- Regardless Of Disappointment With Election

Jim Ambrose -- photo taken from his web-site.

  • Before his campaign to be elected to the Kettering School Board, I hadn’t met Jim Ambrose, but after meeting him, I decided to vote for him. I put a sign in my yard showing my support. As it turned out, the incumbents Jim Trent and Lori Simms were reelected.

By returning the two incumbents to the school board, at first look, it appears that Kettering voters expressed a strong allegiance to the status quo. However, the 11,564 votes (42% of the votes cast) to the challengers were significantly more than either incumbent received. Incumbent Jim Trent received 9191 votes (33.54% of votes cast) and incumbent Lori Simms received 6652 votes (24.27% of votes cast).  The election can be seen as a message from the voters that they prefer change. It’s just that the anti-status quo votes were evenly split between two challengers, Jim Ambrose and Frank Spolrich, diluting their impact.

In my note to Jim after the election, I suggested a study project concerning school transformation that he might consider participating in, and said, “I am disappointed, and surprised, that you didn’t win election to the Kettering School Board. If every Kettering voter had had a 90 minute conversation with you, over coffee, as I did, I’m sure the results would have been different. I think you have a lot to contribute and I hope in two years you may consider another attempt.”


Jim,

Here are some thoughts:

Though I ran for election to the Kettering School Board two years ago, for myself, I am not overly ambitious to become a board member. I am, however, keenly interested in helping to transform public education, and I think the place to start is here in my local community. Our task as interested citizens, in our local community, is to help the present board be as successful as possible. I believe you think that way as well. I’d like to suggest a way during these next two years we might work together.

16.6% of the voters, casting a ballot, left their vote for school board blank, not choosing even one of the four board candidates. It’s interesting to speculate why, having made the effort to cast a ballot, one in six voters showed no preference for any board candidate. By comparison, to determine if the .6 mill tax levy for Kettering schools should be renewed, only 1.5% of voters left their vote blank.

Two years ago, 25% of voters left their ballot blank for school board candidates, so this year’s 16.6% is actually an improvement. I’m thinking more voters made a choice this board election, as compared to last, because Jim Trent has such high name recognition. It’s a fair question: What percentage of voters have enough information to make informed choices?

In my prediction of your victory, I gave a lot of weight to the endorsement you received from the Kettering teachers’ union, the KEA, and I gave a lot of weight to the force of your personality and the overall quality of your campaign. I figured that many voters would be loyal to Trent, but I miscalculated the loyalty shown to Simms. Both incumbents, however, are attractive personalities and the attitude of Jim Trent, no doubt, resonated with many voters, when he said, “I believe I am making a difference. I would like to serve again, I love doing what I am doing and want to continue.”

For more voters than I realized, the idea of continuing the status quo is attractive as in, “Why try to fix what isn’t broken?”

My POV, coming from a 30 year teaching career, is that the system of public education, in fact, is broken and is in need of basic transformation, one that would establish a well defined aim / purpose and that would align resources and the organizational structure of the system to accomplish that aim. One goal of this transformation would be to redefine teacher professionalism and teacher opportunity. My thought is that teachers, individually, would become enthusiastic about such a vision of transformation, even if, initially, it might be opposed by state and national unions. Ideally, KEA would support interested teachers to help in the task of developing a vision of long term transformation.

One significant goal of transformation would be to decrease cost to taxpayers, but the defining goal would be to make a big leap in overall system quality. The idea would be to articulate a vision that would gain wide spread support within the community. Creating a core group of voters interested in transformation is the challenge and articulating a vision of change that would initially inspire such a group is the first task. In the campaign two years ago, I proclaimed that I intended on writing a book, and, since then, I revised the title — When Anna Is Nineteen: Public Education In Kettering, Ohio, In The Year 2030 — with the thought that topics developed in such a book could help generate public discussion and public support.

Doing the research needed to produce this book is an ambitious goal, and, had I been elected to the board two years ago, I would have attempted to find consensus among the other board members to organize a process of research and community involvement in thinking through the issues about the future. Regardless if I am on the board, or not, I’m thinking that this project should still be presented to the board as a proposal for their consideration. I think there would be a lot of community support for the notion that Kettering should be a leader in transforming public education.

Anyway, if this vague idea could come together as a community study, I hope you would consider becoming part of the process. I’ve enjoyed meeting you and hope we can create opportunities to work productively together.

Sincerely,  Mike Bock

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