LIMA — Candidates campaigning for a seat on the Lima school board are talking about the district’s academic performance, teacher retention and the ability of teachers to openly discuss current events as lawmakers consider legislation that could limit the teaching of “divisive concepts.”
The coronavirus pandemic’s effect on public education inspired first-time school board candidates Cindy Brownlow and Autumn Swanson, who join incumbent Deanna Reynolds-Griffin on the ballot for two open seats on the Lima school board.
But the campaign has largely avoided the tumultuous debates unfolding at school board meetings across the nation. All three candidates have expressed support for the district’s mask mandate and the ability for teachers to discuss slavery, racism and current events in the classroom.
“We need to keep teaching our kids history,” said Brownlow, a nurse practitioner. “They need to know what happened. If we take it out, I think we’re doing an injustice for the kids.”
For Reynolds-Griffin, who serves on the diversity and equity committee for the Ohio School Boards Association’s Northwest regional chapter, the bills are “doing the same thing they are trying to prevent” by limiting how teachers can talk about current events.
“We cannot silence the experiences of others because it makes us uncomfortable,” Reynolds-Griffin said in an email to The Lima News.
For Swanson, the bills are a reminder of her time as one of only a few Black students at her high school.
“We were not able to talk about how I felt,” she said. “I don’t think that’s positive for students.”
Swanson, who previously worked as a neighborhood specialist for the city of Lima, was looking for another opportunity to serve after losing in the mayoral primary in May, when she decided to put her name in for an open seat on the Lima school board.
A Lima schools parent herself, Swanson said she is concerned about teacher retention and where the district is spending its resources. But Swanson is also satisfied with how Lima schools navigated the pandemic, particularly bringing students back into the classroom.
“That was always a fear of mine, that my child who’s in the fourth grade now might not have been able to go back to school this year,” Swanson said. “She’s been able to go back to school. She’s been able to follow the guidelines that they put up, and I don’t think they’ve been too critical for our students.”
Pandemic learning loss and school safety are top concerns for Brownlow, whose children graduated from Lima schools and whose grandchildren are attending the district.
Brownlow was inspired to seek a seat on the school board after helping her grandchildren and other relatives with their homework, fearing that other children were falling behind during virtual learning.
“I woke up one morning and thought: Maybe I could really make a difference,” she said.
Maintaining open communication with parents and the public is another priority.
“If you’ve got a problem, bring it to the school board. Let’s talk about it,” Brownlow said.
To Reynolds-Griffin, student achievement is still the greatest challenge facing Lima schools. But other factors like parental involvement, administrative support, teacher retention and socioeconomic awareness also influence student achievement, Reynolds-Griffin said.
“Achievement is what the district is ‘graded’ on by the state and those outside of our district,” she said. “Those letter grades don’t really reflect what is actually happening in our buildings.”
A former Lima schools student and parent of children in the district, Reynolds-Griffin said she’d like to see more parental involvement and more job applicants who reflect the student population.
“When parents are more involved and more informed, the students are more successful,” she said.