AW Board Candidates Share Motivation For Running

BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — Mike and Ellen Gerber’s two sons are now out of the house, but the Whitehouse residents still have a keen interest in how Anthony Wayne Local Schools is educating its students.

“Anthony Wayne schools have been good to them,” said Mike, noting that Reed is now an architect and Ben is a nurse, both working in Cincinnati. “I’m interested in seeing what some of the candidates’ values are and if they are like how we raised our kids.”

Mike was among more than 100 community members to attend an October 10 forum for the 12 candidates running for four positions on the Anthony Wayne Board of Education.

For Lynn Rinehart, who has two children at the high school, the forum was an opportunity to hear each candidate give a five-minute speech and answer specific questions from tables set up around the room. 

“I want to see what their opinions are on different hot-button issues like the restrooms, CRT (critical race theory) and SEL (social emotional learning),” she said. “I’ve been to some of the meetings and know some of them (candidates). I’ve never been involved until COVID and the mask issue.”

Leah Herner-Patnode, who also has two children in high school, is interested in seeing how each candidate plans to support teachers and the administration. As a professor of special education at The Ohio State University, she also has a background in public school teaching.

“I want to see how they intend to support teachers and how they are all going to work together. I want to be informed and hear every side,” she said.

Three candidates are running for one unexpired term ending on December 31, 2025: incumbent Troy Lutz, Michelle Ross and Mike Stamm. Nine candidates are running for three four-year terms ending on December 31, 2027, including incumbents Jeff Baden, Pam Brint and Jayna Gwin, along with Amy Barrett, Sarah Bellner, Frank Dudas, Lindsay Hoipkemier, Shellie Mc-Knight and Jim Schlievert. Only Lutz, who was called away on a family emergency, was not able to attend the forum, which was hosted by the League of Women Voters. 

In addition to sharing some biographical information during the forum, each of the candidates touched on their reasons for running and some topics that they plan to address if elected. Portions of their comments are shared below in the order they presented:

Jeff Baden is seeking his third term.

“I’m honored to help lead to do the best for our students, teachers and administration. They all need our support,” said Baden.

Told that he has a calm demeanor and is level-headed, Baden said he takes time to do research, think things through and get feedback in order to make mutually beneficial decisions that support the district’s mission and vision.

“I like to solve problems,” said Baden, a mechanical engineer with an MBA. “Our current board has worked through several challenges and also celebrated accomplishments.”

He noted that with 4,400 students and 470 employees, AWLS is in the top 7 percent of public schools. He credits the teachers, staff, administration, students and parents for that success. There is still work to be done, he added, with a focus on making students future-ready.

Baden and his wife, Tina, raised their triplets in the district. He is involved with Community of Christ Lutheran Church and Waterville Rotary Club.

Mike Stamm is seeking a two-year term after receiving encouragement from current board member Kyle Miller.

His goal as a school board member is to keep politics out of schools and to focus on teaching kids how to think, not what to think, he said. 

A project engineer and project manager, Stamm said he enjoys problem-solving. One of the problems not being talked about is teacher dissatisfaction, he believes. After reaching out to 40 teachers, many said they were afraid of speaking out publicly because of fear of retribution.

“We need to protect our teachers,” said Stamm, adding that while this group may be a small subset, he is concerned that not all are being given a chance to be heard.

As the father of three students spanning the middle, junior high and high schools, Stamm said he’s had positive experiences with the teaching staff, and is particularly proud of how his daughter Cayman, who has special needs, has thrived. 

“She has taught us to persevere through the hardest things and that God will always be there for us,” Stamm said of his daughter.

Michelle Ross is also seeking the two-year term.

She moved to the district 23 years ago to raise her two children, and got involved with Monclova Area Parents (MAPS), DECA and Junior Achievement, as well as doing set design and costumes for theater programs. When her children were teenagers, her husband died, leaving her to get several of their companies back on track. Now that her children are grown and those businesses are in a stable situation, Ross is earning her master’s degree in organizational leadership and executive consulting. Those business and leadership skills apply to a school board, she said.

“An organization is like a baby mobile hanging over a crib,” she said, explaining that every move on one part – such as staff, facilities and finance – affects the movement of the whole organization.

“A board member needs to understand that all parts affect an organization,” she said.

Using her skill at diplomacy and financial experience, Ross said she will listen and lead with clear communication while preserving the integrity of the district and community.

Sarah Bellner, a third-generation AW graduate, is running for a four-year term in order to be a part of the continued forward progress of the district, she said.

“I hold the district to a very high standard. I take a bit of ownership since I graduated from the system,” she said, adding that living in the district for so long has enabled her to see all of the changes over the years. 

As the mom to a first-grader and a third-grader, Bellner said she has a vested interest in the district.

“I believe in strengthening our education by valuing teacher insights and retaining our already wonderful instructors. I also believe in holding our students accountable, including zero tolerance for bullying in order to harbor a secure, nurturing environment in which to learn. I believe in facilitating the forward progress of the district while continuing with the traditional educational values to best serve our students,” she said.

She vows to make sound, fiscally responsible decisions that serve the best interests of the students, staff and community.

Pam Brint has served on the board since 2008 and is currently the president of the board.

“Experience and knowledge are qualities the community needs in a board member. I have those qualities and I want to utilize this to continue on the path that we are on,” said Brint, noting that she’s seen the district through three superintendents and several levies.

A resident of the district since 1990, Brint raised three students who graduated from AW and now has four grandchildren in Anthony Wayne Local Schools. While her children were in school, she got involved in parent organizations and volunteered for events including after-prom. As a board representative for the parent group, Brint had the opportunity to see how the school board runs the business of the district.

As a dental hygienist and local business owner, Brint said she understands that operating a business requires sometimes difficult decisions, but that her work on the board has been rewarding. She pointed out the district’s recent ranking of 43 out of 611 public school districts on the state report card.

“That’s a fantastic accomplishment. This is a testament to the wonderful teachers, staff and administrators,” she said.

Frank Dudas, who is running for a four-year term, wants to focus on fiscal responsibility, transparency and student safety.

Since moving to the district three years ago, Dudas began attending board meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic. His goal was to urge the district to allow medical freedom so that families could decide whether their children needed to wear masks.

“This is America. We have autonomy over our bodies,” he said.

He is also focused on the district’s response to bullying. An online survey put out by Bellner showed that 40 of the 117 respondents feel like bullying is a No. 1 concern. He proposes a tiered system of response to bullying, including slander, physical, social and electronic bullying.

“I want people to know they’re being heard. Their feelings matter,” he said.

Dudas has also questioned the district about its use of federal ESSER funds and he plans to ensure that the district is financially responsible.

A Navy veteran, Dudas has two sons – in first and fifth grades – and his wife, Jennifer, volunteers at Whitehouse Primary School.

Lindsay Hoipkemier is running for a four-year term with goals that include listening to the community members, focusing on “education not indoctrination,” leadership through conservative values and pursuing transparency.

As a teenager, Hoip-kemier got involved in youth leadership through her church and has continued to serve in roles including camp counselor, Vaca-tion Bible School and volunteering. The parent of three children in third, sixth and eighth grades, she is also a licensed foster parent raising two girls along with her husband, Ben.

“There’s no political motivation behind my campaign. I’m just a mom who deeply cares about the future of not only my children but also the future of every other child,” she said.

She decided to run for the board after learning about the district’s policy in regard to students not using the restroom of their gender assigned at birth – something she sees as a safety concern.

“I believe the education of our youth both in academics and character is paramount and setting them up to be future-ready adults who can give back to society and face adversity confidently,” she said.

Amy Barrett has been active with the district for 25 years – as a parent volunteer, tutor, substitute teacher and community partner.

Most recently the director of Awake Community Coalition, Barrett taught life skills lessons and educated students about the consequences of underage drinking and the improper use of medication. Now she is the coordinator for Anthony Wayne Neighborhood Bridges, which connects students and families in need with those who are willing to help. Barrett also coordinates a program that provides weekend food bags to 115 students in need.

“I’m running to continue to work alongside the administration to make sure the teachers and students have an excellent learning environment,” she said. “Our district is about more than test scores. It’s about preparing students to help them develop life skills and healthy habits,” she said, listing the many opportunities students have with clubs, arts, sports and college credit. 

Married to Mike for 33 years, the couple raised four children who graduated from AWLS, including two who work for the district. Barrett currently works as a grant writer.

Jayna Gwin is seeking a second term in order to ensure a quality education for students and an enjoyable and safe place for employees and staff.

A 12-year resident of the district, Gwin got involved with Monclova Area Parents and many volunteering activities for her children, who are in junior high and high school.

“The biggest asset of Anthony Wayne are the parents and the drive they have to make sure the kids are successful,” she said.

With a master’s degree in education, Gwin is a licensed professional counselor and licensed foster parent. She currently is the controller for her family business.

The board members have faced unprecedented decisions in the last four years without a playbook to guide them, Gwin said. 

“I do believe the drive of each one of the people on the board was to make the right decision for the community and the kids in the community,” she said.

Shellie McKnight, a 35-year teaching veteran, believes that public education is the bedrock of democracy.

“I want to be the common-sense voice to support public education,” Mc-Knight said, adding that she is opposed to state funding being allocated to private and religious schools.

As a retired teacher, McKnight said she will always trust teachers to deliver the best education for children without fearing “constant vigilance and censoring of their decisions.” 

She advocates a curriculum of rigorous math and science that’s factual and evolving, language arts, world literature, social studies that encompasses objective world history, multiculturalism, civics, geography, foreign languages and technology, as well as opportunities for students to express themselves through art, music, dance, theater and life skills. She applauds the addition of a social worker in the district and supports mental health services.

“I support an optimum learning landscape, whether the student is in AP classes or on an IEP, heading to trade school or college, the military or the general labor market. That’s what public education should be. For every student, for the whole student, Anthony Wayne is an outstanding district. People move here for its excellence, and I will maintain that.”

Jim Schlievert is running on a platform of safety, local decisions and transparency.

A 28-year veteran of the Toledo Police Department, Schlievert said he applauds the use of school resource officers in the district and has suggestions for added safety.

Since moving to the district two years ago, Schlievert has spoken to the board about his concerns about masking and the bathroom policy. That policy, although in place since 2016, was not shared with parents, he said. Case law he found shows support for a new policy requiring that students use the restroom that aligns with their gender at birth, he said.

“In my opinion, boys and girls should not be mixed up in their most intimate of moments,” Schlievert said.

Instead of relying on legal advice and case law from Columbus or Wash-ington, D.C., Schlievert advocates for listening to members of the community when setting policies such as masking or restroom use.

Schlievert also promises transparency and to respond to those who ask questions. He also wants to advocate for teachers, who he believes are afraid to speak out at board meetings, and to look into rumors of drug use and bullying in the district.

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