BY KRISTI FISH | MIRROR REPORTER — January is School Board Recognition Month in Ohio, and Maumee City Schools dedicated time during the Monday, January 28 school board meeting to recognize its five members.
The Maumee City Schools Board of Education, which includes president Mike Wiley, vice president Stephanie Piechowiak and members Janet Wolff, Diane Balcerzak and Matt Bush, was recognized with a performance by the Maumee High School Orchestra.
Superintendent Steve Lee said, the orchestra was an example of one of the many things the board members support with their service to the board.
Lee thanked the board for the time they dedicate and Treasurer Paul Brotzki said their efforts do not go unnoticed by the administration and staff at the schools.
The board is currently made up of members with different backgrounds and experiences that leave them qualified for the position. Together, they have a total of nearly 75 years on the board.
Wiley has served on the board for eight years and is the current president.
He’s lived in Maumee for 29 years and said he and his wife chose to live in the town due, at least in part, to the school system.
“We knew our kids would get a good education here and we are glad we made Maumee our home,” Wiley said.
Wiley initially ran for the board after his church asked the parishioners what skills they had to make their community better.
Having been a teacher, coach, athletic director and principal for 33 years, Wiley knew he had the skills to continue helping his community.
As president, he’s enjoyed learning even more skills, how to think quickly and make sure meetings run smoothly, he said. Wiley said he continues to learn more each day about what it takes to be successful as a board and make a difference for the school district.
“There is an extraordinary amount of behind-the-scenes strategic planning that goes on in the central office that enhances learning in the classroom,” Wiley said.
Piechowiak has spent 21 years on the board and is currently the vice president. She has lived in Maumee for 26 years with her family.
“Maumee offers a great community to raise a family and we, as a family, we’re very happy with everything the city, schools, neighborhoods and parks provided,” Piechowiak said.
She ran for the school board as a way to contribute to the community that has helped her and her family.
“Our schools are one of the biggest reasons why families choose to live in a community. Families are looking for an excellent academic environment for students, a strong extracurricular program and a financially stable district, being good stewards of tax dollars,” Piechowiak said. “I felt I could be a part of a board that could achieve these goals.”
She felt qualified to handle this responsibility due to her degrees in education and guidance and counseling along with her work in education. Her time on the board, though, has helped her learn even more, she said.
“I have learned that there are many challenges in providing students with the best educational experience. As a board, we always strive to put students first when making decisions,” Piechowiak said. “Student success is always our top priority.”
Seeing their success is her favorite part of the position, too, she added.
Wolff grew up in Maumee and has spent 35 years on the board. She joined the board in 1988 and has seen thousands of students graduate and become successful after their time at Maumee High School.
“From my very first graduating class ceremony in 1988 to this very day, the best part of each new year I serve on the board starts with the excitement of another new class of eager and excited kindergarten students and ends with the graduation of yet another new, exuberant senior class, eager to start their own new journeys in life,” Wolff said.
She watched her three children attend and move through Maumee schools, which helped motivate her decision to run for the board of education, she said.
She wanted to know that each Maumee student would receive a solid education and that Maumee teachers and staff were respected and compensated for providing that solid education. It was her way of paying it forward, she said.
“Dr. Rolf, our superintendent at the time back in 1955, accepted a 5-year-old little girl on crutches and braces with open arms and an open heart into our Maumee schools without concern or hesitation of her disability. (It was) undoubtedly a life-changing direction for my future and all the challenges I would face along the way, yet a decision which eventually gave me not only a solid foundation, but also a deeper appreciation for an education,” Wolff said.
Balcerzak was appointed to the board in 2014 and officially elected in 2016. She sees her time on the board as a way to give back to the community, she said.
With a business background, she said she hopes she brings a unique perspective and has learned to listen, ask questions and gather as much information as needed to make educated decisions during board meetings. The meetings, she said, require a lot of time, dedication, energy and commitment from the board members.
“We are an active board and truly care. We may not always agree, but at the end, we do agree to disagree and move on,” Balcerzak said. “We may not always have a lot of people attending the (board of education) meeting, but we know our community cares and supports our schools.”
Having spent 36 years in the community, Balcerzak is familiar with the support the community gives the school district and notices all they do to ensure each student excels, she said. One of her favorite parts, though, is seeing the students push themselves and continue to become better.
Bush is the newest member of the board and said he has wanted to serve his community. He said he believes local government is the most important level.
“I have worked as a public servant for the past 18 years, nearly my entire adult life. I am very familiar with the relationship between government and the community we serve,” he said.
The community he serves on the board became important to him quickly, he said. He’s moved over a dozen times in his life, and Maumee was the first place he ever regretted leaving, Bush said.
“We started making plans to move back soon after (we left),” Bush said. “I was not born here, raised here or anywhere close, yet this is the first place that has felt like home to me. I can tell that I’m not alone by the effort I have seen so many put into keeping this community great and working to improve it even more.”
While Bush has enjoyed watching his community work to make it better for everyone, his favorite experience on the board has been graduation time.
The chance to participate in graduation and witness one of the most important times in the lives of the young people who will shape the future is his favorite part, he said.