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Chapter and Verse

By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, Ph.D.
The Truth Contributor

Donít leave inferences to be drawn when evidence can be presented.  
 Richard Wright


Rev. Donald L. Perryman, D.Min.

The 2019 race for the Toledo Public School Board is one to keep an eye on. At least three Democrats will be competing for just two available seats on the five-member governance board. The Lucas County Democratic Party is receiving plenty of blowback behind the scenes for choosing to endorse Sheena Barnes, a relative political newcomer, over incumbents Perry Lefever and Stephanie Eichenberg who are running for reelection.

Does this sound familiar?

It should.

It is similar to what happened two years ago when three Dems also ran for the TPS Board. Then, the Party endorsed two candidates but community activist Ruth Leonard became the odd person out, falling short in the election despite the Demsí endorsement and support.

Given the dynamics of this race, it is important to obtain the perspective of the candidates. This week incumbent Stephanie Eichenberg shares her experience since being elected to the Toledo Public School Board in 2015. This is the first of our two-part conversation.

Perryman: You are a candidate for the schoolboard once again. Please share a little of your personal history with our readers.

Eichenberg: Sure.  So, I am a Toledoan, born here, raised here.  I graduated from Bowsher High School and went to Northwestern University and then I came back, married my husband and we stayed in Toledo.  I live in South Toledo now and I worked for 20 years in market research before I was on the school board and I still continue that job, so Iíve been in that business for 24 years.  My daughter started school in 2012, and thatís when I started getting involved as a PTO parent, and then, as you know, the next thing I did was to get interested in the TPS performance audit because although it was about education, it looked a lot like what I might see at work. Thatís how I got started.

Perryman: How does your career in market research connect with what you do as a board member for TPS?

Eichenberg: Well my focus in the market research world is on sampling, an issue Iím sure you are familiar with all the extensive studies that youíve done.  A lot of times when you think about sampling youíre always thinking about the impact on data, both the demographics and other influences it can have.  So, I bring a data mindset to the schoolboard and the other piece is just having been out in the private sector world for over 20 years now, I just see that things might be done sometimes differently than weíre currently doing them in the schools. 

Perryman: Thatís interesting. You describe it as bringing a private sector mindset to public education.  I call it a mentality of substantiation. Should there be more of that type representation? 

Eichenberg: I think that some school districts have that, but not a lot.  I do believe that bringing that private mindset is a benefit, but you wouldnít want that to be the only mindset on your board.  I like the diversity of our board and our backgrounds.  Some are from the non-profit community, one is a teacher, oneís a retired school psychologist.  We have a good mixture because when weíre thinking about the non-education practices and what are best practices, I might be able to contribute there. Our folks who work for non-profits bring a really great perspective from other areas.  Then you look to the educator and the retired school psychologist and you learn something about the education process or you have kind of a reality check for us. I donít think our whole board should be business people. Iíve had to learn a lot about education in the past four years. 

Perryman: What has been the change in the four years since you joined the Board?  Have things improved?  Stayed the same? 

Eichenberg:  We have had a big increase in graduation rate. Since Iíve been on the board, weíve probably lifted it 68 percent across the district, which is pretty exciting.  The other piece is that we have had the community support and passed levies. Iím actually really proud of that because Iíve been on the finance committee and we know that we need to not have to go back to the voters for five more years now because of that.  We have a good operating balance and we donít want to hold too much money, but we also donít want to risk instability.  The other thing that I think is good is our enrollment. Itís up over 1700 students in I think the past five years, so probably 1200-1500 of those came in while Iíve been on the board.  And part of that is offering diverse programming.

Perryman: Talk about the diverse programming, please.

Eichenberg:  We opened the National Science Academy of Toledo (NSAT), which is pretty exciting and that was just last year.  We also took two neighborhood schools and remade them as STEM schools.  It helped to put fresh energy into the two neighborhoods and schools. Then we also took the Jones Leadership Academy, which had been started, but we made that an academy of business to really bring that career tech mindset to it and it helped them focus. 

I do think those are great examples of diversity programming and weíre going to see more of that as we open our SMART Academy, Escuela SMART Academy Ė Spanish language magnet school, the Toledo SMART Academy coming into a district from being a charter school, so thatís another piece of that diversity. 

So, in addition to opening schools, weíve also brought our athletics.  That was a big blow to the students when those were cut in the past because of economic reasons and I think we continue to try to upgrade our facilities there and be able to offer more sports.  Itís a really important piece to support the kids in as well as supporting the arts in the building.  I wonít take credit for this idea, the Fine Arts Festival started since Iíve been on the board, but that was Ms. Varwigís idea, but itís one of the neatest things we do because it gets kids in elementary school thinking about how they can do the arts in high school and what that means to them.  So thatís just another way that I think of engaging that student in getting them to care about all of school because they care about that one part of school.

Perryman: You attended the recent Libbey High School Historical Marker dedication. At the time that the board decided to close Libbey, I, along with the late Jack Ford and many others, had advocated to keep it open. Those efforts ultimately failed, but there have been whispers about reopening Libbey sometime in the future. Mr. Edward Drummond Libbey was a great industrialist and philanthropist in this community. What are your thoughts on the future of another school to honor Mr. Libbey?

Eichenberg:  Well, I think that one of the things we have to pay attention to is we are continuing to see enrollment increase, and so we just have to think carefully about would we have students to support another school and would it be a comprehensive high school or would it be more of a specialty thematic school sort of like NSAT.  Those are the kinds of questions we would have to answer and I think itís really early to say who would have answers for that, but we know there are certain neighborhoods that got left behind as schools closed over the past. When we think about is there a gap in offerings for that particular neighborhood, there may well be. So, you really have to figure out what does the neighborhood need and is there something weíre missing in the district overall that we really need.

Perryman: I did my elementary schooling at what was called then, Gunckel School.  That school is there today, but it is now called Jones. So, the Libbey name doesnít necessarily have to be affixed to a new high school, it could be an elementary school, middle school or even to an existing school building.

Eichenberg:  Yes, and I know weíve talked on and off about do we have the focus on the arts and, for me, when I think of Libbey, I used to be a docent at the museum before I had two children and couldnít keep up with it anymore.  I always think of the huge contributions Mr. Libbey made to the arts and to the Toledo Museum of Art, and thatís something that maybe could be a part of it.  I do think itís interesting, just like you brought up both Jones and Libbey were kind of located in that area and are gone and I just think that thereís still a pretty good population there, so we really have to look at how are we handling enrollment and figure out if it is neighborhood based. 

Perryman: What did you learn from your first term on the schoolboard and how do your insights inform a second term if youíre reelected?

Eichenberg:  Well, I learned a couple of things that are really important.  The first is no change is ever as simple as you think that it is and the second is that there are a lot of people who work for us who really know what theyíre talking about and what theyíre doing. So, the way that would inform a second term is that I would like to make sure that we are inclusive as possible. There is so much talent among the people that we employ and thereís a lot of good ideas about how we can operate better. Itís a matter of getting them all together, finding an easier way to share those ideas is what I would like to see so that then we can take new ideas and really go forward with them.

(See part II next week where Eichenberg discusses the Districtís challenges)

Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, D.Min, at drdlperryman@centerofhopebaptist.org



Copyright © 2019 by [The Sojourner's Truth]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 05/16/19 00:07:09 -0400.



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