Former Vice President Joe
Biden has promised to appoint a teacher to lead the U.S.
Department of Education, should he be elected President of
the United States, according to Politico. So has Senator
Elizabeth Warren, who is also a front runner in the campaign
for the Democratic Partyís presidential nomination. Fellow
candidate Senator Kamala Harris, while not specifically
mentioning teachers, has promised to select ďsomeone from
public schoolsĒ for her Education secretary should her
presidential campaign succeed.
What do teachers bring to
education reform, policy and administrative oversight?
Or to be more precise,
what impact might the perspective of teachers bring to an
area like Lucas County, which has a higher rate of poverty,
a lower median household income and has underperformed in
terms of higher education achievement compared to the rest
Perry Lefevre is currently
a candidate for a 2nd consecutive term on the
Toledo Public Schools Board of Education. He has been a
teacher for 33 years and is still in the class room where he
teaches an Advanced Placement class in Government.
I had a one-on-one
conversation with Lefevre about his participation on the
Toledo School Board and how his experience as a teacher
provides a unique and real, lived ďback stageĒ vantage on
education oversight, policy and reform.
Perryman: Having been an
educator all of your professional life and being known as
the ďteacher on the School Board,Ē you certainly bring an
insiderís view to education. How does your insider
perspective affect your role as board member?
Lefevre: I do believe
that I have the knowledge and experience to understand and
sometimes anticipate where things are going to go. Iíve been
in the situations where I think I know what should be done,
what is the right thing to be done and, then again, why some
things just canít happen. But throughout my career Iíve
tried to be a problem solver. I have a lot of experience
beyond the classroom and I understand the structure of the
public school. I understand the interplay with unions and
parent groups and the state. And because of that, I believe
I have the ability to solve problems.
Perryman: You currently
teach in Sylvania Schools?
Perryman: Does teaching in
the suburban context place you at a disadvantage when making
decisions affecting an urban district with a predominately
Lefevre: Thatís a fair
question. We do have a growing minority population in
Sylvania and in fact, I will tell you that one of my biggest
concerns for TPS, is the fact that the minority population
is growing in the suburban districts and we are going to
have greater challenges attracting minority educators to TPS
because the suburbs are starting to realize they want to
hire minority educators as well. Iíve lived here (South
Toledo) for 30 years. I do not believe that you can live in
a city and not be aware of minority issues. Iíve raised my
kids here and sent my kids to TPS so I think I really have
an understanding of both.
Perryman: Letís talk about
the impact of your presence on the board since you were
elected in 2015.
Lefevre: Well, you know I
donít want to start with this, but I will because I really
like to focus on education, but I also have 30 yearsí
experience in education labor. Iíve been a strong member of
my own union and I have been a president of a teacherís
union, and I understand the law when it comes to education.
And the year I came on the board, there had been quite a bit
of issues with negotiations here but it was my experience,
Iíd like to think, that got us through that period.
And, weíve actually had a
couple of negotiations since then and theyíve been quiet and
theyíve been successful and Iím looking forward to another
one next year. Iím a firm believer in whatís called
interest-based bargaining and TPS has adopted that since
Iíve come on board. So, I think my timing in coming on the
board was important because I have that background, but I
will tell you thatís not my focus. I really do want to
focus on the educational aspect and the curricular aspect
because thatís really more important to me. Iím just happy
to have that extra experience to bring along.
Perryman: Letís talk first
about the districtís challenges. One, in particular, deals
with potential takeover of the district by the State of
Ohio. Where does that currently stand?
Lefevre: There are
interests that want to privatize public education and
essentially divert the money for public education to
probably charter schools, vouchers and private interests.
Their plan would essentially eliminate the Academic Distress
Commissions, but still allow a kind of state takeover that
puts us into this limbo status of trying to be improving
from, what I read, weíll never get out of.
So, itís kind of hard to
explain to the folks that arenít in education because itís a
big deal when the state tries to take over these school
districts and they donít really provide any improvement
themselves. Now they get to be judges by determining what
the grade cards look like and how they will be determined,
and then get to be essentially executioner by taking over
the school district and saying theyíre going to improve it.
And, the three school districts that have been taken over so
far, Cleveland, East Cleveland and Lorain, have not shown
any improvement under these Academic Distress Commissions.
So, in a nutshell, itís still better to leave it under the
control of local school districts rather than the state.
Perryman: Isnít it true
though, that if the district continues to receive Fís, it
appears that either students are not able to learn or else
thereís something deficient with the teaching. We know that
black students can learn, so why canít we get out of an F
Lefevre: Well, again, I
think part of the thing is we are going to get out of F
rating and obviously students can learn.
But I donít know that the
teaching is the problem and I donít believe it is. I think
part of it or a large part of it is the testing and I think
thereís where we have a challenge. Because the problem with
standardized testing as a basis for anything is that it
makes the assumption that every kid is going to come in on
the same day at the same time and be able to perform at the
same way. Regardless of what that kidís previous night
looked like, what their life looked like, what their family
situation looked like, what anything looked like, we make
this assumption that performance on this single test is a
determiner of a kidís achievement, and that is wrong.
I think the worst thing we
do is the third-grade reading guarantee, because now weíre
putting a high stakes test on an eight-year-old. No other
country does that. No other country puts those kinds of
high stakes test on kids that are growing. If youíve seen
any of the studies about what Finland or Japan does, they
donít even start giving any tests to these kids until
theyíre in the fourth or fifth grade because they donít
believe in testing kids that young because of the pressure.
So, itís got a lot to do
with non-educators down in Columbus making educational law,
and they donít really trust us or ask for input from
educators like myself, because none of us think standardized
testing for a determinant on achievement is the way to go.
So no, thatís our biggest challenge is to improve those
Perryman: The suburban
schools, however, are performing fine. Is it that we donít
understand African-American students or we donít understand
African-American students who are in poverty? Yet, research
shows that even African-American students who are middle
class will underperform on standardized tests compared to
Lefevre: I do believe
poverty is a big factor for us in TPS, but I also know
youíre right, that there are African Americans in the
suburbs who perform lower, but there are African Americans
in the suburbs who perform higher as well, so Iím not sure.
There may still be an income factor there as well, even in
the suburbs, because now we have a greater number of
low-income housing opportunities in the suburbs, so the
school district has a variety of socio-economic classes
represented, even amongst African Americans in the suburbs.
So that would explain that to some extent. I, myself, have
African-American students that perform at the very top and
then others that, as you suggest, may not perform as well on
Perryman: How does the
shortage of African-American teachers affect educational
outcomes and what are you doing to address that?
Lefevre: There was just a
study that came out yesterday that confirmed that
African-American students, especially boys, do better when
they have African-American role models as teachers in that
classroom. They graduate more often and they do better on
standardized tests, so yes, I know that thatís there. Weíre
going to have to do more to attract them because growing our
own is not enough. And, weíre going to have to start dealing
with competing suburbs or suburban districts as their
minority populations grow. So, itís a challenge, but I
think weíre addressing it as well as anybody is, especially
with our Teach for Toledo. I can tell you that thereís more
opportunity in the suburbs for better pay and that might be
a big factor, especially as theyíre starting to recruit
Perryman: I was recently
trying to find a historic picture of the old Frederick
Douglass Center, which I went to as a youngster when it was
on Pinewood and 13th . I came up empty on the
google image search, but I did keep running into historical
names in Toledoís past, like Brand Whitlock and John E.
Gunckel, Jessup W. Scott and Edward Drummond Libbey.
While we are honored to
have an Ella P. Stewart and Emory Leverette school, most of
our Toledo schools are named after white men from the turn
of the century. How about naming some new schools or
renaming existing schools after those more contemporary
African Americans and Latinx who have made an impact on this
city? Certainly, a Jack Ford School would be in order.
Lefevre: I think Jack
Ford would be right at the top, without a doubt. Ford
certainly was impactful on the City of Toledo in my lifetime
and having met Jack myself on a few occasions, I would not
have a problem with that at all.
And, letís be honest, at
some point in time weíre going have to also name something
after labor union activist Baldemar Velasquez of FLOC.
Toledoans donít know how well heís known outside of Toledo.
Perryman: What process is
required to name schools?
Lefevre: We as Toledoans
identify ourselves by our neighborhood elementary school and
changing them would be a fairly significant change. But
again, does the name still reflect the neighborhood? Does
the neighborhood still identify with the name of the
school? So, I would probably start with the Parent Teacher
Organizations (PTO) and then work through that.
The board, so much that we
do is really in response to community interest and community
initiatives. I think if a community came to us with a
resolution for either one of those ideas thereís no question
that we would support it. I would have no problem in
considering naming buildings after someone from the African
American or Latinx community that contributed to Toledo.
(to be continued)
Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, D.Min, at