Xenia school board race crowded


By Karen Rase - krase@aimmediamidwest



XENIA — Seven candidates are competing for three seats on Xenia Community School’s Board of Education.

Incumbents Cheryl Marcus and Mary Adeline Lewis are joined on the ballot by Joshua Day, Mary M. Grech, Heather Lee, George W. Leightenheimer, and Michael Leipold.

Marcus is running for a third term and began serving in 2014.

“I like serving my community and I believe I can make a difference in the education of our children,” she said. “Understanding the mask policy that we have right now is a challenge. I do believe what’s surfaced is there are some individuals that understand why we mask and some who don’t see the need. We have to input strategies that keep children safe.”

Marcus said she isn’t sure the community clearly understands the district’s curriculum and topics like critical race theory.

”It’s not something that is taught in K-12 curriculum,” she said. “If we could share what curriculum entails, that would dispel the myths.”

She said the district needs to improve academic achievement.

“There are contact challenges, public education is under attack,” Marcus said. “When the state legislature passes laws that support vouchers and charter programs, those entities do not have the same level of regulations that public schools do.”

Marcus is vocal about other school-related issues as well.

“Unfortunately, bullying is not just a school problem but a community problem as well,” said Marcus, a member of the Wilberforce Links whose video “Project Kindness,” encourages children to be kind to one another. The Links work with Cox Elementary School counselors on bullying issues.

Lewis was appointed on March 29 to fill the seat vacated by Jennifer Marietta.

“It’s been a great experience,” Lewis said. “I really want to continue serving on the school board, children deserve the best education they can get. I’ve got a really broad point of view and I think that’s a view the board needs to have.”

The pandemic has not made it easy on students, Lewis said.

“It’s been a trying time cause of COVID,” she said. “I think COVID showed us that we need to respond to the unknown and update our comprehensive plan yearly as a board. To look at the effect COVID-19 has had on our students. I’ve seen a lot of students fall behind and didn’t finish their schooling.”

Communication is another hot topic for the board and district, according to Lewis.

“I think the biggest issue is that community voices are not being heard and we’re not permitted to respond directly to people who speak at board meetings,” she said. “Making every day decisions are left up to the superintendent. I think there’s a lot of misinformation with the board. I want people to feel their input is important because I feel it’s important.”

Lewis served on the Miami University Board of Trustees for two years and was appointed to the University of Dayton Commission on the Status of Women by the president of UD to represent the law school.

“We were a voice unto the quality of women and how they were being treated as a result of being bullied on campus,” Lewis said.

Despite some problems, Lewis likes where Xenia is heading.

“I think that Xenia is a growing community,” she said. “We’ve been in the best position ever. The Warner Middle School bond saved taxpayers almost $9 million a year. Because our credit was great, we were able to secure a much lower interest rate as approved by voters. There’s a lot of hope for downtown Xenia and the schools right now. We need to keep moving forward with that momentum.”

Day is running because his oldest son just started kindergarten.

“I also have a four- year old, a two-year old, and one on the way,” he said. “I’ll be in the school district a long time. There’s been some reports about academics in our school system and I wanted to get involved. My parents were always very involved with my schooling. The more people are involved, the better our schools can be and the better off our kids can be.”

The biggest challenge right now, Day said, is more than a year and half of COVID issues and policies.

“The latest school report card reflects that our children are performing understandard due to COVID,” he said. “We have to work to get those kids up to speed. Xenia has not had a curriculum review in over 10 years and we need to make sure what is being taught to our kids to help them to succeed. Open transparency from the board to the community, which can do a much better job with decision and intent for the school district.”

Day, who works at WPAFB and also spent five years at Edwards Air Force Base, has worked with million dollar budgets before.

“I’ve dealt with these programs and I understand them and dealing with the school budget would not be an issue for me,” he said.

Day said the district could have saved more than it did regarding the Warner levy. He said with the lower interest rate, the savings could have been used to pay off the loan early or lower the millage the taxpayers pay.

“But instead, we’ll be paying the full amount for the duration of the loan,” Day said. “Xenia residents are already highly taxed.”

Day, who moved to Xenia in September 2020, has a couple things he wants to accomplish.

“My goal would be to improve the academics and academic programs available to our students,” he said. “Improve community communication and this will improve the academic performance of our students.”

Grech retired in July as an occupational therapist and still subs at Stephen Bell Elementary in Bellbrook.

“I loved working in this field for over 20 years but it has changed,” she said. “COVID has made it much more difficult. Trying to work with kids online is very difficult. I want to make sure the teaching and support staff are supported and there is more participation at board meetings.”

She added, “I also think the board needs to have more participation in the Xenia community. I prefer to be accessible to the community.” Grech said she hasn’t been involved in Xenia issues for two years and is not sure how much support teachers are getting.

“Bullying is a problem,” she added. “For students with autism, bullying statistics are super high.”

Grech also wants to make sure the board spends money wisely and well,

“We really need to do a curriculum review,” she added. “I also think the mask issue is a distraction from what we need to get back to doing. It’s evolving.”

Grech, who has been a Spring Valley Township resident since 1993, is also a small business owner, operating Francis Kennels in Spring Valley Township.

Lee said she is running because she is “committed to the students, families, and communities of Xenia.”

Lee, who works part-time for the School of Education at Cedarville University as a student teacher supervisor, said her goals are simple. She wants to increase communication between the school board and the board needs to increase communication with the public.

“We need to provide quality professional development on topics that directly impact their day-to-day teaching, and continue to raise academic development,” Lee said. “I have a degree in education from Cedarville University and hold a current teaching license.”

Lee facilitated a group called “Parent Connection Workshop” for three years.

“Our goal was to help support parents with topics important to them and to increase communication between the teachers and parents,” she said. “I think we should regularly review student learning data. And make sure the teachers have relevant curriculum that is research-based and provides quality professional training to ensure the curriculum is being taught with fidelity. In addition, raising academic achievement will include evaluating student retention. Increased communication with parents, building trust by handling issues that come up in a consistent timely manner, and looking to provide quality educational opportunities and programs, all will help keep students in our district.”

Lee has volunteered in the district for the last nine years, served on the PTO and organized Teacher Appreciation Week for several years.

Leightenheimer said he believes he offers a lot to the district.

“I still have little ones in school and I want to help make a difference,” he said. “I want to make sure their education follows a meaningful path. Being a school teacher, I can see how things are from my side. I think my experience brings a lot to the table. I know how to get things done.”

Leightenheimer, who works as a special education teacher at Greene County Educational Service Center in Yellow Springs, said he would like to see mental health issues addressed more.

“Coming from a pandemic and trying to get back to normalcy, some students are having a hard time with that,” he said. “I’m trying to figure out what is going on in the schools concerning mental health.

Communication and transportation are other issues the district faces.

“Constituents feel the board or the schools in general are not great communicators,” Leightenheimer said. “The parents feel they are not being heard. Like many parents, I’ve been frustrated with transportation. I do not believe the district owns their own buses any more.”

He said he would also like to have bullying addressed.

“It’s sad that its taken this long for the board to act against bullying,” Leightenheimer said. “The board writes the school policy and puts it out to the administrators on how to handle the situation. They could vote to expel the student. The superintendent has the first action of appeal or not. He’s the chief executive of the schools, the CEO if you will.”

Michael Leipold could not be reached for comment after multiple attempts.

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By Karen Rase

krase@aimmediamidwest

Reach Karen Rase at 937-502-4534

Reach Karen Rase at 937-502-4534