School Board Candidate Profile: Polly Taylor-GerkenWritten by Kevin Moore | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Polly Taylor-Gerken, a native of East Toledo, has a long history with Toledo Public Schools (TPS). She is an alumna of the district, her daughter graduated from TPS and she is a grandmother to a TPS third-grader. Additionally, Taylor-Gerken made a 30-year career with the school district, working for 20 years as a secretary. During that time she earned a master’s degree in counselor education from the University of Toledo and then spent 10 years as a school psychologist working on professional development. She is also wife of Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken.
Taylor-Gerken’s decision to run for TPS Board of Education was prompted by her belief that the district is entering a pivotal era of transformation. In fact, “Now is the Time” is her campaign slogan.
“We have an interesting opportunity to transform the school board,” she said. “We have an enthusiastic new superintendent. I think this is a good time to work on barriers between teachers and students.” Romules Durant became the district’s 30th superintendent on Aug. 1.
TPS’ struggling academic performance and the variable performance levels among socioeconomic groups top the list of things Taylor-Gerken wants to address.
“We need to boost academic outcomes, first and foremost. This is where kids prepare for work or college and their lives after high school,” Taylor-Gerken said. “The next thing we need to work on is closing the affluence gap. There is a definite gap in academic performance between the city’s affluent and poor and white and minority areas. We need overall improvement in all these groups.”
Taylor-Gerken has worked as a volunteer to address the area’s social issues, serving as a Lucas County Steering Committee member and trainer for Bridges Out of Poverty and as a board of directors member for Covenant Youth Development Program.
According to Taylor-Gerken, the district is also in the position to take advantage of a great opportunity with some of Toledo’s early education programs and nonprofits. She said if TPS can step up its relationship with programs like Head Start, it could go a long way toward getting students academically prepared, especially when it comes to reading, by the time they enter kindergarten.
Taylor-Gerken believes she can work on the ever-present issue of TPS’ financial stability without sacrificing the quality of education by looking at the existing body of research on public education.
“We have the road map. The guesswork has been taken out of it,” said Taylor-Gerken, who has also taught educational psychology at Owens Community College. “We have research on best practices, on exactly what works. We’ll use the data to make our transformation, and make our decisions based on research and based on exactly what our kids need to know.”
This year’s campaign has centered around a single message for Taylor-Gerken: “We need board members who understand there is more at stake here than test scores, even more than public education. The state of the community is on the line with our public schools. It’s time to get together and transform the schools and to support our new superintendent.”
Taylor-Gerken said she is the right candidate at the right time, ready to commit her 30 years of experience and service to the district by becoming a board member who knows how to engage the community and add to the district’s transformation.
Editor’s Note: Each Toledo Public Schools Board of Education candidate was also asked to answer 10 questions. Here are Taylor-Gerken’s unedited responses. Plus: Exclusive analysis by Urban Coalition member Steven Flagg.
1. What are three most crucial issues – in order of importance – facing Toledo Public Schools? What would you do as a board member to address the issues you identify?
First, improving the academic performance of TPS students is the most important challenge facing the district. Second, closing the achievement gap, which is key to the first priority. Finally, supporting excellent classroom teachers and principals – and holding them accountable – will help TPS become a school system of choice in our community. As a Board member, I would make every decision – from funding to curriculum adoption – based upon how the decision advanced these core academic concerns.
2. Why should voters select you to represent them in decisions and matters affecting the education of Toledo’s children in their public schools?
I worked my way through college and graduate school as a secretary for TPS where I learned how the system works. Eventually I became a school psychologist where I learned what kids need to succeed. I have a deep understanding of educational practices and deep roots in the community. I attended TPS as did my parents and kids and my 3rd grade granddaughter. I think these experiences make me uniquely qualified to serve on the Board.
3. What is the primary role of a Toledo Board of Education member?
Board members have several key roles that are linked together in their importance. Board members establish the district’s educational policies, hire the superintendent and treasurer to implement those policies, and ensure that the district operates in a fiscally sound manner with sufficient resources to fulfill its mission. Board members must fulfill each of these obligations with diligence, thoughtfulness, and integrity.
4. The Toledo Public Schools recently completed a performance audit with projected savings of $91 million over 5 years. Do you agree with and support implementation of the recommendations provided by theaudit?
Yes, I support many of the recommendations in the recent performance audit, which should be understood as not just a financial document, but a set of educational improvement recommendations as well. If the district can operate more efficiently, there will be more resources available for classroom and academic programs to help students. I look forward to helping to prioritize and implement recommendations from the performance audit.
5. TPS will need to negotiate contractual changes to realize a significant portion of the savings recommended in the audit. Do you believe contractual changes can be made to realize these savings and how would you as a board member facilitate negotiations?
TPS and its employee unions have agreed to many contractual changes in recent years that have resulted in reduced costs. Mutually-agreed cost savings are possible, however, only if the district negotiates in an entirely open and transparent way about its finances and about its educational goals and objectives. As a Board member, I will insist upon the openness and transparency in the negotiating process that makes such agreements possible.
6. TPS currently has a renewal levy on the ballot that will raise approximately $16 million annually for five years or about the annual savings that can be obtained by implementing the performance audit recommendations. Why should the TPS renewal levy be approved by voters?
As mentioned above, implementing performance audit recommendations will require negotiation with employee unions, and that takes time. The renewal levy provides vital resources needed today to continue to support current academic programs. It is not realistic to think that TPS could give up the money from the renewal levy without doing serious and immediate damage to the district’s ability to serve students.
7. Ohio statutes require that TPS teachers and principals have regular performance evaluations with student performance on standardized tests a component of the evaluation. Should teachers and principals be held directly accountable for student performance in their individual performance evaluations? Why or why not?
Yes, teachers and principals should be accountable for student performance. I am encouraged to know that TPS and TFT have worked together to develop the framework for implementing the new Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES). And, expect the same collaboration with the administrators’ union to implement the Ohio Principal Evaluation System (OPES). The OTES and OPES programs must fairly balance many factors that assess an educator’s performance and care in establishing valid instruments is essential to this process.
8. Ohio is currently implementing national standards regarding the skills and knowledge all students need for success referred to as the “Common Core”. Why do you support or oppose the adoption of these standards?
I support a “common core” of high academic standards that educational professionals throughout the nation recognize as essential knowledge all students should possess. Accurately assessing whether a student possesses math, science, and reading skills should not vary from state to state. A “common core” of academic performance standards assures that those standards set a high bar, that curriculum, assessments are tied to those standards, and that teachers, and schools are provided with the resources they need.
9. What endorsements have you received as a candidate? Do you believe any of these endorsements present a potential conflict of interest with the community you would be elected to represent?
I have been endorsed by: Lucas County Democratic Party, UAW, TAAP/UAW Local 5242, AFSCME Council 8, Teamsters Local 20, AFL-CIO, Carpenters Local 351, Ironworkers Local 55, UFCW, Laborers Local 500, Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 50, Cement Masons Local 886, IBEW Local 8, Toledo Port Council, Sheet Metal Workers Local 33. Board members must meet their responsibilities with diligence, thoughtfulness, and integrity. I am committed to service on the Board with these values always in mind. As a mother and grandmother, I am not afraid to disagree with supporters when it comes to serving the best interest of children.
10. Parents today have a plethora of options including private, parochial, charter, virtual, and home schooling besides traditional public schools. How are parents to make this decision? And when is the public school option the best choice for parents?
Parents want to understand what TPS and the other schools have to offer. Parents know their children best, and no one can tell them what will best serve the child’s needs. A Board member’s job is to make sure TPS offers academic programs that are the excellent- and to make sure the community knows what we have to offer. If we are doing that, I am confident TPS will be able to thrive even in today’s competitive educational environment.