Community. Collaboration. Belonging.
As I’ve talked with community members and parents over the last couple of years about their frustrations with the current school board and what changes they’d like to see moving forward, repeated themes emerge:
Anderson and Newtown are proud of its schools. Forest Hills School District is the heartbeat of this community, yet it has made headlines for all the wrong reasons in recent years. Our district has become a battleground for nationwide culture wars that do not reflect this community’s values.
The current school board is not acting in good faith on behalf of this community. For more than a year, parents and students have flooded school board member inboxes with emails and have pleaded with the board at monthly meetings to rescind the “Culture of Kindness” resolution. These requests have fallen on deaf ears, and more importantly, have exposed the board’s unwillingness to collaborate with parents, students, and community stakeholders on issues of critical importance.
Rhetoric from the current school board and the decision to cancel a parent choice event designed to celebrate what makes each of us unique, sent a strong message that some students aren’t welcome in our schools and community. This messaging, driven by fear and ignorance, is unacceptable. All students should feel comfortable being their authentic selves and feel as though they belong.
With this in mind, I’d like to share what community, collaboration, and belonging mean to me.
Aside from chicken joints and tire shops, this community is our school district. I’ve heard countless stories from residents born and raised in Anderson and Newtown, attended Forest Hills schools themselves, and have chosen to raise their children here because of the schools. When my family moved to Cincinnati in 2014, we chose Anderson Township because of the reputation of the school district. As residents of Anderson and Newtown, we have a responsibility to protect the Forest Hills brand. We achieve this by supporting our teachers, administrators, and staff; and providing them with the resources necessary to educate our children and prepare them for the real world.
The real world looks very different than Forest Hills, however. Whatever path students take post-graduation, whether that be college, the workplace, trade school, or the military; they will encounter a much more diverse groups of peers and colleagues than they do in Forest Hills classrooms. The focus should be on preparing students for this reality, not jeopardizing AP classes, externship opportunities, and access to classes and programming designed to give them a competitive edge.
Further, maintaining a thriving school district benefits everyone in the community, regardless of whether you’re a parent or teacher. Forest Hills is a desirable place to live because of our schools. Property values continue to rise, in part, because of Forest Hills School District.
As a member of the board of education, I vow to be a steward of this community with respect to governance, policy-making, and financial decisions. That doesn’t mean everyone will agree with my stance or position on every topic, but I will listen to parents, students, community members, and other stakeholders; and do my best represent this community. I am not seeking this position for political gain or to inject my political beliefs into the school district. We are a very diverse community in terms of what we feel our district should be and the role of the school board in helping shape that vision. While I will make every effort to listen and try to understand perspectives different than mine, I will not tolerate or condone hate speech, bullying, or exclusionary policies of any kind.
Collaboration with district staff is also important, especially as it relates to financial planning. Earlier this year, our school district received the Auditor of the State Award for its financial record-keeping. This is an important distinction for our community, demonstrating the commitment of the treasurer’s office to responsibly care for our taxpayer dollars. As a parent with a child in Forest Hills schools and a taxpayer in this community, I am personally invested in this district and will seek to collaborate with the treasurer’s office to make decisions in the best interests of community stakeholders.
The world in which our children are growing up is far different than that of previous generations. I’m 42 years old, and the experiences of students in my college classroom, and students in Forest Hills schools today, look nothing like my school-age years. Technological advancements, access to information (and disinformation), school shootings, hyper-partisan politics, and 24/7 connectivity to peers on social media are just a few of the challenges and concerns weighing on our children; on top of stuff like doing well in school, playing sports, and figuring out how to talk to your first crush. Compounding these pressures, however, are outside actors telling some students they do not belong. Often, this messaging targets already marginalized children.
There is an important distinction to be made between ‘fitting in’ and belonging. The former requires students to conform to group norms to gain acceptance, while the latter encourages students to be themselves. So much research has been conducted on the topic of belonging and the benefits associated with feeling as though you belong, especially in schools. Students who feel accepted for who they are experience boosts to their self-esteem, self-efficacy, well-being, and mental health. They perform better in school, feel more connected to others, and are happier (Allen, 2022). Valuing belonging in Forest Hills should not be controversial or divisive. As a school board member, I vow to prioritize belonging in our schools and advocate for disenfranchised students.
Allen, K. (2022, February 9). A deep dive into the benefits of school belonging: A recap of major research findings. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/sense-belonging/202202/deep-dive-the-benefits-school-belonging