Three candidates – an incumbent and two newcomers – are vying for two open seats on the Solon Board of Education in the Nov. 2 general election.
The four-year term begins Jan. 1, 2022.
On the ballot is incumbent John N. Heckman, seeking his third term in office, Caryne Urbank and Michele Barksdale. Longtime board member Marilyn Thomas is not seeking re-election.
A Solon resident for nearly 17 years, Mr. Heckman, 60 and a certified public accountant, said he is running because he has the experience necessary to move the district out of the pandemic.
Also, with union negotiations coming up, “we need a strong fiscal individual on the board who understands these five-year forecasts,” said Mr. Heckman, who is a past president of the school board and sat on all finance-related committees including the audit, enterprise zone, capital improvement and administrative committees.
Mrs. Barksdale, 58 and a city resident for more than 14 years, has, with husband Edward, four grown children who all are Solon graduates.
“They all required different support, but they were all able to thrive,” she said, academically, athletically and socially.
“They were all prepared for college and moving on to the next stage of life,” Mrs. Barksdale said. “As far as my husband and I were concerned, our needs were met.”
She is running for the school board to “return the favor,” she noted.
“The avenue to do that is through the school board,” she said. “I want to ensure the school accepts, acknowledges and cultivates the diverse background of all the students of Solon.”
Mrs. Urbank, 31 and a 2008 graduate of Solon High School, is an avid volunteer and wants to be a link connecting the school and the greater community.
“I see parents divided in the city,” she said, and many don’t feel the connection between the board or administration, she added.
“I feel like this is the place I can make the most impact, to be that connection for people and the school,” Mrs. Urbank said.
“The school board is not just there for parents, students and teachers, but they are elected by the whole community,” she added. They also must connect to the local businesses because the school is important for everyone, she said.
“Our businesses need great graduates to be their future leaders,” Mrs. Urbank said.
Mrs. Barksdale, a former Solon High School PTA president, has served on numerous committees within the district. A board member’s function is to be a good steward of people’s trust, ensure the district is financially strong and be chief adviser to the superintendent on community issues, she said.
“I can share that perspective through a different sense that might not be there at this time,” she said.
Mrs. Barksdale said that there are hot button issues out there right now facing the schools, but she is about supporting the teachers, educational excellence, innovation and safety. And at the core, she said, are the issues as a parent that their children fit in and belong.
“I want to make sure each child finds a way to fit in and belong and become their authentic self,” she said, as well as experience all of the rich opportunities Solon has to offer.
“I want to be part of those conversations and contribute to the dialogue,” Mrs. Barksdale said.
Mr. Heckman, whose two sons went thought the Solon Schools and is married to Lisa, said he has served on the board throughout pivotal issues through the years.
“When I was president, we were closing Arthur Road school, and it wasn’t an easy decision,” he recalled. That same year, the district was beginning to redistrict the students.
“People were upset,” Mr. Heckman said, “but we made sure if your child was going to be in fourth grade, he or she would finish in that building.”
Also, back in the day were issues surrounding Common Core, Mr. Heckman continued. “We were way beyond that as a district,” he said. “In our realm, two plus two equaled four, not five, and we would get you (the students) there.
“We would make sure you understood how to get that four.”
If elected, Mrs. Urbank said she would work to connect the district with families who homeschool their children.
“They are still part of our school district,” said Mrs. Urbank, who has one young son with Joseph Urbank II. “They are allowed to participate in extracurriculars and sometimes it’s hard for them to feel connected.”
She added that if the district is a good connection to home schoolers, “we bring more great talent in and it’s good for businesses and the community.”
An alumni parent who still actively volunteers in the school system, Mr. Heckman said he has always been a strong believer in public education. He comes from a family of teachers, including his father, and aunts and uncles. His wife Lisa’s father was also a teacher and a football coach.
“I just believe in this,” he said of public education. “It’s our responsibility to educate these kids because you never know, the next president of the United States might be sitting in our classroom.”
Mr. Heckman added that the board is a liaison, connecting the community.
Mrs. Barksdale, who holds a degree in business from Northeastern University, said that school board members must be good stewards who the community can trust. They also must listen to the pulse of the community and share and make decisions based on that.
“When my family and I moved here, we found a place that was welcoming,” Mrs. Barksdale said of Solon. She said she wants others to feel that same sense of belonging.
“Not that Solon is utopia, per se, but we can do the best to move in that direction,” she said. “I look at Solon as a great place, but great places don’t stay that way.
“You have to work at it, and I’m ready to work for the Solon schools,” Mrs. Barksdale said.
Mrs. Urbank, who has sat on numerous non-profit boards and managed their accounting and finances, said it is important to maintain the district’s strong reputation. She said it is also important to work with students who have Individualized Educational Plans “so no one feels left behind, stressed or pushed beyond their capabilities.”
She also considers herself an excellent listener, who values the opinions of others, no matter where they stand.
Mr. Heckman said he believes in the importance of keeping politics out of the schools. He sees as some of the biggest issues facing schools these days as finances.
It is important the district maintains transparency, he noted.
Mr. Heckman said he always gets back to people who reach out to him – within 24 hours.
“I might not have the answer, but I point them in the right direction to get that answer,” he said. “They might not like the outcome but at least they work through the system.”
Mrs. Urbank, who helps friends, families and single mothers as a caregiver, said she will make a priority to be responsive in her role.
She said while going door to door meeting people as she campaigns, many say they desire that and it is lacking.
“It should be a change of behavior,” she said. “If someone sends me an email, they will get an answer, even if that answer is ‘I don’t know.
“They deserve an answer.”
“I have read everything that has been sent to me and I’m very well aware of what people are saying and doing,” Mr. Heckman added. “I come with a lot of passion, dedication and truthfully – integrity.”