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APS board candidates tout academies, share their stories in key debate | #schoolsaftey


The eight candidates for three seats on the Akron Public Schools board tackled questions of school safety, teacher recruitment and personal investment in the school system during the first of two main candidate debates Tuesday night.

The two-hour debate, which about 100 people attended at the Akron-Summit County Public Library in downtown Akron, also gave each candidate a chance to share their personal story, what drives them to run for the board and what makes them a good candidate for a school board of an urban district.

Barbara Sykes, the former state representative and Akron City Council member, talked about growing up in the deep south with only one parent who could read, and with neither parent finishing high school.

School Board candidate Barbara Sykes answers a question during the Akron City School Board Candidate Forum at the Akron-Summit County Library in Akron.

“My lifelong experience, just simply growing up in a household with extreme poverty, and understanding, appreciating and believing that the way to make the difference was to go to school, to do my homework, to make sure that I could read and I could write, and I could take care of myself,” Sykes said. “And that education would get me out of poverty.”

Phil Montgomery, the director of finance and budgeting for Summit County government, talked about his single mother raising him and his siblings on her own, and relying on public school and other publicly available services.

School Board candidate Phil Montgomery answers a question during the Akron City School Board Candidate Forum at the Akron-Summit County Library in Akron.

“My mom couldn’t make the ends meet all the time,” Montgomery said. “So I’ve seen the need for the wraparound services. I’ve experienced it; I’ve lived it.”

Rene Molenaur, a University of Akron educator and the only current board member, talked about growing up in Akron, seeped in the diversity of her neighborhood, and living now with her family in the house her grandparents built.

School Board candidate and current board member Rene Molenaur answers a question during the Akron City School Board Candidate Forum at the Akron-Summit County Library in Akron.

“And as a member of the Asian community, I would say that with our growing immigrant and refugee population, I think leaning into our diversity is our greatest strength,” Molenaur said.

Keith Mills talked about falling “through the cracks” and into homelessness before earning his high school equivalent degree and then later his bachelor’s and master’s degrees and becoming a teacher in Cleveland’s school system.

School board candidate Keith Mills answers a question during the Akron City School Board Candidate Forum at the Akron-Summit County Library in Akron.

“I think my experience is quite unique,” Mills said. “I serve kids who are like me, who were couch surfing, going around on the bus and not going to school. I know these students.”

Myron Lewis, a retired probationary officer and substance abuse counselor, talked about how his mother was a teacher but he was held back in the third grade.

School Board candidate Myron L. Lewis answers a question during the Akron City School Board Candidate Forum at the Akron-Summit County Library in Akron.

“I’ve been there,” he said. “I understand what it feels like. And I want to make sure that no child feels like I felt.”

Summer Hall, a community outreach coordinator for the city of Akron, talked about the legacy of her great-aunt Helen Arnold, the first Black woman to serve on the Akron school board, and her grandmother, Marian T. Hall, a civil rights activist.

School board candidate Summer L. Hall answers a question during the Akron City School Board Candidate Forum at the Akron-Summit County Library in Akron.

“It taught me a great deal of how to treat each other, how to fight for what’s right,” Hall said. “And I’m here to fight for our children.”

Gwen Bryant, a former teacher, shared about having to fight for her education, attending high school as one of only a few Black students in a college preparatory school where “parents wrapped around the building and didn’t want us to come in.”

School Board candidate Gwen Bryant gestures as she answers a question during the Akron City School Board Candidate Forum.

“I’ve always chosen to teach in urban schools. It was my choice. I could have went someplace else,” Bryant said. “But I knew the impact that I, being there, showing my face, would make on our students.”

Patrick Bravo, a former 10-year member of the school board and its former leader, talked about growing up in a home with drug, alcohol and physical abuse in rural Indiana as a Latino and a member of the LGBTQ community.

School Board candidate Patrick Bravo answers a question during the Akron City School Board Candidate Forum at the Akron-Summit County Library in Akron.

“I was the minority,” he said, and gave examples of the racist and homophobic slurs that were hurled at him.

Each candidate was asked to say, if they have children or had school-aged children, where they attend or attended school.

Bravo has one son in the district. Molenaur has two biological children and one exchange student attending APS schools. Both of Montgomery’s daughters attend an Akron school. Sykes’ children attended APS.



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