First in a series of BOE candidate profiles

By Chuck Gibson

LOVELAND, OH (September 29, 2021) – Election day 2021 is fast approaching, signs are popping up all around our community, Tuesday, November 2, will be here before you know it. With it will come your opportunity to decide who will serve as the majority members of the Loveland City School District (LCSD) Board of Education (BOE).

Officially there are eight candidates running for election to fill four terms. With current BOE appointee Kevin M. Dougherty running unopposed for the unexpired 2-year term ending 12/31/2023, the reality is seven candidates are running to fill three available 4-year terms as members of the BOE. The seven candidates include elected incumbent Eileen Washburn and appointed incumbent board member Dr. Eric Schwetschenau. 

Another elected incumbent board member, Michele Pettit ultimately chose not to appeal a Board of Elections denial of her filing for candidacy. She is not running for re-election. Those three members are each currently serving the remainder of a term which expires 12/31/2021.

There are four new candidates listed on the November 2, ballot for the Loveland School Board. They are, in alphabetical order according to their filing with Hamilton County Board of Elections – which includes Clermont County and Warren County: Colette Boyko, Anna Bunker, Jonathan Eilert, Elliot Grossman, Al Juram, and Elizabeth Mason. It is worth noting here that candidates Boyko, Juram and Mason have teamed together in a manner of a three person ticket.

I have reached out to each of the candidates to conduct personal interviews in an effort to learn who they are and what they stand for. In today’s social media driven world, each has created a website providing their own description of who they are, why they are running for election to the school board, and what they plan to accomplish if elected.  In the interview process, I have asked each candidate the key question: How? I hope these profiles will provide some additional insight and information to help you, the voters, make a fully informed choice at the polls on Tuesday, November 2.

Here is the first in the series of Candidate Profiles with the Beacon’s Light shining on candidate Jonathan Eilert.

Rev. Jonathan Eilert, Pastor, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Lovelnad and 1st time candidate for LCSD BOE (File photo)

Jonathan Eilert lives in Loveland (since 2006) with his wife Suzanne and their three children. His youngest is currently a sophomore at Loveland High School. The two oldest graduated from Loveland schools. Eilert is Lead Pastor at Prince of Peace Church in Loveland. 

We met face-to-face in mid-August to talk about his candidacy for LCSD Board of Education. It was before he published his candidate website. 

The following is the text of the Q&A from our discussion:

Q – Loveland Beacon (LB)What inspired you to become a candidate; why do you want to be a member of the school board?

A – Jonathan Eilert (JE)  – I’ve had a lot of people ask me that. The turmoil we’ve seen in our schools is certainly part of it. I feel like I have a voice that can be a voice of moderation at times; in the midst of turbulent situations. I’m generally a consensus-based leader; that’s my leadership style. I think that’s something that would be helpful where you’ve got situations where things get tense. I’ve got experience in educational leadership. I just finished 12 years on the board at Wittenberg. I’m vested in education and fascinated to learn more about leadership at the K-12 level instead of higher education. There are definitely similarities and differences, but know about that space, know how to work with large budgets and understand the ins and outs of that; understand making tough choices with limited dollars and being creative about that. Keeping your focus on innovation in the midst of making tough choices knowing that you can’t cut your way to something better, you’ve got to continue growing the programs that are working well and invest in those places that are going to make a difference. I care about these schools.

(LB) – What are the key priorities you hope to bring to Loveland Schools if elected as a member of the school board?

(JE) – One of the things I’m always concerned about is good governance. I think one of the dangers of running for a school board, and the election process when there are lots of people and you are trying to distinguish yourself from others is getting to set with a particular platform. I think the role of the school board is to work alongside of the administration. It is a non-partisan position for a reason. You are supposed to have one foot in the community and one foot in the schools listening to the needs of the community, the concerns citizens have bringing that alongside of what’s going on in the school. Understanding what the administration is trying to accomplish and helping them to hear the voice of the community and bring those together. Then, making good decisions balancing those two things trying to figure out, ultimately, what’s best for the kids; so what’s best for our community as you’re making those decisions. They often end up being fairly nuanced and particular to a moment. You have to be careful about over-promising things or trying to set a really firm position on something before you’ve gotten in there and gotten all of the facts and understanding what’s going on in the schools.

The three things I’m going to focus on. . . .the first is education. You can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. That’s the bottom line as we’re trying to provide for our kids, making sure you got good educational policy: safe environment for kids, a place where kids can flourish emotionally and socially with creating all those opportunities and making sure you do that consistently. You’ve gotta focus on that first. That’s the first thing you gotta do.

Then you also have to continue to innovate; you have to recognize all the changes in our world and how quickly it is changing. So, what are the things we need to do differently in the school district to help our kids be competitive in the marketplace and to be prepared to be good citizens and lifelong learners? So, you’re teaching those critical learning skills, not just about facts and figures, but about how to learn and how to research something; how to find real answer and find those facts. I think that’s a critical component to innovation and what are the things happening out there nationally, internationally we can learn from to apply in our schools that will help us continue to use the best pedagogy that we can in our district.

Then the last thing I focused on the website is collaboration: I think one of the strengths of our schools, and it has been for a long time is we have a community that is vested and interested in our schools. Then you’ve got folks who are willing to volunteer, come alongside the school and collaborate with them providing the best experience possible for our kids. I think some of that has been eroded in the last couple of years in some of the us versus them that developed in the fight that happened over the levy and the bond issue. I think we’ve made some strides in that already with the new administration (re: New Superintendent Mike Broadwater) and folks that are new on the board and folks that have been there before too. I think there is some villainization that wasn’t always deserved. But then I think the planning commission too. I have a lot of friends that have been serving on the planning commission and I think they’ve done some good work helping broaden the conversation and look creatively at things; involving more people in the community in that as well trying to get a lot of different kinds of voices involved. We need to keep building on that. We need to be getting back to that place with people looking at the schools not as a place of division in our community, but a place where we can come together as a community for something we all care about, which is our kids.

(LB) –  Sticking with that last point first, collaboration. How do you improve collaboration? What would be planning and discussion to improve collaboration between the board, administration and the community by a board with you as an elected member?

(JE) – I think they’ve done a lot of things already. There have been some things proposed in terms of communication. We’ve gotta keep building that out even farther. We’re not there yet. In terms of communication, both in terms of transparency, but also in modality – everyone says transparency – sometimes the information is there, but people have a hard time getting to it, getting through the process. Finding it on the website can sometimes be frustrating for folks. So communications is a huge part of that collaboration. Providing more opportunities, giving people places where you can get involved, here’s a place where you can volunteer, a place where you can use your gifts. Say you’re the gift we’re looking for, you’re someone who has gifts to share with our kids. We’ve done some of that already, for example at the high school you see some of the good things that have happened with business people they’ve brought in to teach technology in the classes. How can we continue to expand that?

(LB) – That’s a good place to transition to your second point about innovation. You talked about continuing innovation to better prepare our Loveland students for the next step in their life journey. How do you do that?

(JE) – This has been interesting learning from some of my friends on the planning commission. First of all, we have a sizeable percentage of Loveland kids who don’t go to college at all. Then, even of those who go to college, those who end up completing a four-year degree. You put those two populations together; you have a large portion of our Loveland kids that end up not having a four-year degree. I think a lot of times we think of Loveland as a college prep school. That’s what we do, we prepare kids for college. There are a lot of careers out there for kids who have not completed a college degree, but they do need training. A lot of that is technology. I think that’s one of those places . . . I’ve heard some good things about some pilot programs they’ve been doing at the high school trying to engage some of those kids and provide these opportunities. We have to continue to expand on that. One of the cool things I’m hearing is they’re not just layering things on, adding expense, they’re finding ways to do that with resources we already have. The more we can do that, the better. You increase opportunities, increase training for kids to help them be successful out there in the world while not having to increase the bottom line. That’s a huge win for everybody.

 (LB) – Let’s go all the way back to your point one – education: You talked about safe environment, learning environment and mental health. What’s happening at Loveland Schools in education is very good. How do you keep the ball moving forward and improve upon what appears to be a healthy educational environment in the Loveland City School District now?

(JE) – One thing, and again this is the idea of governance, not getting in the way of the administration. You’re there to hold them accountable. You hire the treasurer, you hire the superintendent. Those are the key things you do from a personnel standpoint as a board. Then you hold them accountable. Then you are also partnering with them and ideally letting them drive whatever innovation is happening in the school. That should happen from the people who are actually trained educators there. They’ve been doing the seminars, talking to their colleagues, learning things from other districts that are working well. What are best practices that are out there? Ultimately you have to help them make those choices of what is gonna work and what’s not gonna work for us given limitations that we have. I think it is also incumbent on the board to say okay, we’re going to trust our administration because we feel like we hired the right people. If we haven’t, then you gotta address that. I’m hearing a lot of good things about our superintendent, not just in our district but from others who have worked with him in the past. I feel good about that. That was one of my question marks coming into the election. I had almost decided I was gonna run, but decided I’m not gonna put my hat in the ring until I know who the superintendent is gonna be. It was a big thing for him to jump into a district where there could be significant turnover in the board that hired him. That says something about his faith in the Loveland District. I feel good about him and his leadership and certainly want to be supportive of that.

Final Question: To Jonathan Eilert for all of you:

(LB) – Why should I vote for Jonathan Eilert?

(JE) – The reason people have expressed to me that they’re glad I’m in the race is: They think I have a proven record in leadership. They find me to be someone who is level-headed, asks good questions, thinks before he speaks and interested in the midst of really polarized issues wants to find a way forward where we can have as much consensus as we can before we move forward. Now, there are times where you have to make decisions. I certainly have a history of doing that too. We’re going to make a hard decision that’s not popular with everyone. I already live in the public sphere. I’m used to having public pressure on decisions that I make. So, I have experience in that realm. I think that works well in this capacity.

CLICK HERE to visit the website of candidate Jonathan Eilert 

NEXT UP: We hear from Colette Boyko