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4 candidates are looking to take Lakota's School Board in a new direction

a photo of lakota west high school building
WCPO
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Courtesy
Lakota West High School.

Lakota is one of the largest school districts in the state and the second-largest in Southwest Ohio, only behind Cincinnati Public Schools. The district has grown by over 1,000 students in the past five years and has grown by 300 students since last year alone.

In the last few months, the district's administration has gone through a number of changes, including the hiring of Interim Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli, formerly of Dayton Public Schools, and the addition of a second Assistant Superintendent Stacey Maney to help with growing enrollment.

During all of this growth, Lakota's Board of Education has weathered a chaotic two years that's included a legal battle between board members Isaac Adi and Darbi Boddy, the resignation of former Superintendent Matt Miller, and meetings that have devolved into shouting matches.

Boddy, the board's most controversial member, was at the center of many of these conflicts and, according to some people in the district, has brought a lot of negative attention to Lakota Schools.

Boddy herself has said repeatedly in meetings Lakota needs "a new school board." This November, voters will have an opportunity to decide what that new school board will begin to look like.

Lakota has five members of its school board, with four candidates competing for two open seats this year, including current members Lynda O'Connor and Julie Shaffer. Whoever wins will hold the seats for four years.

WVXU reached out to all four candidates on the ballot to hear about what they'd like to see for the future of the district.

RELATED: Lakota Schools picks new interim superintendent

Douglas Horton

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Douglas Horton

Horton ran in 2021, but voters chose to elect Kelly Casper, Adi, and Boddy to the school board. Horton says this time around, the community is more engaged and motivated than ever to put students first and put an end to the school board's constant conflicts.

"Politics have really interjected themselves into our schools and our school board," Horton said. "I'm running to help restore some of the sanity, get the politics out of our school board, and return a focus to not just educating our current students, but a vision for how we can deliver education in the future."

Horton says he's been a parent in the district for years and has been listening to the needs of other parents. If elected, he says he's interested in expanding education opportunities for Lakota families by encouraging the board to consider forming additional schools that provide more specialized educational programs like a school for arts and a STEM school. He also says he'd prioritize protecting marginalized students at Lakota, who he claims have been under attack by certain board members.

Russ Loges

Loges did not respond to WVXU's request for an interview.

He participated in the Lakota candidates forum in early October and said politics have hurt the schools and it shows in the district's recent Ohio School Report Card. Loges also said another factor is class time being wasted on unnecessary issues. When asked about social-emotional learning, he said parents should play a bigger role in a child's development. While Loges says SEL should be embedded in Lakota's schools and its educators, he doesn't think it's the school's job to run a social program.

RELATED: Lakota school board holds first meeting since one member got a protection order against another

Lynda C. O'Connor

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Lakota Schools

O'Connor did not respond to WVXU's request for an interview.

She was first elected to the school board in 2008 and currently serves as its president and most veteran member.

At the Lakota candidates forum, O'Connor said her work on the board over the years has put the district in a good place financially and promised to provide "calm, measured" leadership if elected once again.

Julie Shaffer

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Julie Shaffer

Shaffer is another current board member. She says over the past two years, the board hasn't been as effective as it could be because productive conversations at meetings are too often derailed by political disputes between parents and board members.

She says the community wants the board to refocus on improving academic outcomes and believes she can help do that. Shaffer says even with the recent turbulence within the district, she wants to keep politics out of the school board and can keep the conversation focused on students. She says because of that, her campaign has received even more support this year than her previous run.

If re-elected, she says she'll work to move forward with a plan to improve school buildings to better accommodate the growing number of students in Lakota and prepare them for careers and academic opportunities after high school.

"We have aging facilities. We're running out of space as we continue to grow with more students. They're becoming more costly to operate," Shaffer said. "While it's an investment in the short-term, it's a significant operating savings in the backend."

Zack Carreon is Education reporter for WVXU, covering local school districts and higher education in the Tri-State area.