Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Meet the Candidates Night — Local 470 and MVEA

The following is the full video from the October 27, 2009 "Meet the Candidates Night"—a forum featuring candidates for the Mount Vernon School Board. (Length is one hour and 15 minutes.)

The video is hosted on and requires download of their player to view it in its entirety. (Please note: I cannot control the content of any ads they place in the video or other content on

Candidates in attendance: Paula Barone, Steve Hughes, Robert Kirk, Steve Thompson and Ian Watson.

The event was organized by the Mount Vernon City Schools Local 470 and MVEA.

Watch Meet the Candidates Night Local 470 and MVEA in News  |  View More Free Videos Online at

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Unanswered Questions—Paula Barone and Personnel Policy

Paula Barone’s son Joseph testified at the John Freshwater hearing—in the spring of 2002 he said he informed his parents of concerns he had with his eighth-grade science class taught by Freshwater. His parents did nothing until the teacher made the news in the spring of 2008.

Joseph Barone, a student at Ohio State University, testified that he received a phone call from his dad asking about notes taken in Freshwater’s class. “I told him I think [the notes are] in a box in the basement,” Barone said. “He went through and said, I found some stuff.”

Those notes were later given by his mother to investigators. Thomas Herlevi, co-owner of H.R. On Call, spent 15 to 30 minutes interviewing her. (Joseph Barone was not interviewed by HROC—possibly due to his being away at college at the time.)

(Paula Barone, at right, listens to questions at “Meet the Candidates Night.”)

Paula Barone, who is running for the Mount Vernon Board of Education, declined to comment on her involvement with the investigation of Freshwater. She also declined to explain her views on personnel policy—specifically, the following questions:

Do you think teachers should be given performance evaluations?

If a teacher falls short of expectations, should that teacher be given instruction and opportunity to measure up?

Regarding complaints made against a teacher: What is your position on the appropriateness of using previously unreported complaints, from prior school years, as a means to support a complaint from the most recent school year?

The questions have been left unanswered by Barone—but her involvement in the HROC investigation may reflect a portion of her views on personnel policy.

On her campaign website, Barone, who is a retired teacher, does not articulate any concerns she has with how the school system currently treats personnel. She does make a broad statement in regards to upholding the law:

“I will promote implementation of best practices, and insist upon compliance with applicable state and federal laws in every Mount Vernon classroom, administrative office and support service”

Testimony of Joseph Barone

The school’s attorney, David Millstone, primarily focused on student witnesses that were not from Freshwater’s most recent class. (The HROC investigation itself did interview a few current students.) Student witnesses called by Millstone during the 2008/2009 school year: Zachary Dennis (recent student), Simon Souhrada (high school jr.), James Hoeffgen (high school sr.), Katie Button (college) and Joseph Barone (college).

After seven years Barone still had handouts from Freshwater’s class—he stated that he was pretty sure Freshwater allowed students to take the handouts home. Two of his fill-in-the-blank worksheets were on the topic of evolution. The papers, which discussed obstacles on the evolutionary path of a couple animals, ended with the phrase “Is there an I.D. involved?”

Referencing a page of his notes from class, Barone said that three theories about the development of species were discussed “probably from a lecture or a transparency.” He said that they were “Darwin, natural selection, Wallace, and intelligent design.”

After “intelligent design,” in Barone’s class notes, was the phrase “strictly religious.” The statement may have been made by Freshwater. “I would think that it was probably something that he said, but not necessarily with regards to it being invalid,” Barone said.

The topic of evolution wasn’t covered until near the end of the year. Barone said that Freshwater allowed the class to debate the topic—leading to some heated discussions. “I felt that [the students] said some things about my beliefs that were persecution in nature and that they weren't really mediated very well by our teacher,” Barone said.

Barone acknowledged that Freshwater never made any statements that were denigrating to him or his religion. Despite being offended by the statements of his classmates, Barone never talked with Freshwater about the problem. His parents also did nothing about the alleged problem in the classroom (from hearing transcript):

Q. “Could you have gone and talked to your mom about your concerns?”

A. “I did talk to my parents about my concerns when I got home at dinner.”


Q. “Ultimately, your mom nor dad did anything during that school year, correct?”
A. “Not that school year.”

Q. “They file any complaints on your behalf?”

A. “No, they did not.”

Barone gave several reasons for why he did not talk to his teacher about the problems in the classroom: Occasional negative comments were a part of going to school and interacting with his friends. He felt embarrassed going to someone with the problem. And he thought it wouldn’t do any good to talk with Freshwater—he thought he understood what his teacher’s views were and that they were too different from his own.

“Maybe he wasn’t aware of how out of control it was, but in my opinion, it was pretty out of control,” Barone said.

Although Barone described that year as being hard, he also said that it was a good year. “I loved my eighth grade year,” Barone said. “I was always looking forward to having Mr. Freshwater as a teacher. He had a great reputation as the kind of teacher you could feel comfortable with and friendly with. I still -- I maintain that friendship.”

Barone said that he probably received an “A” in Freshwater’s class.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Tesla Coil Matter Was Officially Resolved January 2008

The claim that John Freshwater “branded” a cross onto the arm of a student was item number one of the June 20, 2008 resolution of the Mount Vernon Board of Education. Problem is the school had already signed off on the matter in January of that year.

It wasn’t until after Freshwater refused to remove a Bible off his desk that the allegation was resurrected.

The allegation of the burn has yet to be collaborated, during the administrative hearing, by any source outside of the Dennis family. Freshwater denies that anyone was burned in the classroom demonstration. Other teachers at the school also allowed students to touch the spark from the Tesla coil, including: Steven Farmer, Donald Newcomer and Lori Miller.

The letter to Freshwater setting the matter to rest was signed by Principal William White and Assistant Principal Brad Ritchey. “Subject to follow through on the above issues and no further incidences whereas anyone is being shocked with the machines this letter will not become part of your permanent record,” the letter states. (Click here to view copy of letter.)

White testified at Freshwater’s administrative hearing that the language of the letter, referenced above, was included at the direction of Steve Short, who at the time was interim superintendent.

Jennifer Dennis—mother of the student allegedly burned—testified that she spoke with Short about the incident and told him she did not want to see Freshwater fired over this. “I just felt this was not a good situation, and I was concerned,” Dennis said.

The allegation, although already resolved, was included in the report by H.R. On Call and was included in a lawsuit filed by the Dennis family against Freshwater and the school.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Meet the Candidates Tuesday (October 27)

The third opportunity to meet the candidates for the Mount Vernon Board of Education will be held on October 27 at the Mount Vernon Middle School. The following announcement is from the Mount Vernon News:

“Mount Vernon City Schools Local 470 and MVEA have invited the candidates for the Mount Vernon City School Board to participate in a meet the candidates night on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. in the Mount Vernon Middle School commons. Candidates will be given an opportunity to give a brief introduction; each candidate will then be asked a series of questions from the classified staff and the teaching staff. There will be no questions from the audience, but anyone is welcome.”

Monday, October 19, 2009

Clear Policy & Performance Review System Needed – School Board Candidate Steve Thompson

The following article is based on an interview with Steve Thompson conducted on 9/26/09.

Steve Thompson cited mismanagement as the underlying cause of the current legal mess in the Mount Vernon City School District. Thompson, who is Vice President of Supply Chain at Ariel, said that if elected to the school board he would bring a valuable business perspective.

Proper management is essential to insure that teachers are afforded their due process rights, according to Thompson. “In any performance management system you have steps,” Thompson said. “What if you had an employee who received ‘meets or exceeds’ expectations, time in time out, every single evaluation, and then all of a sudden there is a movement to terminate them? Something is wrong in that system for that to happen.”

(Steve Thompson at “Meet the Candidates Night” asks how many people read the back page of the Mount Vernon City Schools calendar and saw the projected $3 million deficit for 2008-2009.)

It isn’t enough, Thompson said, to simply get rid of the John Freshwater matter—the underlying problems will cause another personnel matter to occur. He gave the Al Haschak situation as another example of excessive cost to the tax payers. The $500,000 plus spent on these matters could have gone towards improved services to the students or a reduction of the $3 million deficit for the 2008-2009 school year.

Thompsons said that the school system could take action on personnel matters with confidence if it first clearly communicates expectations, documents when someone falls short and then gives opportunity for measuring up to the goals. “When somebody falls short you put them on a plan to restore them to the job, and you give them certain steps to get there [by a defined time],” Thompson said.

The confusion among teachers, over what they can and can’t do, stems from inconsistencies in administration. “I want to see that [Superintendent] Steve Short has something in place,” Thompson said, “that ensures, from building to building, everyone of those principals knows how to effectively do performance management systems and I want to know that they are then talking to each other and that there is some mechanism for comparison so that one principal is not out of line with the others.”

Another source of confusion is the August 18, 2009 “Religion In The Public Schools” training given to teaching staff. Thompson said he had reviewed portions of the slides used for the presentation. “Those slides are part of the confusion that I’ve talked about, because there are people within that school system today that do not understand those slides,” Thompson said. “Those slides do not match the handouts that they gave the teachers.”

“I […] have a feeling that there is fear in our school system, fear in our administration,” Thompson said. “And probably some over-reactiveness and that over-reactiveness is borderline on infringing on peoples’ rights.”

Thompson said he did not want to comment directly on the content of the slides. “I want to know more when I’m elected and am on that board, what was intended by those slides,” Thompson said.

Thompson’s son, Andrew, is a teacher at the middle school and testified in the ongoing employment hearing for Freshwater. During that testimony, Andrew Thompson expressed concern about what he described as a “slippery slope”—teachers losing their sense of being free to be creative and effective in their teaching over concerns that someone might complain over the smallest thing.

Steve Thompson said that the issue of teacher moral cannot be dealt with by the board members getting involved in the day-to-day operations of the school system. “The board is a policy making body and members are the chief advisors to the superintendent on community attitudes,” Thompson said, reading from a document created by the Ohio School Boards Association. “Board members do not manage the day-to-day operations of the school district; they see to it that the system is managed by professionals.” He said that if the system is consistent it will help create a positive work environment.

Resolving the ongoing controversy at the middle school begins with the people involved learning all of the facts. “The only way you can possibly come up with something positive is to bring people together and sit them around and put all the facts on the table,” Thompson said. “You can’t do it when you isolate yourself on little islands. And that’s where we are, we have several little islands all around this issue.”

Settling a score for Freshwater, however, is not why Thompson said he was running. “I want to make sure,” Thompson said, “my fifteen year old daughter has the same educational opportunities and feels the same freedoms of being in a public classroom as what her older brother and two sisters did. That motivates me. And I want to make sure that my son, who is a teacher, and the rest of the teachers in the school system know exactly what is expected of them and can perform their job and moral is up and they are equipped with what they need and that at the end of the day the customers are duly served—the kids of this community.”

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Meet the Candidates Night — Knox County Ohio 912 Project

The following is the full video from the October 13, 2009 "Meet the Candidates Night"—a forum featuring candidates for the Mount Vernon School Board. (Length is one hour and 54 minutes.)

The video is hosted on and requires download of their player to view it in its entirety. (Please note: I cannot control the content of any ads they place in the video or other content on

Candidates in attendance: Paula Barone, Steve Hughes, Robert Kirk and Steve Thompson.

The event was organized by The Knox County Ohio 912 Project.

Related video: October 8, 2009 “Mount Vernon Schools Going Forward.”

Watch Meet the Candidates Night (School Board) Knox County Ohio 912 Project in News View More Free Videos Online at

Paula Barone Video – August 4, 2008 Mount Vernon School Board

I’ve uploaded the video of Paula Barone from when she spoke at the August 4, 2008 school board meeting.

I had originally left her comments off YouTube due to a portion of her comments being retracted—but since she is now a candidate for the board her comments are of more importance than they might have seemed last summer.


A person on, identify himself as Sam Barone, posted the following comment about the video:

“Thank you, mountvernon1805, for recovering Paula's comments from that meeting. I was never prouder of my wife than I was that evening as she so articulately stated the case for religion-neutral classrooms in our public schools.

“I was, of course, disappointed that I had misidentified Mr. XXXX (I don't want to unfairly name him again) to her as the individual who had approached me at the previous board meeting. But as you noted, I immediately rose to apologize to Paula, and to Mr. XXXXX, for MY mistaking his identity. Ironically, the Minuteman member who had made the comments to me WAS in the audience that night, but made no attempt to take ownership of them. I thought that particularly cowardly on his part.

“Nevertheless, thank you again mountvernon 1805 for making available to everyone Paula's comments from that evening. I believe hearing them (despite MY regretable error) will help Mount Vernon School District voters understand why the school board needs someone of her integrity, clear thinking and, above all, respect for all Mount Vernon students.”

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Mount Vernon Schools Going Forward – School Board Candidate Forum

The following is the full video from the October 8, 2009 “Mount Vernon Schools Going Forward”—a forum featuring candidates for the Mount Vernon School Board. (Length is one hour and 48 minutes.)

The video is hosted on and requires download of their player to view it in its entirety. (Please note: I cannot control the content of any ads they place in the video or other content on

Candidates in attendance: Paula Barone, Steve Hughes, Robert Kirk and Ian Watson. Opening remarks on behalf of Steve Thompson delivered by David Stuller.

Watch Mount Vernon Schools Going Forward in News View More Free Videos Online at

The Knox County Ohio 912 Project has announced that they are organizing a second forum, scheduled to take place on Tuesday October 13 at 7:00 p.m.

The location is the Memorial Theater 112 E. High Street Mount Vernon, Ohio.

They are charging one dollar per adult. According to an automated phone call promoting the event, the money raised will be given to Interchurch Social Services. The message also stated that the public will be given a chance to ask the candidates questions.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

School Board Candidate Forum Thursday (October 8)

The Knox County Democratic Women website posted the following announcement concerning a chance to hear from the Mount Vernon City Schools Board of Education candidates:

"School Board Candidates to Discuss Future of Mount Vernon Schools

"7pm, Thursday, October 8

"'Mount Vernon Schools Going Forward,' a forum featuring candidates for the Mount Vernon School Board, will be held at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, October 8, in the Educational Service Center on Martinsburg Road in Mount Vernon.

"Candidates Paula Barone, Steve Hughes, Robert Kirk and Ian Watson will discuss their qualifications and respond to predetermined questions from moderator Dr. Peggy Dunn. The questions fall into the broad categories of curriculum and finance.

"This event is organized by the Knox County Democratic Women as a community service (school board positions are non-partisan) and the general public is encouraged to attend. Candidates will not be asked any questions related to legal matters that are now before the board."