5 running for Howland school board

HOWLAND — Five candidates are seeking to fill three seats on the Howland Board of Education.

Incumbents Julie Altawil and Kenneth Jones are being challenged by Mary Brown, Lynn Johnson VanDervort and Wendy Miller.

Member Brian Burkey is leaving the board and is running for township trustee.


Altawil, 45, who has served on the board since 2017, said she believes “the board of education is the eyes and ears of any community” as well as the liaison between the community and the school district administration.

“Over the past four years, I believe I have made it very clear that, first and foremost, I am an advocate for all children. I have made it my priority to continually research and educate myself in every capacity that would allow me to serve this community with knowledge, critical thinking, practicality, fairness and compassion,” she said.

Altawil said she will focus on being a good steward of the district’s finances while researching and bringing forth various solutions to issues and concerns that the school district has encountered.

“Thinking strategically, utilizing analytical skills and creative problem-solving will remain at the top of the list of my strengths as a board member,” she said.

Altawil said she will focus on communication and transparency within the district and it is imperative for a board of education member to be present in every capacity when they commit to serving their school and community.

She said even during the pandemic, she will be supportive and be present at many community and school events, as well as managing its social media page.

Altawil said she will continue to be an active member of the Ohio School Boards Association. She said it is imperative to prioritize working cohesively with the administration in order to continue making improvements in the district.


Brown, who grew up in Howland, said because she is retired, she will be able to focus on and put in the time as a board member.

“I want to give back to the community. I have been in the community for quite awhile. I will work as a team member on the board. Being the best team member I can be and working with the other board members and school administration is so important,” Brown said.

She said her management background in nursing home administration, in the health care field, as a project manager in Ashtabula and as a substitute teacher provides her experience and knowledge of serving the public and the schools.

“Because I am retired I will be available full-time and can be involved with the needs of the schools,” Brown said.

Brown said she wants to work for the children and make sure special-learning programs are made available to the students.

“It is so important to be an advocate for the students. Anyone in public office in the schools needs to listen to the parents’ concerns and focus on addressing them,” she said.


Jones, 53, a current board member serving from 2011 to the present, said one of his objectives is to provide “an excellent education” for all students. He said providing education to a diverse group of students will always be a challenge. He said during his time on the board, the schools now offer all-day kindergarten and grade-specific buildings.

“By changing our grading scheme, the number of students in AP and honors classes has doubled, thus moving Howland into the Top 100 academic school districts in the state. The next step is to fully implement a STEM program and a robotics program at the high school level,” Jones said.

Jones said he will focus on running a fiscally responsible school district while exploring alternative revenue streams. He said the schools have received support from voters who passed a levy.

The schools have created the PAWS program that gives the community the ability to donate to projects at the school. Through programs such as this, Howland has built an all-sports field, which the whole community utilizes. The district also has added video boards at the field and gym, all funded by marketing dollars. Also these boards provide an alternative revenue stream with ads. Most recently the PAWS program is building new tennis courts.

Jones said he will focus on expanding the educational process, noting during tough economic times, Howland schools has realigned the elementary schools, joined with Trumbull Career and Technical Center and added all-day kindergarten. The schools have become fully inclusive for students with special needs and expanded resource rooms at the high school. This year, Howland opened its own preschool program at Howland Springs.

Jones said a goal is to continue to update the five-year plan with input from administration, staff and community members.

He said he and his wife co-founded and run the Down Syndrome Association of the Valley, which Jones said gives him a unique insight to educating of children of all abilities.


Miller, 53, said her overall goal is to put students first.

She said her three main priorities are strengthening partnerships between the school district and community, maintaining an equitable education in a safe environment for all students attending Howland and monitoring district fiscal policies with the goal of maintaining the level of excellence in education.

Miller said she is for partnerships among district employees, board members, parents, local government, private business and other stakeholders, including fundraising, parental involvement in their child’s education and strengthening relationships with local officials.

She is striving to maintain equal access for students of all incomes. Miller said examples include access to internet at home, making sure students are safe in the classroom, highlighting alternatives to traditional college-track courses and offering nutrition assistance where indicated.

Miller said she would take a proactive approach to securing and maintaining funds. Developing expertise in public school funding including reading and analyzing forecasts.


VanDervort, 47, a pediatrician who received her education from the University of Cincinnati and Albion College, said she will focus on such priorities as keeping children safe in the schools during the pandemic while maintaining quality education.

“As a pediatrician in our community, I feel I have a unique perspective to keep our students safe and healthy in all areas,” she said.

VanDervort said it is important to increase resources to students to help with the mental health crisis that has escalated since the coronavirus pandemic began.

VanDervort said she also will address increasing open lines of communication between the administration and parents.

She has been active with the schools, serving as a coach for the Destination Imagination teams on which hers and other children participate.

VanDervort was raised in the Mahoning Valley and has lived in Howland for the past 18 years, and said she has three children in Howland schools.

“As my own children have matriculated through Howland schools, I have become very familiar with each school building, teachers, and administration. My success as a business owner shows that I can be trusted to make wise financial decisions for Howland schools. My passion for the health of all children extends to all students,” she said.


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