By LEE MURRAY
Tom Gunlock, appointed twice to the state school board by Republican governors, is the organization’s vice president and chair of two key committees, one of which oversees academic accountability for all schools.
Arguably one of the most influential on the board, he has been one of its representatives at hearings before the state legislature.
An education major in college, he is a champion of privately run, publicly funded charter schools, having served on the board of four in Dayton.
Business and politics for Gunlock are family affairs.
The family firm, RG Properties in Dayton, builds and manages commercial retail properties in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky.
In politics, the family has contributed about $335,000 to Republican campaigns since 2003. In 2010 alone, the family donated about $30,000 for Gov. John Kasich’s campaign, records show.
Gunlock was appointed to the state board the first time was in 2006 by former Republican Gov. Bob Taft to fill an unexpired term representing his area. However, voters months later elected Susan Haverkos instead.
Shortly after taking office in 2011, Kasich tapped him for another seat, this time for an appointed position that does not face voters, and now he is vice president.
Gunlock said his focus on the state board is to be a principal player in implementing the teacher evaluation system and to “change the accountability system to what (it is) currently.” He was chair of the state board committee that revamped school report cards earlier this year in an effort to make school performance easier to understand.
He said his passion for education comes from his concern for children, who need representation that equals that of their teachers and the unions representing them.
“You have 44 education groups in the state that all represent adults, but we have absolutely no organizations in this country, or in this state, that represent kids,” Gunlock said. “And by the time the kids figure out that the adults failed them, it’s too late and they can’t come back. And so, we have nobody going over to the general assembly and banging on the door to say, ‘Make sure I get an education.’ ”
Gunlock, 60, has a master’s degree in education from Ball State University in Indiana. He has played and coached college football and has volunteered as a firefighter and emergency medical technician.
He is an advocate of school choice and insists that quality schools come in all forms.
He was on the board of directors for Richard Allen Schools in Dayton from 2005-06. The privately run Richard Allen management organization operated four publicly funded schools at that time. During his tenure, the state auditor cited all four schools for failure to comply with regulations that they receive a federal non-profit status and failure to adequately monitor finances.
He said he didn’t recall the findings, but knew there were some after he resigned the charter school board to join the state board.
“I was just a board member. I mean we had a board meeting once a quarter or something and I listened to the financial statements and all the reports by all the professional educators like all the rest of the board members,” he said.
Like most who advocate for school choice, Gunlock said parental involvement is essential to success. He used himself as an example. When he was out of town on business, he said he called his son daily.
“I said, ‘How’d it go today?’ and ‘What did you do?’ – and, ‘It went fine Dad,’ was not an answer,” Gunlock said. “I wanted to know exactly what happened in school today…and finally he caught on that I thought it was important.”
Parents in urban schools should emphasize to their children the importance of education, he said.
“They need to guide their kids and put an emphasis on education because without an education today, you’re going to have a hard time producing or making enough money to provide for your family,” he said.
Gunlock emphasized the role of K-12 education is to make students employable and the role of college is to make them more marketable. Also, he said, financial literacy should be taught.
“It’s critical our kids understand that putting stuff on our credit card means they have to pay that back, and there’s no free ride in the world.”
Questions asked during an interview:
Q: What do you think is the mission of publicly funded education in Ohio?
A: To provide students with the best education possible so that when they do graduate from high school they have multiple choices. They can either go and do a career where they can make enough money to support their family, so they can have options throughout their life, or they can go to college and graduate with, and get a degree that is marketable with whatever jobs are available at that particular time.
Q: How is Ohio’s system of education is changing for the better?
A: K-3 literacy … we have 27,000 kids who leave the third grade who can’t read at the third-grade reading level. Over time, with interventions in kindergarten, first and second grade, we’ll reduce that number so the kids can have opportunities. It’s hard today to function in society if you can’t read. So, I’m adamant that kids, after they leave the third grade, are able to read at the third-grade level. Now, we will be able to see how kids are doing and provide them the intervention. I think that’s the key to it. We provide the interventions that kids need in order to be successful. The idea is that 100 percent of kids should be able to read at the end of third grade. Do I think we will ever get there? Probably not. But we have to make that our goal and we have to continue to strive for that goal. I’m a realist, too. That was one of the problems with No Child Left Behind – the idea that expecting 100 percent of kids to be proficient this year in reading and math was … it just couldn’t be done. But it was a great goal.
Q: In your estimation, how is Ohio doing in serving children who are attending private schools under the current voucher programs?
A: I would say maybe, fair. Again, I believe in school choice, but I also believe in the quality. It’s got to be quality choice. I believe that for the regular public schools as well. Sending kids to a poor performing community school doesn’t make any sense either, but again, that’s the parents’ obligation, to investigate the different schools … the regular public school that we’re all use to or a community school or a Catholic school or whether they’re going to be home-schooled – it’s got to be quality. It’s critically important that kids have the best chance at an education.
Q: What should be taught about climate change?
A. I think there are as many points for the emphasis that we’re having climate change as there are scientists out there that say we’re going through a trend that’s happened during other centuries. I read the different articles but I’ve never really formed an opinion because I can’t get two people to tell me the exact same thing. If someone could tell me that we created climate change because of the amount of coal or the industrial things we’re doing, then, fine, if someone could prove that, then fine. But, I can’t get enough people to say the same thing, scientifically … instead of, “Oh, in my opinion.”
Listen to what Thomas Gunlock has to say…
On Third Grade Reading Guarantee:
On important of financial literacy and history in the classroom:
On teaching religion in publicly funded schools:Ashley Morris contributed to this report.
TheNewsOutlet.org is a collaborative effort among the Youngstown State University journalism program, The University of Akron and professional media outlets including, WYSU-FM Radio and The Vindicator (Youngstown), the Akron Beacon Journal and Rubber City Radio (Akron).