Favors partnerships with businesses, community, parents
By KAREN BELL
The newest member of the Ohio State Board of Education views a successful education system as one that has partnerships with businesses, the community and parents.
“I think part of what will make a school (successful) – at the district level or the building level – is going to be student-focused teachers and building principals, engaged parents and an engaged community, whether it’s the business sector or just the community at large, said Rebecca Vazquez-Skillings.
Vazquez-Skillings of Westerville was appointed early this year by Gov. John Kasich to fill a vacant at-large seat on the state school board. She is the chief business and financial officer at Otterbein University.
Previously, she worked as the assistant vice president for budget planning and analysis at Ohio University and as chief for education at the Ohio Office of Budget and Management. She is a board member for Westerville Area Chamber of Commerce and a graduate of Kenyon College, with a bachelor’s degree in international studies, and The Ohio State University, with a master’s degree in public policy and administration.
Vazquez-Skillings said her employment and education background are an ideal fit for the state school board.
“I would say my mission aligns with the organization’s mission and I’m able to stay at the big-picture level. I’m a macro thinker, but I’m also I a bridge builder – trying to help folks understand certain various perspectives and points of views,” she said.
She sees bridges extending from the education sector to the business and community sectors.
“I also serve on the Westerville Area Chamber of Commerce, so some of the bridges we are trying to build here locally are between higher education and K-12, and then looking to work with business partners (looking) outside of the education sector for opportunities to build,” said Vazquez-Skillings.
While she has a degree in public policy and is a registered Democrat, Vazquez-Skillings doesn’t see herself as politically motivated.
“I don’t have a tendency to over-politicize topics,” she said.
Her voting record shows no allegiance to a particular party.
While living in Franklin County, she was registered as a Republican. After moving she moved to Delaware County, she registered as a Democrat.
While she doesn’t like to politicize education, politics does play a part in the education board’s structure, with eight of its 16 members appointed by Gov. Kasich, a Repubican. The governor also will fill three board vacancies: One at-large seat and two elected seats, District 3 and District 5. Being apolitical on a board weighted primarily with Republicans might prove difficult.
Also, ethics questions have been raised about board members voting on issues that impact their jobs.
In December, Bryan C. Williams of Fairlawn resigned from his District 5 seat after an Akron Beacon Journal/News Outlet series profiling members of the Ohio Board of Education. Williams is a lobbyist for the Associated Builders and Contractors of Ohio. While on the school board, he lobbied the legislature, several state agencies and the governor’s office on issues that affect school funding and school regulation to benefit his non-union contractors group. Williams resigned because law prohibits elected officials from also working as lobbyists.
An ethics complaint has also been lodged against C. Todd Jones of New Albany, an at-large member of the board. The complaint, filed with the attorney general’s offices, alleges that Jones’ job lobbying for private colleges is in conflict with his duties on the board. Jones is president of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Ohio. Mark A. Smith, another at-large board member, is president of Ohio Christian University, which is one of the colleges represented by Jones’ lobbying firm.
During a board meeting this year, Jones told the members that others on the board also face this ethics issue. He specifically mentioned the newest board member, Vazquez-Skillings.
“I want you to understand that, in reality, this is not something merely for me and Mr. Smith. In fact, if you are – under Ohio Ethics Laws and Conflict of Interest Laws there actually are a third of our board members right now may be conflicted on this. Certainly our newest member (Vazquez-Skillings), who is employed by a college or university,” Jones told the assembled board.
Vazquez-Skillings was wary when asked about her thoughts on board members having a financial interest in decisions made by the board about such topics as dual enrollment, post-secondary options and charter schools.
“I guess you might say this is one of my strengths or one of my failings back to being sort of big picture. I like to make sure I understand the context and I feel like that’s a precise question. And I don’t feel like I have enough background or context for that question to really respond appropriately,” she said.
“I want to investigate that question a little bit more. I’m a trained analyst, so that’s also part of my background. I would hope that I would have the background information to you sooner than I would have more of the context for that specific matter.”
However, she did answer questions on other hot-button issues, including climate change.
“In second grade, my daughter started to learn about climate. I don’t know that climate change has to be politicized,” she said. “It’s cold outside right now. Can we agree that it’s 10 degrees? I don’t know why that discussion necessarily needs to be politicized?”
Vazquez-Skillings also gave her stance on other controversial subjects taught in publicly funded schools: human sexuality, government and history.
“I would like them to stick to the science of things. You know they’re going to learn about it, but I think it’s similar to discussion of specific religious worldviews. Being able to have those discussions absent judgments,” she said. “I personally believe that the conversation should probably start at home and then maybe the discussion at school is what’s supplemental rather than the other way around.”
Education on government should extend beyond the United States, said Vazquez-Skillings.
“Certainly, the basics about government – what happens with the three branches? History about government, not just U.S. government, but comparative governments, understanding what the government and the political process is like in England versus in Germany.”
Unlike some of her fellow state board members, she is a supporter of Common Core, a new system of standards.
“Talking as a parent, I think the idea that we start to get to some common standards is a good one,” she said.
“When my daughter was in math class and there was this skill – new math methodology. My first response was, ‘Couldn’t they teach her a more efficient way to do this particular problem.’ The teacher sat down with the parents and (explained) the goals of the methodologies. Then I understood … with this kind of foundation (her daughter) will not only be able to answer standard problems, she’ll be able to problem solve.”
She suggests community members can get involved with education by mentoring. She’s had first-hand experience with this.
“My mother did work. My father passed away when I was very young. While I was in high school, I had a mentor. I can think back to that experience and how it’s built me today. “In terms of helping me understanding different career options, etc., (mentoring) was good.”
She said the Ohio system of education is changing for the better.
“Particularly recently, (the state is) trying to identify initiatives that might be a little bit out of the box that might help school districts to be more effective and trying to spur the school districts to think a little bit out of the box – to start thinking more about partnerships.”
Vazquez-Skillings said education is the game-changer in the future of children, especially those from poorer areas. While she has worked in education since 2000, she is sees it from a different perspective now that her 8-year-old daughter in third grade.
“I just saw it as an opportunity to get engaged – I should say re-engaged with K-12 policy. I used to work at the Office of Budget Management, working with both K-12 and higher education, so K-12 and higher education in general is a sort of personal passion for me,” she said.
While she chose to send her daughter to public school, she said that option might not be the best fit for every student.
“Whether it’s traditional public school, charter school or homeschooling, it’s about trying to meet the needs of your child,” said Vazquez-Skillings. “I really do think that it depends on the bent of your student.”
When it comes to rating the difference schooling choices – traditional, charter, public or homeschooling – she said, “No one is inherently stronger than the other.”
Information on Rebecca D. Vazquez-Skillings
Name: Rebecca D. Vazquez-Skillings
Appointed, at large: Feb. 7. Term ends Dec. 31, 2016.
Political party affiliation: Democrat
Married: Mark C. Skillings
Children: Daughter, 8
Occupation: Vice president for business affairs at Otterbein University
Education: 1989 graduate, Beachwood High School graduate. In 1993, she earned a bachelor’s degree in International Studies – Latin American Political History from Kenyon College. In 1996, she earned a master’s degree in public policy and administration from The Ohio State University.
Previous occupations: 2007 to 2010, assistant vice president for Budget Planning and Analysis at Ohio University; 1998-2007, serving as chief of education (K-12 and higher education), budget management analyst for higher education and budget/management analyst for school facilities and administrative services at the Ohio Office of Budget and Management; 1996-1998, assistant for criminal justice and environmental regulation, Office of the Governor Governor’s Office; and fiscal specialist in the budget office of the Ohio Department of Human Resources.
Other boards, affiliations:
Member: National Association for College and University Business Officers, the Central Association of College and University Business Officer, Westerville City School District Audit Committee, Uptown Westerville Planning Committee, Society for College and University Planners and Rural Action Inc.
Institutional member: Education Advisory Board.
Past member: National Association of State Budget Officers. Board member: Westerville Area Chamber of Commerce, serving on its government-relations committee; and Rural Action in Appalachian Ohio
Phone: (614) 259-3815
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