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Tuesday, March 21, 2017 7:56 pm

Interviews begin to fill soon-vacant FWCS seat

Ashley Sloboda | The Journal Gazette

The Fort Wayne Community Schools board – which last week narrowed a pool of nearly two dozen applicants to six – spent about 90 minutes Monday interviewing five finalists for Mark GiaQuinta’s at-large seat.

A sixth candidate, Maria Norman, couldn’t attend. She will be interviewed March 30.

GiaQuinta, who spent most of his tenure as president, is resigning from the board effective April 1. His term expires at the end of 2018.

He did not participate in the interviews.

Facing the board separately, the finalists – Tiffany Yoquelet, Brian Stouder, Christopher Nusbaum, Austin Knox and John Guingrich – each made an opening statement before questioning began.

Board President Julie Hollingsworth asked them the same set of questions, which addressed the board’s and superintendent’s roles; charter and voucher schools; and what FWCS has done well, what it has done poorly and what challenges it faces.

Yoquelet, a mother of two who works at 3Rivers Federal Credit Union, has also taught classes for Junior Achievement and participated in principal for a day at Price Elementary School, she said.

She commended FWCS for its Project Lead the Way programs, its Career Academy at Anthis and its graduation rate but said the district could expand its dual-credit offerings. That would benefit students, like her daughter, who want the higher level of learning, she said.

Stouder, a longtime Murray Equipment employee, described himself as a "plugged-in parent" and regular board meeting attendee. Offering more compliments than criticisms, he said he likes that FWCS is flexible and looks "two moves ahead."

Board member Jordan Lebamoff was concerned that Stouder’s work schedule might prevent him from attending midday work sessions.

"That’s where the real magic happens," Lebamoff said.

Nusbaum is a South Side High School graduate who works at the law firm Dale, Huffman & Babcock.

He said FWCS excels in putting students’ needs first, but it can improve its communication with the community, specifically about how it serves every child who comes to its doors. FWCS faces some challenges because of that, he said.

Board member Steve Corona, who has said he wants to add youth to the graying board, didn’t broach the subject of age until Knox’s turn.

The 25-year-old is the son of two FWCS educators and is the director of support services at the Wayne Township Trustee’s Office. And, as Corona pointed out, he’s black.

"We have no black people on this board," Corona said.

"Yes, I noticed," Knox said.

When answering what FWCS does poorly, Knox said a disproportionate number of students of color face referrals, a form of disciplinary action. He agreed with board member Glenna Jehl that students must accept responsibility for their actions but said they are only kids.

"We can’t put them on a back burner right away," Knox said.

Guingrich, director of programs and services at The League, an agency for people with disabilities, said he considered joining the board about 15 to 18 years ago, but a mentor told him he wasn’t ready. Now he is, the 1987 Northrop High School grad said.

He understands the issues schools face, including class size, bullying, student attitude and behavior and funding, especially for students with disabilities, he said.

While he may make decisions quickly, he said, he will never make one in haste.

"I’m the guy that wants to make a difference," Guingrich said.

Stouder, Nusbaum, Knox and Guingrich said they would run for election in 2018 should they be appointed to the remainder of Gia­Quinta’s term. Yoquelet said she would after ensuring she is a good fit for the board, and the board is a good fit for her.

The board plans to select the board member April 17.

asloboda@jg.net