Ohio school board member resigns over colleagues’ fealty to administrators; experts say it’s a nationwide problem 

A Ohio school board member has resigned out of frustration with the district’s policies and curriculum – as well as with her colleagues’ apparent unwillingness to stand up to them.


A Ohio school board member has resigned out of frustration with the district’s policies and curriculum – as well as with her colleagues’ apparent unwillingness to stand up to them.

Experts say such frustrations are all-too-frequent among school board members seeking public accountability from their districts.

Michelle Berry submitted her written resignation to the Lebanon Board of Education on May 15, which the board accepted on Monday, effective immediately. In her resignation letter, Berry pointed to Superintendent Isaac Seevers and fellow board members as key reasons for her departure, according to the Dayton Daily News.  

“It has become clear that the current board has minimal interest in actually doing the work of overseeing the district,” Berry wrote. “I have spoken individually with members about including work sessions between voting meetings to establish a time for communication and forward thinking action. 

“I have also suggested establishing committees to review curriculum and policy.”  

But Berry met with opposition from the board members. 

“The other members have clearly communicated to me that they either have no time or feel there is no need for these changes because they trust the administration,” she continued. “They see the function of policy writing as being outsourced and done by ‘legal.’ 

“This mindset results in policies that are adopted without regard to our community.”   

Berry also criticized the board’s approval of $10,000 for the Woven Traditions curriculum without a thorough review. She argued the material is heavily infused with race consciousness and social justice across all subjects and grade levels. 

Up against ‘massive resistance’ 

Berry’s exasperation with what she says are her overly deferential and hidebound school board colleagues is sadly a common tale. 

“Yeah, it definitely is,” says David Hoyt, executive director of School Boards for Academic Excellence (SBAE), a mushrooming nationwide network of organizations helping school board members do their job of improving student achievement – often against the tide of the bureaucracy.   

“A lot of school board members, especially on the side of the aisle that is trying to make real reform and make things better, come in with the right ideas and they run up against massive resistance. And that might come in the form of the superintendent, it might be the district’s attorney – and of course, their fellow school board members; there’s rarely 100% consensus on issues that divide Americans, and school boards are no different.” 

SBAE, Hoyt tells The Lion, is a resource for any school board member in the U.S. who wants to be more effective, particularly in seeking change. 

“We come at it from a reform-minded perspective. So, a board member who thinks the status quo in education is working likely isn’t going to find a lot of common cause with our issues. But absolutely we are nonpartisan and open to working with anybody who wants to do the right thing.” 

SBAE and its partner organizations across the country are available for individual inquiries, while also staging regional and online events to train and embolden school board members. SBAE alone is holding events in July in Washington, D.C., and in Phoenix in August. But SBAE also can help board members find state or regional events near them. 

He calls SBAE “a good conduit for any school board members who are interested in talking through and thinking through strategies on these things.” 

Board members afraid to reach out 

Ward Cassidy, executive director of the Kansas School Board Resource Center, an SBAE network partner, agrees that it’s too common for elected board members to be cowed by administrators. He said a great number of districts have policies that even forbid school board members from communicating with teachers or students. 

“What a frustrating thing that becomes for a board member,” Cassidy tells The Lion, “when you know you’re elected by your constituents and you want to visit with teachers and you want to visit with other administrators to get information.” 

Board members can even be afraid to communicate with organizations such as KSBRC or SBAE, Cassidy notes. 

“I will get a phone call and they’ll say, ‘Now, my superintendent won’t know that I’ve called you, will he?’ And my answer to that is always: you’ve got a problem. If your administrator doesn’t want you talking to us or you’re afraid to reach out, it’s pretty difficult to be a very effective school board member. 

“If your superintendent bristles every time you have to ask a question, you’ve got some work to do.” 

What can school board members such as Berry do to inspire their board colleagues to assert themselves as the elected officials they are? 

“One solution is just better transparency of what is in those curricula,” Hoyt says. “There are a lot of things that I think are rightly called ‘woke,’ although that term has fallen out of favor in a lot of circles. Regardless, I would call them ideologically biased and politically radical.  

“So, one of the things that school board members can do is pass policies to require transparency of curriculum. And then they can also communicate with parents about what they find to be problematic in them.  

“They can also have curriculum reviews or audits done by an outside curriculum expert, and then they can point out the specific things that need to change to move things in the right direction.” 

Build board relationships first 

From an individual board member’s perspective, he says, “I think the most important thing is to build coalitions with your fellow board members first – have really strong relationships with them around easy issues. Don’t go after the most controversial thing first, even though it’s tempting and important to tackle those issues. 

“Build consensus around [such things as] academic goal-setting or curriculum transparency. Those are the kinds of things that most of your board members should be on board with. Build coalitions around that, and then you can use those relationships to tackle thornier issues in the future.” 

There also needs to be a change in the national conversation about education, he argues. 

“For decades, I think Americans have been content to move to school districts out in the suburbs where there are high-performing schools, and assume that that’s going to solve all of these kinds of problems. But these problems with curriculum extend out into conservative areas and suburbs, where you would think there’d be more consensus around these issues.  

“So, unfortunately it’s going to be incumbent upon parents to pay a lot more attention to what their kids are being taught.” 

Unfortunately, we’ll never know whether the help of SBAE or its state-based partners might have saved Michelle Berry’s school board career. 

“I’m disappointed (to resign),” she concluded. “I have a lot of heart for the kids and teachers in the system. I wanted to help the district be the best it could be. However, I felt that I wasn’t accepted as part of the team.” 

Berry was elected to her first four-year term as a Lebanon school board member only last November. The board now has until June 20 to fill her vacant seat. 

(Executive Editor Michael Ryan contributed to this report.)