Three seats open on Fairlawn BOE

By Melanie Speicher -






SIDNEY — Four candidates are seeking three board of education seats for the Fairlawn Local School District.

Running in Tuesday’s election are incumbents Andrew Brautigam, 44. 6640 Pasco Montra Road, Sidney, and Rita Gilfillen, 20900 State Route 706, Sidney, along with newcomers Hope Abke, 43, 8525 Johnston Slagle Road, Sidney, and Shelly Ginter, 49, 9741 Baker Road, Maplewood. Incumbent board member Anthony Bensman opted not to seek re-election.

Abke is the inventory manager for ITW Food Equipment Group. She and her husband, Chris, have been married for 16 years. They have two children, Jessie and Maddox.

Brautigam, who is the CFO, controller at Baumfolder Corp., has been on the Fairlawn Board of Education for 16 years. He and his wife, Angela, have three children, Drew, Aaron and Belle.

Gilfillen is a retired middle school science teacher from Fairlawn Local Schools. She was a teacher for 35 years. She has served on the board of education and on numerous BOE committees. She is the mother of four children who graduated from Fairlawn Local Schools. She has nine grandchildren currently attending the school district.

Ginter is the office manager and owner of United Tool & Machine Inc. She had her husband of 38 years, Gary Ginter, are the parents of three children, Darian, 24, Garrick, 21, and Kylee, 15.

Each candidate was asked to answer the following questions.

What are the primary issues in your school district?

Abke: ” Reinforcing Fairlawn’s commitment to academic excellence, by meeting the individual educational needs of all children is extremely important. My top priority is ensuring that we provide children in the Fairlawn School District with the best education, while also being mindful of making financially responsible decisions with taxpayer money.”

Brautigam: “Increasing the academic standards and providing a well-rounded educational experience for kids. I would like to have more work study programs to get kids real life work experience before they graduate so they are better prepared for secondary education or work life.”

Gilfillen: “Finances may become an issue with a decrease in funding. Keeping an open forum between parents, students and coaches in athletics. Improving state report card grade.”

Ginter: “This is a matter of opinion, and depending on who you ask you’ll get a different answer. From my view point the biggest issue is our district needs to have a unified view of supporting our children, teachers and staff. There are many ways in which we can do this, but it starts by seeing the division that exists first.”

Why are you seeking office?

Brautigam: “To better the educational experience for kids.”

Gilfillen: “To ensure continued high quality education at Fairlawn.”

Ginter: “I want to be a part of the solution rather than just talking about the issues.”

Abke: “With two children in the school district, I have a vested interest in ensuring that Fairlawn is a respected and trusted educational leader in the community. I am a strong believer in the value of education and am committed to devote the time and energy necessary to be an informed and effective school board member. I am excited to offer my work experience and knowledge to help our district continue on its path to excellence.”

What makes you a better candidate?

Gilfillen: “My teaching background gives me a unique and informed perspective in academic situations. I have a good understanding of curriculum needs and realize the challenges teachers face. My family has been involved with the Fairlawn School System as educators for the last three generations and I am dedicated to this school and community.”

Ginter: ” I believe, as tax payers, we have an obligation to ensure our children receive the best education, have the safest possible environment to learn, and unlimited opportunities in athletics, music, agriculture, and personal growth. All of which equip our students to have successful futures. I try to maintain a positive attitude at all times. Being goal oriented with measurable outcomes helps solidify progress. If elected, I promise to consider opposing viewpoints from others and research subjects that I am less informed about. I will respect the value of tradition and encourage change where it supports a stronger future for Fairlawn.”

Abke: “Although not in an educational profession myself, I have always been surrounded by family members that were involved in public education as teachers or board members. I am a strong advocate for public education and am passionate that all students can succeed and we must give them opportunities to do so. My professional work experience has taught me the value of collaboration, communication and team work to achieve results. I believe that I can make a difference.”

Brautigam: “I am not a better candidate. We are all great parents and grandparents that have kid’s first mentality and how we may go about that could be a little different, but Fairlawn can be proud of whoever gets elected.”

What ideas/plans would you have to increase the district’s report card score?

Ginter: “We need to spend time focusing on the areas where we have lower component grades. It starts with closing the gap in our literacy numbers, K-3rd grade students need assistance with reading. I suggest bringing Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and POWER’s EmPOWERed program to Fairlawn’s kindergarten classes. Getting books into the hands of children early in life and establishing a volunteer program where one on one weekly assistance is given complements classroom learning. The steps we take in early education helps prepare our students for future success.”

Abke: “High academic standards and accountability are the foundation of a strong educational institution. A school board plays a critical role in establishing a clear mission, vision and goals for the school and providing the support to allow the trained educational professionals to carry out the board policy.”

Brautigam: “First, I am not a supporter of the state testing that mandates how teachers have to teach. But there has to be a system to make sure schools are educating kids on a common curriculum. Fairlawn has to improve the gifted and IEP programs to see more growth in the complete spectrum of kids. Teacher teams to help mentor and discuss better ways to educate various kids in their classrooms.”

Gilfillen: “The first step is to be sure the curriculum is accurately aligned with the academic standards. The result will be that there are no gaps or overlaps in the curriculum and that all standards are taught at the appropriate grade level.”

What role do you feel parents should play in classroom activities and as a volunteer in the district?

Abke: “Parents and community volunteers play a pivotal role in encouraging learning by supporting and working along with our classroom teachers. Strong community relationships and communication is fostered when parents are actively involved in the school.”

Brautigam: “Anytime a parent can take interest in their child’s education is a plus. Having parents understand the classroom environment and what is expected of them will only help the educational process. Then the continual positive communication with their child’ teacher’s will lower negative communication.”

Gilfillen: “Parent involvement is crucial for students to develop a positive attitude toward learning. Volunteers are extremely important because they can give students additional one on one support educationally and are instrumental in fund raising which benefits students and the many organizations they are involved in.”

Ginter: “As parents we need to support our teachers and administrators who educate our children. Whether it be with financial assistance or volunteer hours, it is important to be involved with your children and the activities they engage in.”

What kind of relationship would you develop as a board member with the parents in the community?

Brautigam: No response from candidate.

Gilfillen: “As a current board member, I have found it is important to listen to the community and reflect their views through my actions. I feel a cooperative and collaborative relationship with parents is essential.”

Ginter: “I would be an active liaison between the school and the community, a sounding board for all ideas, concerns or thoughts shared with me.”

Abke: “I fully support open and honest communication with the community and transparency in board actions. A board member should listen and work with community members, teachers and administration. We are all a team when it comes to educating our children.”

Salaries of teachers and other staff members are always a concern. What do you think the district needs to do to keep the staff members from leaving for better paying jobs?

Gilfillen: ” I feel working conditions are extremely important in keeping teachers and staff. They need to know they have the support of administration, community and the board of education.”

Ginter: “I think we need to ensure our teachers and staff have Fairlawn pride and feel valued. In my 25 years of professional employment, it has been my experience that money is a short time pacifier. It does pay the bills, but it does not fuel us to get up in the morning or make us go the extra mile at work. Only the shared vision of being a part of something successful with measurable outcomes can do that. Our teachers and staff need to know how important they are and that teaching is not just their job, but rather a gift they are giving to another human being.”

Abke: “Education is among the most important professions. Financial considerations are important, but educators need to feel empowered, supported and involved. Excellent leadership and collaboration is also essential.”

Brautigam: “Salaries should not be a first priority, giving them a safe positive work environment is a priority. There are salary increases in the negotiated agreement that staff members deserve thru their hard work. Truly the educational environment of Fairlawn and its community’s attitude for the betterment of kids is what keeps the staff at Fairlawn. Financially Fairlawn has run in the black for many years due to the constant attention by our Treasurer and administration.”

Other comments, optional:

Ginter: “I am committed to giving back to the community that has helped me raise my family and grow my professional career. I was a charter member of the Shelby County United Way Women’s Initiative known as POWER. Previously, I held the President Chair position for the organization and am currently the Finance Chair. Our mission is to assist Shelby County children and their families in as many ways as possible. I am a Foundation board member of the Sidney-Shelby County YMCA and have chaired both the Membership and Child Development committees. I have participated in organizing Fairlawn’s Fall Festival Raffle and helped to gather donations year after year. I have been the Treasurer for the Fairlawn music boosters and continue to participate in Fairlawn’s Parent Booster program.”





By Melanie Speicher