State rep guest speaker for club
STEUBENVILLE — Education was the focus of the first program members of the Steubenville Kiwanis Club heard in the new year, and the message came from freshman legislator state Rep. Don Jones, R-Freeport.
While the coverage area for the state representative of the 95th district doesn’t include Jefferson County, it does cover Harrison, Carroll and Noble counties, western Belmont County and the northeastern part of Washington County.
Jones told the audience at the Jan. 8 meeting, however, that “the only thing about a district is those are the people who can vote for me. I work for everybody in Eastern Ohio.”
“I have the largest geographic district in the state house, 142 miles from the top to the bottom,” he said during the luncheon at the YWCA of Steubenville.
Jones worked as a school teacher for 23 years, which included teaching agricultural education at Harrison Central High School for 19 years, and said he would joke at the lunch table about going to Columbus to find out who was making decisions teachers were expected to live by. He and his twin brother operate D&J Sales and Service past Cadiz, a family business started from scratch 30 years ago.
After having been sworn in last year, Jones said he was appointed as vice chair of the education committee, then was elevated to chair, a responsibility he said he takes “very seriously.”
Jones praised state Rep. Jack Cera, D-Bellaire. “Jack Cera is a gentleman I have gotten to know very well. He is your rep here in Jefferson County, and I wish I could keep Jack about six more years. Jack and I could get a lot of things accomplished. Jack is a good man. I don’t care if you are a Democrat, a Republican or an independent, we’ve got to get things accomplished, and what we do in a statehouse is a lot different from what happens in D.C.” He also praised state Sen. Frank Hoagland, R-Mingo Junction.
“Our education system in my mind is broken,” Jones said, noting that 10 to 12 years ago, Ohio ranked among the top five states educationally in the country. “Today I think we’re 38 or 39.”
“Part of the problem I think we’ve had in the educational world is we’ve had so many people listen to the outside sources for information rather than the people who are on the front lines that work with kids and have to deal with school issues,” Jones said. “We have taken so much control away from the local boards, the easy answer anymore is we’re just doing what the state tells us to do. The state shouldn’t be telling our local boards how to educate our local kids,” he said. “That’s our job. That’s our local responsibility.”
When he taught agriculture, Jones said, “What I taught my kids in Harrison County is not the same as what they were teaching those kids in Darke County where the ground is flat and they plant soybean and corn and have large animal operations. We don’t have that here in Eastern Ohio,” he said of “a great illustration I like to use because everything is different. When it comes to education every situation, every school district is unique, students are unique, and opportunities are unique, and my goal is to try to get things straightened out and fixed.”
Before he took over as chair of the primary and secondary education committee, Jones said he introduced a bill that would “get rid of some requirements for new teachers” regarding their eligibility for continued licensing. He took issue with part of it involving a 20-minute video that gets evaluated.
“My question is how can you tell from a 20-minute video whether someone is a good teacher or not,” he said.
“We’ve gotten so far away from really teaching kids,” he said. “We worry about how well they do on the test.”
Jones said he would be meeting with three superintendents from across the state regarding the state report card, something he said “doesn’t do a real good job or accurately reflect what we do in education across the state of Ohio.”
The state report card isn’t a true reflection of what’s going on in a classroom. “We spend so much time and effort how are we doing on the test we don’t highlight the good things happening inside our classrooms nearly enough.”
Jones said he serves on four committees that, aside from chair of primary and second education include rural development, transportation and public safety and commerce and labor.
As one who is not a career politician, Jones said he sees issues from a different perspective as one of 99 representatives serving on behalf of 11.5 million people in Ohio, about 120,000 of them residents of his district.
He also fielded several questions, including about the proposed multi-billion dollar ethane cracker plant in Belmont County — he said he anticipates an announcement this year that it’s probably going to happen.
Larry Coleman is serving as program chair for January with today’s speaker for the noon luncheon and business meeting at the YWCA of Steubenville being Paul Zuros, director of operations at Historic Fort Steuben and the Steubenville Visitors Center.
Fred Miller from East Liverpool of “Hooper Dialect” will explain the valley’s way of speaking as part of the Jan. 21 program.