SUNBURY — There are four people vying for two seats on the Big Walnut Local Schools Board of Education. The seats are at-large over 27 precincts and have staggered four-year terms.
Incumbents Stephen Fujii and Todd Smith (who was selected to fill an unexpired term earlier this year) have terms expiring at the end of 2023. Their opponents are newcomers Zach Duffey and Brandon Hoge.
Duffey, Fujii and Hoge each spoke at a Candidates Breakfast event last week in Sunbury.
The Gazette sent all four candidates a survey and to date, only Fujii has responded. However, the other candidates had campaign information available. Their background and positions are listed below, in alphabetical order.
Duffey wrote extensively about his background and positions on his website.
“I was born in 1984 and lived in Westerville and Galena growing up. I am the middle child of three, born to Mike and Beth Duffey, with deep family roots in the Central Ohio area. After graduating from Worthington Christian High School in 2003, I worked in the Duffey family business, Shamrock Towing, which has been in business since 1952.
“Voluntarily advocating for and serving children and youth domestically and overseas has been part of my life since I was a young teen. Starting at 15 years old, I served on the mission field annually in Guatemala for over 11 years and to this day have relationships with men who I mentored over these years. I led middle and high school youth groups and taught English to students in South Korea.
“Vocationally, throughout the years 2009-2020, I worked as a teacher’s aide, developed a breakdance club for youth at Imagine Schools in Columbus and presented this innovative and effective program on a statewide level. Additionally, I worked at Hittle House and developed a dance program for children who had experienced sexual trauma. I worked at Westerville North High School as a personal educational aide for a student with autism and at Leap of Faith Dance Company as a lead teacher and developed a breakdance program for children and youth.
“In 2018, I opened Mold Mentor Consultants, a residential and commercial property restoration business. I applied what I learned over the years, such as the value of conviction, honesty, integrity, and relationships to establish a thriving and successful business. Why does this matter, because it speaks to who I am and what I stand for.
“As for family, family is everything! I am married to the love of my life, Lauren, the mother of our 6 children. Being a husband and father is the highest calling I could have and I take that seriously. Children are the future and investing in mine each and every day is the joy of my life. We had previously home-schooled our children in order to have maximum influence on their education in a small and individualized setting. We could have moved to any school district in the area and after investigating our options, chose Big Walnut. We still want to be involved in our children’s education as well as support the teachers and our collective efforts in the educational process.
“As parents, Lauren and I place great value on transparency regarding what our kids are being taught, being exposed to, reading, seeing, hearing, eating, drinking, etc. We know what we want for them and what is best for them. It’s why we read every ingredient on food packages before it comes into our home and it’s why we expect transparency regarding curriculum, books, videos, and all materials being presented in the classroom. I will bring the same level of advocacy that I have for my own children on behalf of ALL parents and children in the district.”
On the issues, Duffey writes, “The Role of the School Board Members is to work collaboratively on improving and maintaining the quality of education in the district. To bring new ideas to the table, think outside the box and problem solve. To represent the interests and concerns of teachers, students, parents, families and the community. To actively participate in policy making, financial accountability, long-term planning, and to facilitate productive communication between the school district and the public.
“Our Children’s Future: All children should know and feel that they are safe at school. Be that physically, through adequate safety protocols and resource officer involvement in their school or emotionally as we acknowledge that there is no place for ‘isms in the school district (race, ethnicity, gender, ability). All students should be treated fairly, afforded every opportunity, and protected in the classroom, bathroom, locker room or athletic field without bias or preference.
“Technology is advancing at an incredibly rapid speed with AI predicted to replace up to 1/3 of jobs currently being done by humans by the year 2030. AI’s impact on education could necessitate a focus on in-class learning, versus the homework model to foster original thought, critical reasoning and creative expression. As we are located right in the middle of the new “Midwest Silicon Valley,” we must prepare our district and students for this future, by focusing on technology, innovation, and planning career tracks in light of this future.
“A High Performing school district is integral for healthy and growing communities. Families are more likely to move to and invest in communities with good school districts. Businesses and industries invest in strong communities and ensure economic growth and stability. All of these factors result in increased property values for all homeowners.”
For more information, visit Zach Duffey for Big Walnut School Board or zachduffey.com.
Stephen P. Fujii
“Big Walnut is a special school district,” Fujii told The Gazette. “I am asking to be re-elected to the Big Walnut Local School District Board of Education. My wife, Jennifer, and I are proud to raise our family in this amazing community. Our daughter, Jillian (BWHS Class of 2021), and our son, Samuel (BWHS Class of 23), benefited from the high-quality education they received in the district from kindergarten through graduation. I am running to ensure educational excellence for all children. I am asking voters to #VoteFujii for Service, Sustained Excellence and Stewardship to the Big Walnut Board of Education.
Fujii listed his qualifications thusly: “I am a former commissioned officer and veteran in the United States Army. I was deployed, served on active duty and in the Ohio National Guard. I am a former educator, Big Walnut principal, career-technical supervisor, school district assistant superintendent and school district superintendent. I am a VP and national consultant of a Delaware County-based company and am committed to improving outcomes for students and communities. I am a current Big Walnut Local School Board of Education member. I serve on the Ohio School Board Executive Committee as a representative for the Central District.
“The two most important issues facing the Big Walnut community are 1. sustaining Academic Excellence and 2. planning for growth as good stewards of district resources.
“Our core business is to educate students. Each year of my service on the board of education our district has grown in academic achievement scores. In addition, I rigorously supported our district’s in-person education model for the last four years.
“Big Walnut must prepare for growth while being mindful of our district’s assets. While on the board, I have played a role in opening two buildings on-time and on-budget. In addition, we have not sought additional resources from our community to provide our educational model. In fact, as a board member, I have worked diligently and collaborated with community partners to diversify our tax base and alleviate the strain on our individual citizens. Finally, as a board member, we have remodeled our educational offerings to allow growth in the facilities where growth opportunities exist.
“For more information, please visit www.VoteFujii.com or my facebook page @ Stephen P Fujii for Big Walnut Board of Education.
On his Facebook page, Hoge wrote, “I have been asked recently what qualifications I have that would signal me as being a good schoolboard member. I have thought about this a bit and the answer is clear. I am not a doctor, or a lawyer, a former principal or administrator. I am not a small business owner or a VP. I am a dad and husband with three boys that will/are attending BW schools. I want the very best for them — as I do your kids. I want to help lead the district to be the best it can be. Right now, there is a lot of room for improvement — nowhere to go but up.
“On paper, I’m not qualified at all. Especially when compared with all the others that have come before me. But what I can offer that no one else will is leadership that will transparent and effective. I can help guide the district back to greatness and get us out of the rut of mediocracy. I can do all this and keep an eye on how your money is spent. There is no one more determined to succeed. The foundation for success in education starts here — it’s the vital keystone to the betterment of our children.
“I’ve also been asked how I can be an asset to the board. My focus is school safety. I know a lot about safety and security. I was the victim of a felonious assault in 2006. I am died. Since then, I have taken this topic extremely seriously. That event changed my entire lifestyle.
“It is no secret schools are all very prepared for the possibility of a fire. We have fire walls, fire doors, sprinkler systems, fire extinguishers, escape routes, hoses and more. What we are not nearly as prepared for is the possibility of an active threat that wishes to do our students and staff harm. To my knowledge, we have not had a child die in a school fire in the USA since 1954, yet (and because) we have all the above preps in place.
“We need to get to that level with school violence. The probability of such an event is low, but the impact is devastating, and the solutions are simple and economical. There is one member of the board up for re-election that talks about school safety a lot — but nothing has been done to improve the security of our aging buildings in his years on the board. Why is this?”
For more information, visit Safer BWLS — Brandon Hoge for School Board on Facebook or brandonhoge.com.
Todd W. Smith
On his Facebook page, Smith said, “As an attorney, it is my job to counsel and advocate for my clients. It is also my job to know and recognize who my clients are. As a school board member, this is no exception. After being appointed in April 2023, I learned this firsthand.
“My job as a school board member is also to educate the community and counsel them on issues affecting the district. I will work with the other Board members to improve communication with the community. Have you seen the Eagle Examiner is back?
“I understand who my client is – the students, parents, the community. I must behave in a way that benefits my clients the most. Often, a lack of communication and understanding causes issues between the community and the school district.
“I will bridge the understanding gap and communicate with the community (meet one-on-one, in groups, by phone, etc.). I appreciate your support and want to earn your vote to continue the work on the BW Board of Education.”
In another post, Smith said, “Big Walnut requires board members who are rational, who are realistic, who offer steady and consistent leadership, who will advise and communicate with the community, and who are always working for the best interests of the district.”
For more information, visit Todd Smith for Big Walnut Board of Education on Facebook, or toddsmithforbw.com.
Assistant Editor Gary Budzak covers the eastern half of Delaware County and surrounding areas. He may be reached at [email protected].