Fairfield school board’s newest member: Business background an asset

Newly appointed Fairfield Board of Education member Carrie O’Neal was unanimously chosen by board members in January to fill the seat vacated by the death of member Jerome Kearns in December. O’Neal is a local business owner and a long-time school volunteer for the Butler County school system.

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Newly appointed Fairfield Board of Education member Carrie O’Neal was unanimously chosen by board members in January to fill the seat vacated by the death of member Jerome Kearns in December. O’Neal is a local business owner and a long-time school volunteer for the Butler County school system.

Long-time school volunteer Carrie O’Neal’s path to a seat on the governing board of Fairfield Schools started with tragedy.

In December, veteran school board member Jerome Kearns died.

The father of three, who was also assistant director of Butler County Job and Family Services, then had his elected school board seat filled by a unanimous vote to install O’Neal as its fifth member.

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The solidarity of support by board members was no surprise as the local business woman has long been respected as a passionate supporter of Fairfield Schools.

The mother of two Fairfield students, O’Neal has lived in the district for nearly two decades and has been active in past school tax levy campaigns. She is also a former president of the Parents and Teachers for Children organizations at West Elementary School and Fairfield Intermediate School.

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O’Neal recently talked with the Journal-News about her priorities as a school board member and how her business background will benefit the district.

Q: Why did you apply for the school board seat?

I care deeply about the success of the Fairfield City schools and the education of our children. A strong foundation in the area of education is part of my DNA. I grew up in the Cleveland area where both of my parents were educators in the public school system. I was very involved in both the Fairfield Building Pride Committee in 2009 and the school bond issue team in 2013, and believe that the year ahead will be one of the most historic times for our school district. I’m excited to see the opening of both Compass and Central elementary schools and the new freshman building, as well as transitioning fifth grade back to our six elementary facilities. I applied for the school board seat to serve all of us—students, staff, and the community—during these momentous times of change and growth with a positive spirit and helping hand.

Q: What are your top priorities as a new board member?

I want to help ensure that our new schools open up on time, on (or under) budget and that we celebrate this exciting step for our kids and our community. I’m also extremely passionate about Fairfield’s fine arts programs. My husband (Todd) and I are both designers, and I take great pride living in a community that supports the arts so fervently. I believe that people seek out Fairfield because of that excellent reputation, and I hope to continue to support the arts program.

Q: What have you learned and experienced as a long-time Fairfield school volunteer that allows you to bring more to the board and how do you plan to apply that knowledge?

I’ve experienced and witnessed first-hand the incredible blessings we have. We have amazing teachers, administrators and staff who are passionate about these students. I think my presence on the board creates an approachable connection that parents, students and staff see on a regular basis. I also believe it’s important that our teachers feel supported, our students feel celebrated and encouraged, our staff feels appreciated and our community feels included. I hope that my continued service as a school volunteer helps accomplish that goal.

Q: What’s been the biggest surprise so far as a board member?

It’s been great getting to know the other members of the board. We each have a unique background and viewpoint. But it’s been surprising, and also comforting, to know that no matter how different we are, we all want what’s best for all the students in our district. It’s also interesting to learn how much debate and conversation occurs before each and every vote is cast. The board recently earned a Gold Level Honor for Effective School Boards and I can definitely see why.

Q: How does your business ownership experience impact your skill set as a board member? Advantages? Disadvantages?

I believe that being a business owner impacts my skill set as a board member in several ways. Obviously, I want my business to exist in a prosperous community, and great schools help create a successful community. As a business owner, I understand the financial and operating commitments and responsibilities established by the district. I also think the nature of my business, in the creative field, brings a unique skill set to the board. I hope to approach our struggles with that creative viewpoint and also help celebrate all the amazing things we have going on in Fairfield City Schools.

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