Parents elected to charter’s school board

Photo courtesy Friends of Otwell


OTWELL — With the construction of a school comes the filling of its school board, and last night Otwell Miller Academy named the first five members of its nine-person governing council.

The building of the new school started in June, and the facility is slated to be ready for the first day of classes on Wednesday, Aug. 9. The parents elected to the board Monday night said they want to approach their roles on the board with common sense and they plan on putting the kids first.

“I have no doubt in my mind that OMA is going to be a four-star (school),” said parent representative Lou Fort. “I trust the commitment, the people that are behind it.”

Fort and Jenny Byrd were the parents elected to the board at Monday night’s Friends of Otwell meeting. Mike Houtsch, Michelle Durcholz and Emily Willis will also serve on the school board and retain non-officer status on the Friends of Otwell board, which will provide oversight, run the Lil’ HOOsiers Preschool, lead fundraising and provide general support to school and its school board.

Fort, who was born in Iowa and lived in Illinois before moving to Otwell 12 years ago, works for Kars Auto Repair in Huntingburg. He said he hopes to bring a no-nonsense approach to the board.

“I told (Friends of Otwell President) Bob Rhodes when we first started this thing, every army needs a soldier, and I’m your boots on the ground,” he said. “Anytime anybody has asked or needed something done, I’ve done it.”

His family includes his wife, Sharon; sons Noah and Benjamin; and daughter, Hannah. Noah and Benjamin will attend OMA.

His fellow parent electee, Byrd, operates a day care from her Otwell home. She said she decided to run for a spot on the board because she wanted to be involved in making the decisions that will affect her children.

When asked what she wants to bring to the board, Byrd said, “an honest parent’s perspective.” She said she doesn’t agree with some of the decisions the Pike County School Board has made and the direction the board has moved the corporation. The board voted to close Otwell Elementary at the end of the 2015-16 school year in the face of a $2.7-million deficit.

“I think that they could have went a completely different direction had they had better leadership,” Byrd said. “I just think people should have spoken up whenever they could have instead of just going along with the flow and being afraid of stepping on someone’s toes.”

She added: “I’m not that type of person. No offense, but I don’t care who I make mad. My kids matter No. 1, and everyone else falls behind that.”

Her family includes her husband, Josh; daughter, Kayleigh; and sons Reid and Liam. Byrd said that Reid, a preschooler, will definitely attend the new Otwell school, and fifth-grader Kayleigh may or may not. Liam is currently 15 months old, but will attend OMA in the future.

The remaining board spots will be filled by two teachers who will be appointed by School Director Rick Fears and two students who will be appointed by the school’s teachers.

The school board will coexist with the current Friends of Otwell board. Like other school boards, the Otwell Miller Academy School Board will have subcommittees set up to oversee the charter’s finances, make sure the school is running soundly and so on. Personnel decisions will also be a priority.

Though neither Fort nor Byrd have prior school board experience, but they said they’re ready to learn. The two will undergo a training day at the end of this month.

“I have no fear of it at all,” Fort said.

Rhodes said he believes other members of the school board will also attend the training, and noted that school board members will engage in recurring education and training.

More on