By CARL E. FEATHER - firstname.lastname@example.org
ROCK CREEK —
As a former egg farmer, Sarah Fowler has learned not to count her chicks before they hatch.
Nevertheless, the 23-year-old Rock Creek woman went into Election Day 2012 with high hopes for a good hatch rate. She was not disappointed — the home-schooled woman won the 7th District Ohio Board of Education seat, defeating James C. Collum, a lawyer from Akron, and John Sans, a chemist from Akron.
“Neither of them was willing represent the entire field of academic options in Ohio,” Fowler said in explaining why she chose to add her name to the ballot.
She will take her seat on the state board in January. The 19-member board is composed of 11 elected members and eight appointed ones. The 7th District includes all of Ashtabula, Trumbull, Geauga and Portage counties, plus portions of Lake and Summit counties.
Fowler is the oldest of seven children, all of whom have been or are being home schooled by their parents, Kevin and Laura Fowler. She said her parents began teaching her from the day she was born and she continues to learn from them.
“They believe (home schooling) is the way to pass on the belief structure they want their children to have,” Fowler said of her parents’ reason for home schooling.
Fowler said home schooling gave her the freedom to learn about the things that really interested her and study them in depth. That includes alternate medicine, food, literature and graphics design. She has a high school diploma from her parents. While Fowler did not go to college, for 13 years she owned her own business, “Sarah’s Eggs,” a boutique agribusiness she closed earlier this year due to the rising cost of the commodities that go into producing free-range eggs.
She became interested in the race after learning that the seat was open due to its former occupant being re-assigned to the 5th District as a result of redistricting. That left two years of a four-year term to be filled by election. Further, the board reviews its policies on home schooling every five years, and that review is set to happen next summer. Armed with that knowledge, Fowler suggested to some of her home schooling friends that they ought to run for the position.
“We felt it would be a helpful if they had someone who is home schooled on the board,” Fowler said.
When none of her acquaintances agreed to run, Fowler filed her petition just two days before the 90-day deadline.
“It has been a very busy 92 days,” she said of what happened after that.
She used her graphic design and writing skills to create campaign literature, then had 60,000 copies produced. About 50 were left at the end of the campaign.
Fowler researched all the fairs, festivals and candidates nights in the district, and started making personal appearances. As a state board of education candidate, she was often relegated to the end of the candidates night events. She recalls one grueling day when she participated in four such events; she did not go to the podium on the fourth one until 10:30 p.m.
“I learned that you can put your body through a lot more than you ever expected,” she said.
Nevertheless, Fowler resisted the temptation of fair and festival food.
“Except at a Lordstown festival, where I could not resist the smell of apple dumplings and ice cream,” she said. “I really did not eat a lot of fair food. I’m not into the grease, but I did eat the apple dumpling.”
Fowler mobilized her parents and siblings, as well as friends, to assist her with the grass roots effort. A Facebook page and website also helped her convince voters that she would represent all educational options and stakeholders on the board. A core group of six volunteers, plus many others who helped with donations or just telling a friend about Fowler supported her in the effort.
Fowler and her supporters also had the burden of fundraising. She was told it would cost $2,000 to $3,000 to run a successful campaign, but the actual cost was about $6,000. A spaghetti dinner and cash donations helped her fill the gas tank on her Chevy Blazer.
Her vehicle, which had over 300,000 miles on it, finally died a few days before the election. By then, she had she had traveled some 5,000 miles spreading her story.
“I did not realize it was 82 1/2 miles from my house to the southwest corner of the district and 40 miles to Conneaut,” she said.
Fowler who works in the family farm seed business, said she learned how to do cold selling at trade shows where she helped promote their business. She applied those skills to her campaign as she introduced herself to any person who would listen.
“Being that the position is non-partisan made campaigning enjoyable,” she said. “I didn’t have to take sides and people were willing to listen to what I had to say.”
She discovered that Ohio’s voters want the legislature and school board to find a more broad-based way to fund education and thereby ease the burden on property owners. That topic will be high on the board’s agenda next year, along with the hiring of a new state superintendent. Fowler said she is going to use the next two months to research and learn all she can about the issues facing the board. She plans to be just as prepared as the board members who hold master’s and doctorates.
“It does not intimidate me being around people with degrees. I know they spent a lot of time in college, and a lot of money,” said Fowler, who likes to learn through experiences, reading and being around smart people.
She went into Election Day hoping to garner 55 percent of the vote; she said the actual percentage across the district was 59.95 percent. In Ashtabula County, she carried 67 percent of the vote.
Fowler said that growing up in agriculture helped give her the perseverance she needed to win the election against substantial odds.
“Being a farm girl, I just expect things in life to be tough some times,” she said. “My parents taught me personal responsibility, perseverance and to not give up when the going gets tough.”
Fowler said she wants the residents of the 7th District to know that she plans to represent them regardless of what kind of education option they have selected. She can be reached at email@example.com or through her Facebook page.