October 8, 2021
Pickerington Online’s Meet the Candidates
The purpose of the Pickerington Local School District (PLSD) Citizen Advisory Committee on diversity, equity and inclusion was to look at the role that race and diversity play in our district and gather ideas for improvement, but for committee volunteer Mark Hensen, “that effort turned out to be much more eye-opening than I expected.”
As a result, Hensen did some further research (mainly through the Ohio Department of Education) and uncovered additional PLSD issues “in the areas of college and career readiness, kindergarten readiness, success for all students, transparency and accountability, and engaging the entire community that really made me want to be a more direct part of the solution.”
As a result, Hensen will be vying against seven other candidates in the November 2 election for three open spots on the school board.
- Alleviate overcrowding with a bond issue
“At least two schools, PHSC and Ridgeview, have been overcrowded for a number of years and others are projected to be in that situation this year or the next couple of years,” Hensen said.
To address this problem Hensen believes the district should engage in a “grass-roots effort” to educate the community. He believes that the first step should be for the district to provide a list of all items that it requires and to delineate the list with labels of “essential” and “non-essential”.
Next, Hensen would like the district “to provide specifics on enrollment figures versus capacity limits for each school as well as enrollment projections for the near future.”
Lastly, the district should clearly communicate what the consequences will be if voters do not approve a bond issue soon, for example, redistricting and/or hybrid learning.
- Achieve better results for students in terms of college and career readiness.
“Our 95%+ graduation rate is in line with the Ohio suburban school district average graduation rate of just under 95%, but many students aren’t ready for college and careers,” Hensen said.
“Only 36.5% of PLSD students achieve ‘college-ready’ ACT/SAT scores (that number was over 40% five years ago), while 45 to 64% of students in other similar local districts achieve such scores,” Hensen said.
“Only 25.9% of PLSD students earn honors diplomas – that number is 30 to 48% in other similar local districts. Only 3% of PLSD students receive industry recognized credentials (e.g. Certified Pharmacy Technician).
Only 58.9% of kindergarteners pass the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment (i.e. are “on-track”) – it’s as low as 41.7% in one of our elementary schools – five years ago over 77% were ‘on-track.’”
To improve these statistics Hensen believes the district should “embrace high expectations for all students (both in academics and behavior) and teach and reinforce those expectations with the kids.”
For the success of all the district’s students Hensen said that he would like to see partnerships between teachers and parents/caregivers grown and for the PLSD staff to receive more professional development in cultural competency and implicit bias.
If the district builds “high caring, trusting, respecting relationships with all students” and provides engaging instruction so that “they’re not bored, distracted and unchallenged” then the students will embrace the high expectations, Hensen said.
His other ideas include expanding preschool access within PLSD and extending kindergarten to full day. Hensen also feels the district should explore the creation of Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) units in both of the high schools.
- The PLSD needs to set quantifiable goals for career & college readiness and show annual progress towards those goals.
“The district also needs to promote transparency and accountability, by establishing specific academic achievement/performance goals and objectives reporting the results annually,” Hensen said.
For example, he said the district could set a goal that within three years that 35% of the graduates receive honor diplomas and/or within four years 10-percent of the high school seniors obtain industry or trade credentials.
“Also, the district needs to develop and expand partnerships with business-related organizations to explore apprenticeships, internships and other education or training opportunities so that every student who doesn’t attend college upon graduation has a viable career or work path,” Hensen said.
Hensen wants to create a standing advisory council comprised of students, teachers/staff and parents which would routinely apprise the school board of the district’s current climate as well as discuss academics and student achievement. He would also like to implement some kind of “suggestion box” for PLSD staff.
“Academic achievement has been slipping under the current board,” Hensen said. “My work and leadership experience during my 34 years in the Marine Corps has involved addressing issues of policy, budgets, and training standards, all things which can be applied to improving PLSD. Additionally, my perspective as a substitute teacher along with having a daughter in the school district provides me the motivation to want to improve education for everyone.”
- Change how the board agendas are prepared.
“The current process of the superintendent driving the agenda doesn’t facilitate (academic achievement) accountability, nor does it recognize the school board-district working relationship that should exist, i.e. that the superintendent/treasurer work for the school board,” he said.
- Communicate better with the community
“After each school board meeting, a summary/highlights of the meeting should be published via website, e-mail blast, etc,” he said. “Additionally, the board needs to begin engaging the community in town halls, focus groups and other forums to gather input, address questions, and share messages/updates.”
Hensen feels that the experience and skills that he gained in the Marine Corps (managing budgets in the hundreds of millions of dollars, formulating numerous policy documents, hiring personnel and developing training standards) would serve the school board well.
“I believe my experience in the Marine Corps gives me the communication, teamwork, and leadership skills necessary to help the school board,” Hensen said. “ I also believe my experience as a near “full-time” substitute teacher the last three years in PLSD gives me some good insight and perspective into some of the issues and challenges facing district staff.”
Who is Mark Hensen?
“I’m a military brat, so we moved around a lot when I was very young,” Hensen said. “My dad retired after 20 years in the Air Force and we spent the last eight years of my childhood in Topeka, Kansas. I have three brothers, two older and one younger who are all doing well and still live in the surrounding area. My mother died of cancer when I was very young, my dad remarried a few years later, but both of them passed away about 20 years ago.”
Hensen enlisted in the Marine Corps right out of high school and served on active duty for nearly 34 years. He was stationed all over the country and the world – from California to North Carolina, from Japan to Afghanistan. Hensen performed in a variety of capacities in the Marine Corps – everything from legal to financial, from recruiting to civil military operations. Hensen retired from the Marine Corps in 2013 and his wife Elaine retired from the Marine Corps in 2016.
“We stayed in northern Virginia until our son graduated high school in 2017,” Hensen said. “We then moved to Pickerington to be near Elaine’s family who live in eastern Ohio. I had also been stationed in Columbus as a Marine Corps recruiting officer many years ago which is how Elaine and I met – she was about to graduate from the Ohio State University at the time.”
The family chose to live in the community because “it’s a nice town and had a good school district. We like the small town feel of Pickerington – it’s a friendly, supportive community that has a lot of spirit. There’s also a number of things to do that we enjoy like the parks, the farmers’ market, the parades and festivals. It’s been a good place to raise a family and we’ve met a lot of great people.”
Two of the couple’s three children are adults and out of the house. Their oldest daughter is a Virginia Tech graduate who now lives and works in Colorado with her new husband. Their son just graduated from Michigan State University in May and is currently in graduate school in Washington D.C.
“Our youngest daughter is a PHSN freshman and enjoys being in the band and playing golf for the school as well,” Hensen said. “Elaine spends a great deal of time getting our daughter from activity to activity and helping her mother out who lives a couple of hours away.”
Hensen enjoys watching college and professional football as well as several other sports.
“We also have an Australian shepherd named Jen who I walk almost daily and a cat named Kiki that we acquired while we were stationed in Okinawa, Japan a number of years ago,” Hensen said.
How you might know Mark Hensen:
“I have thoroughly enjoyed substitute teaching,” Hensen said. “I’ve basically been in all the schools in the Pickerington Local School District many, many times over the past three years, although last year I spent most of my time in the elementary and middle schools.”
Hensen and his family are also members of Peace United Methodist Church where he teaches Sunday school (to fifth and sixth graders) and coordinates the Financial Peace University.
“I have also been volunteering doing tax return preparation here in Pickerington, and I have volunteered with Junior Achievement providing personal financial literacy classes in various schools locally,” Hensen said.
Lastly, he also coordinates a local investment group called the “Columbus Bogleheads” which meets monthly to educate people in investing and personal finance matters.
What others are saying about Mark Hensen:
Larry Armentrout, the adult discipleship coordinator from Peace Church, vouched for Hensen’s character.
“Mark Hensen is a man of integrity and substance, who is authentic, decisive and a proven leader,” Armentrout said. “He is self-assured and a man of humility at one and the same time. Mark has a conviction that public education is important. He is a strategic thinker and does what he says he will do. He will serve with honor and distinction as a decision maker and public servant on the Pickerington School Board, just as he did as a career Marine Corps officer.”
Former teacher Reynaldo Cordova said that Hensen is a “perfect candidate” for the school board.
“I have known Mark around 4 years when our daughters played club soccer together,” Cordova said. “While our daughters have found other interests and teams, we have remained friends. I found Mark to be not only personable but well-read and versed on everything from soccer conditioning to politics. I was a teacher in Columbus City Schools at the time, so naturally it became a topic of interest as he was beginning to seek out substitute teaching in Pickerington. Through his endeavors, Mark has always had a goal in mind and a plan to help him reach those goals. He didn’t waste time with non-decisions or frivolous endeavors. When he studied something, he went all in.”
Pickerington resident Samantha Babcock said that Hensen has been a huge asset to her adult children by instructing them and others at their church on financial planning.
“He did this simply to help them make smart decisions young,” Babcock said. “Mark is a very caring man who wants to serve strictly because he is a true public servant. He cares about people. He doesn’t care your political stance, your religion, he truly loves people and wants to be a voice for those who don’t feel they have one. Knowing him and the way he is I think he will be a fantastic asset to the board.”
Tezlyn Reardon served on the PLSD Citizen Advisory Committee with Hensen.
“Mark’s analytical approach to identifying issues and offering real solutions is something that is sorely needed in the district,” Reardon said. “His willingness to ask the tough questions and hold leadership accountable to respond was one of the things that impressed me the most. He cares for all students as the number one priority for his campaign and I believe he will be a great asset to our schools.”
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