Aurora -- Some people might be surprised to learn that Gerald Kohanski, who has been a fixture as a member of the Aurora Board of Education for 17 years -- the last 15 as president -- actually lost his first election for the School Board.
Three candidates competed for two seats, and Kohanski finished last, losing by about 100 votes.
"I was politically naïve," he said. "But it was a good learning experience. Two years later, I took it more seriously. I've been on the Board ever since."
As School Board president, Kohanski said he enjoys the position, but admitted, "You're more of a target for people."
Kohanski said fellow School Board member Annie Grohe recently told him jokingly, "Somebody has to wear the black hat, and you fit the role."
Superintendent Russ Bennett believes Kohanski's leadership "has been instrumental in enhancing programs, improving our financial situation and helped lead us to the point where we are today as one of the top-rated school districts in Ohio."
Bennett said by tracing Kohanski's time on the Board, "it's obvious to see the improvements that have occurred.
"The implementation of the International Baccalaureate program, the expansion of the advanced placement curriculum, the investment in interventions and support for struggling students, and the increased expectations for all students and staff have created a district that offers the opportunities for students to go to any college of their choice or to be prepared for whatever the child wishes upon graduation."
Kohanski, 65, said he has been "part of a great team" led by two superintendents -- Bennett and Jerry Brodsky.
"I'm proud of our student achievements, which is a product of a team - teachers, parents, administration and students," he said. "We have great parents and students. I'm also proud that we've managed the district well financially."
KOHANSKI said he decided to run for the School Board because "I was at a point in my life where I had something to contribute to the community. I enjoy the sense of contributing to the welfare of the students, to their education. I'm passionate about that."
Bennett is not surprised. He said Kohanski "cares deeply for the students and does what is best for them. His strong convictions about 'kids come first' has guided all his decisions."
Kohanski, a retired corporate executive at Cliffs Natural Resources, teaches freshman composition at the Kent State University facility in Twinsburg.
"I enjoy working with the younger generation," he said. "It gives me a sense of contribution."
Kohanski's wife, Mary, is Bennett's secretary, but Kohanski stressed that she was working for the schools long before he joined the School Board.
"Mary has always been involved in our children's education," he said. "She has been my inspiration. She is a very smart, savvy lady who has the respect of a lot of people in the community."
They have three grown children who all graduated from Aurora High School and Hiram College, including Tara Bultrowicz, a school psychologist in Cuyahoga Falls, and Courtney Kohanski, a first-grade teacher at Craddock School. Both live two houses away from each other in Reminderville.
The only non-educator is son Derek, an attorney who lives in Aurora.
Following his initial defeat, Kohanski is pleased that his School Board career has continued on for so long. "I'm grateful the voters have allowed me to serve this long," he said. "It's a real privilege."
Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4187
Twitter: Mike Lesko@MikeLesko_RPC