Who are the people keeping our schools going during a global health crisis? What does it take? Warren Weber gives his perspective.
NEWARK – In a dimly-lit room in the Administrative Service Center, on Mount Vernon Road, the five members of the Newark Board of Education, along with the superintendent and treasurer, would typically sit around several tables and work through the district’s budgets and issues as well as celebrate school successes.
But this past year has been different.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many school districts across the state, just like Newark City Schools, to transition to e-learning–and even to online school board meetings for a time. In March of 2020, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine ordered the closure of in-person classroom learning. The effects of that decision were a seismic shift for all: the school board, the teachers, the school personnel, the community, the families, and especially its young people.
When Newark City Schools pivoted to online learning last spring, school board member Warren Weber said the district encountered hurdles that they would have to clear to ensure that the children would continue to learn. Some families did not have access to computers or to the internet, and in other cases, families had one computer for multiple children.
The focus shifted, Weber says, from trying to figure out how to keep students learning, to just trying to get them online.
In an attempt to provide families with the resources needed for students to be successful, schools soon became a distribution center for laptops and food, and teachers took an active role in checking up on students who were struggling with assignments or were missing class. Even with this effort, a lack of resources made it hard for some kids to learn.
But for Weber, these were not just kids that needed help. It was personal for him. He could empathize with their circumstances. He had struggled, too.
Warren Weber says he was born in Gary, Indiana and grew up in the projects of Chicago, with his family receiving welfare assistance. In 2017, Weber was presented with a Distinguished Service Award by Newark High School, but it was a far cry from where he had started. In his speech to graduating seniors, Weber told the story of how he went from being born in a tenement slum “to retiring from the Air Force in the top two percent, serving two tours in Vietnam, traveling and living all over the world, graduating from college, retiring from Licking County government, being elected to the Newark City school board.”
“The law of averages says I shouldn’t be here,” Weber said. “I should be in jail, on parole, on probation, strung out on welfare, or something else, but certainly not here. I want to tell you that, if I can make it through all that adversity so can all of you.”
He added, “Never let anyone tell you, or make you believe, you can’t make it.” He credits the support of his family in part, for his success.
It wasn’t enough for Weber to just be successful – he has made it his mission to make things better for those that come next.
Serving at Home and Abroad
Resolutely focused on the future, a young Weber enlisted into the United States Air Force in 1969. Nine months after enlisting, the Airman found himself in Vietnam. Over the course of a 26-year career in the Air Force, he spent 10 years skipping across Europe spending time in The Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany.
During his time in Europe, Weber served in various capacities including as a Drug and Alcohol Counselor. Eventually, he ran the Equal Employment Opportunity and Treatment Program at his base in Germany.
Weber was prepared to retire and raise his family in Germany, but the Air Force had other plans. After spending many years overseas, he got promoted and transferred stateside to Newark Air Force Base in Ohio.
The Weber family had no intention of staying. “[I] never heard of [Newark],” he says. The plan was to stay for two years and then to move to Texas where Dee, his wife of over 40 years, is from.
But plans change.
His son began to play football and basketball at Newark High School. Weber says “[his son] was tired of moving after eight different schools.” They decided to stay until he graduated.
In the meantime, Weber worked as a community liaison for the Newark Police Department and then worked for the Licking County Government as Development Director before he retired again. Weber incrementally became more involved in the schools throughout his retirement.
Supporting the Schools, Supporting Opportunity
As his children got older, Weber also began looking for ways to support Newark’s schools and take an active role in their future.
“Most parents, you send your kids, they get educated, and you let the schools do it,” Weber says. “But I think a lot of people don’t understand what goes into being a teacher, what goes into an educational system.”
He became the President of the Football and Cheerleaders Parents Club and says that “ one thing led to the other, and so, we just made [Newark] our home and I got involved in one thing …. which led to being involved in another thing. So, here I am today.”
Years have passed since his children graduated, but his dedication to the future of Newark has remained steadfast. Called out from his second retirement, Weber was elected to the Newark City school board and eventually served as President in 2019.
When the pandemic first closed schools, in March of 2020, as many teachers and families were trying to adjust to the new reality of online learning, Weber says the school board was committed to meeting the needs of the new reality.
“We [as a school] were meeting sometimes two or three times a week to decide how we were going to work going forward.”
They met so much–even hiring a new superintendent–Weber says, “that we actually ran out of funds [to pay board members]… and so, we met with no funds because we’re dedicated to being on the board.”
School board members can be paid for up to 25 meetings per year. Last year the Newark City Schools Board met 32 times, according to a district spokesman.
The school board, entrusted with the education of Newark’s children, was committed to meeting the demand of the times, Weber says. This is, perhaps, the unglamorous side of democracy, the hard work by people who keep showing up, often behind the scenes, that actually makes a community work.
It was just another day, just another duty, for a man who has given his life to service.
A father of three, grandfather of twelve and great-grandfather to two, Weber wants “[all kids to have] the opportunity to at least go out and see the world in a different light.”