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An Interview With Jon Ryker of "Fix Covington Schools"

"I live here and I loved teaching and you can't love teaching without loving kids and I know that I'm 'mean' and 'everybody hates me' but there needs to be a watchdog group, whether good or bad people get in there," says Jon Ryker of the online forum Fix Covington Schools, a group that materialized on Facebook and then afterwards at public school board meetings to lob criticism at the current administration of Covington Independent Public Schools. The online component followed the launch of several anonymous YouTube videos in which CIPS test scores, graduation rates, and spending procedures were heavily scruitinized. "We didn't make those videos. I love the videos, they struck exactly the right tone."
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"Despite what the videos are being painted as, they originated from love of the kids."
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Ryker has been particularly contentious during the discourse on how improvements to Covington's school district should come about and has also been on the receiving end of criticism. Ryker taught physics and other science classes at Holmes High School for two years in the early 2000s but admits that his contract was not renewed by then-Superintendent Jack Moreland. Following another stint in teaching at Bellevue High School, Ryker's ability to teach in the Commonwealth of Kentucky was suspended for one year. "The administration (at Bellevue Schools) was attempting to force me to engage in academic fraud," Ryker said. He claimed that a new program was being instituted in which high school juniors that were failing the science class could attempt to make up the credit through a computer program that Ryker claims was a fifth grade-level of content. 
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"They needed me to either pass these kids or they would run them all through there," he said. Two weeks before school started the next year, according to Ryker, the superintendent asked for his resignation which he delivered but because that resignation happened so close to the start of a new school year, Ryker's teaching license was suspended. 
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Though they were not married at the time Ryker's current wife, Jo Rogers, joined him in resigning but because her contract was written differently, according to Ryker, Rogers's teaching license was not penalized. Rogers, who now teaches at the University of Cincinnati, has emerged as one of the candidates for Covington School Board that heavily participated in Fix Covington Schools. Though not running together in any official capacity, Rogers's candidacy is receiving support from several people who also support two other consistent "Fix" participants and school board candidates, Everett Dameron and Tom Miller. The three appeared on a campaign flier together that was distributed in mid-August at the Helentown Street Fair, a piece of campaign material paid for by Dameron. "No one intended to run (when Fix Covington Schools launched), but that is a success story for the group," Ryker said. 
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One of Ryker's online partners at Fix Covington Schools, Mark Young, was nearly a candidate for school board as well. Young filed to run for the seat vacated in early August by former board member Denise Varney after discovering that state statute requires an election for vacated seats if there is more than one year left in the term. Varney had two years left in her term, but because her resignation was not accepted by the Kentucky Commissioner of Education until August 21, one week after the filing deadline, a Kenton County judge ruled that Young could not run for the seat because an election did not exist. The seat will be filled by an appointment made by the Commissioner. Young is also a public supporter of Dameron, Miller, and Rogers. 
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Though it has been ten years since Ryker last taught in the district and though in addition to Covington and Bellevue he also taught at Lloyd and Beechwood High Schools, his focus remains on what he sees as needed reform in Covington Schools. "I can still see what's going on by what the district says, by the very little turnover (in administration), the test scores, how kids act. It's gotten worse," he said. "They are focused on maximum revenue, they get as many grants as they can because that makes them look like they are trying."
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"I think education is the civil rights issue of our era. Everyone who is unlucky enough to have to go to that district through no fault of their own is screwed."
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Ryker first became a teacher after working at Procter & Gamble. His own education includes two bachelor degrees, one in physics and another in German, and a master's degree in Kinesiology. His efforts on behalf of the changes he views as needed in Covington's district will move from the internet to the public soon. "You can't get the fixes until the people understand there's a problem," he said. "My job is to pound the issue. I could never run because my job is to make the issue clear in people's minds." He says he has no involvement in any of the official campaigns for school board and that Fix Covington Schools is an open forum that will not officially endorse candidates. "I do not go to their candidate meetings and I do not tell them how to run their campaigns."
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Instead, Ryker's public energy has been focused on his online forum where has described diplomas from Holmes High School as "worthless" and accuses the administration of engaging in "academic fraud". One recent comment of his at the site reads, "In poorly managed districts like this one the choice for the teacher is to do your job the way (the administration) wants you to and fail to teach the students or do it the way it should be done, effectively teaching the students, and get non-renewed. That is why nobody (at Fix) has advocated getting rid of teachers. Get them management that demands the effective teaching of students and see what you have then. Right now, teachers don't have administrators singing that tune, they haven't for fifteen years. Get management that is focused on learning, see who joins in."
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"I never say anything I don't mean," Ryker told The River City News. "If kids are learning they don't act how you see them act."