Strongsville Board of Education
Northeast Ohio, Local
Michelle Bissell is running for Strongsville Board of Education so the board will more accurately reflect the population of Strongsville. When elected, Michelle will be one of two women serving on the board. Michelle understands that her life experiences will bring a different perspective to the board. Michelle has been fighting for gender equality in schools since her two sons were in pre-school. She served on the governing board of the Strongsville Cooperative Preschool were she pushed for language changes in policies to be less gender-biased.
In 2020 Michelle will begin her work as a Strongsville Board of Education Member.Website
Meet the Candidate
Can you tell our members a little bit about your journey to filing as a candidate?
Between October 2009 and December 2015, I gave birth to five sons, with no more than 23 months between each one. So just before my youngest son turned two, when I was confident I was done having babies, I started to wonder what came next for me. I had been engrossed in full-time parenting and child-bearing for so long, I hadn’t really focused on me and my set of professional skills, personal goals, or aspirations.
I knew that I didn’t want to go to work full-time but rather focus my energy on serving the community in some capacity. My husband suggested I run for the Board of Education, and the idea just stuck. It felt right. I knew my passion, experience, and skill set are perfectly suited to serve on a board of education. So I celebrated my 35th birthday in January by pulling a petition to run.
Tell our members about a friend or family member who inspired you to become a leader.
I can’t answer this question with a single name. My path to becoming a leader developed slowly through consistent and, in some cases, life-long interaction with a number of strong people. When my mom was ten years old, her mother died of cancer. She was raised as an only child by her single father. She met my father, one of six children, who grew up in a home with limited resources. My father put himself through college and law school with my mother’s support. She went back to college as an adult to finish two degrees. For as long as I’ve known and understood their story, I’ve been inspired by their tenacity and success.
In December 2010, I learned that the son I was carrying had a severe congenital heart defect and would likely die shortly after birth, if not in utero. I spent the last several months of that pregnancy researching heart surgeries, consulting doctors in other states, demanding more tests, meeting with families who experienced comparable situations. In essence, I learned how to advocate, for myself and for others, which I believe is integral to both campaigning and leadership. Jude did die shortly after birth, but he was born alive and took breaths on his own. To me, that’s strength at its very core.
And now the more I campaign, the more inspired I have become by friend, neighbor, and fellow Matriot, Kelly Kosek. Kelly ran for city council in Strongsville in 2017. At the time, no woman had served on council in 16 years. Somehow she managed to juggle a campaign against five men, a full-time job, parenting two sons, and a plethora of other community activities. She did it with grace and paved the way for the six female candidates on the ballot in our community this fall. Without her direct influence, I would never have even considered running for an elected position.
Some of you are military veterans, some small business owners, some professionals, some mothers and grandmothers, some homemakers. How did one of these experiences shape who you are as a person and leader?
As I mentioned previously, I gave birth to my son, Jude, in 2011, and held him as he died the next day. This is easily the most impactful single experience of my life and has altered the way I live my life and the way I lead. Since his death, I have much more grace for people. I’m continuously conscious of the fact that each person has a story. And that the story likely explains (although it does not dismiss) behavior. Ultimately, I am much more inclined to listen before I speak, to make sure I hear and engage with other stories as much as I can. I believe good communication starts with careful and intentional listening and that good communication is essential to good leadership.
The Matriots PAC has a goal to see 50% of all elected offices in Ohio held by women by 2028. What is your vision for Ohio in 2028?
In Strongsville, we are behind the curve in female leadership, especially on the school board, where there’s currently one woman (20%). I’d like to see our community welcome female leaders and recognize the unique and valuable perspective we bring. I’d also like to see Strongsville City Schools be a leader in the greater Cleveland area. That is, I’d like to be a trailblazing district: recognizing and addressing the needs of our current families and implementing policy that benefits those families before other districts do, rather slowly and cautiously following the leader.
Tip O’Neill famously said that “all politics is local.” What are the top-two issues your community or our state face today?
I believe the top issue our school district faces is financial security. We passed a new operating levy in May 2019 but now have two 5-year limited levies in place. Voters will have to renew a levy nearly every two years, which is not ideal. Additionally, our school district receives very little aid from the state. We have to figure out how to effectively communicate to our residents that the burden of educating our students falls to our tax payers under current Ohio legislation.
The second issue we need to address is how to handle an aging population and potential turnover. In the past few years, Strongsville has seen its lowest student enrollment in quite a long time. We closed buildings to address the dip but now will need to handle the increase in students as it trends up. We also have many senior living communities and senior citizens who have interests that are often at odds with those of the younger families. We have to find a way to address the needs—and potentially integrate them—of both demographics.
Tell us something personal about yourself.
I am an avid reader, although not at the moment with campaigning in full force! And I enjoy almost every genre. So far this year, I’ve read The Library Book by Susan Orlean, How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan, Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, The Tradition by Jericho Brown, all the works of Nadia Bolz-Weber, the first three Harry Potter books, and more children’s books than I can count, among others. My ideal reading environment involves a cozy recliner and blanket, college football on TV in the background, a pumpkin candle burning, fall air blowing through open windows, a pumpkin beer or coffee, and a real, paper book.