First a Parent | As a mother of four, Debe Terhar stayed plenty busy. But when the kids grew up, she finally had some time on her hands. So what did she do? She joined her oldest son in college. Comparing schedules at orientation, they discovered that they were in the same history class. (She was excited, he groaned.) In 2001, Terhar (the mother) graduated from Xavier with a bachelor’s in Montessori education.
Then a Teacher | Terhar and her family were living in Massachusetts when her oldest two children started kindergarten. The neighborhood school, as fate would have it, was of the Montessori ilk. “I didn’t fully understand what Montessori was all about,” she says. “It’s just a fantastic philosophy. So many people have the impression that it’s an unstructured environment. But it’s truly not. Children are able to choose the work that really speaks to them. It’s probably the most developmentally appropriate approach to education.” In 2001, Terhar became a full-time Montessori teacher at The Summit Country Day School, where she had volunteered since 1992.
Then a Politician | A couple of years ago, Terhar’s interests turned political. An early participant in the Tea Party movement, she started attending meetings of the Hamilton County Republican Women’s Club, and soon became the group’s president. When the county’s party chairman asked for someone to run for the State Board of Education in the 2010 election, Terhar stepped forward. In a close vote, she beat out four opponents and landed her first political office.
And Now, Madame President | Two months after Terhar joined the Board of Education, Ohio Gov. John Kasich dismissed a board member who had not been confirmed by the Senate. As a result, the board held another election for its president. Terhar won. Now she shuttles between Cincinnati and Columbus, overseeing not only her Hamilton and Warren County constituencies, but also the regulating body for Ohio’s 1.8 million schoolchildren. “It’s baptism by fire,” she says.
The Business of Education | “We need to make sure that we are child-centered,” Terhar says. “That’s my goal—to graduate as many children as we can, and to graduate them with knowledge and skills that will set them up for life.” Terhar is a proponent of the voucher system, and believes a teacher’s pay should be based on performance. “In business, if you do a good job, you get paid for it,” she says. “We need to look at it like a business. We’re in the business of education.” Here, Terhar invokes her Tea Party roots. “The free-market system will determine who does a good job and who doesn’t,” she says.
Pro-kid, Not Anti-teacher | Terhar’s critics accuse her of being anti-teacher. “Well no,” she says, “I am a teacher. I am for teachers. I am for efficient, effective teachers. I look at what is best for the individual child.”