PTO president to run unopposed for school board
CONOWINGO — Christie Stephens, a substitute teacher and president of the Conowingo Elementary School PTO, will likely be the new District 3 school board member after her competitor withdrew from the race this week.
Conowingo Baptist Church Senior Pastor Joshua McCord had filed for the seat but withdrew his name from contention Thursday, one day after a meeting with Stephens at a local coffee shop. McCord arranged the meeting after seeing that Stephens had filed for the seat and after talking, the two realized they agreed on all the important issues, he told the Whig Thursday. Given that, McCord felt it was best for him to withdraw.
“I am 100 percent endorsing her. I think she’s going to be a great candidate and we align on all the important things,” he said, noting both he and Stephens are Christians and after prayer decided this was the best course of action.
Stephens said Thursday that she was honored to run alongside McCord, if only for a short period of time. McCord is a great community leader she said, noting his involvement with Fellowship of Christian Athletes and other organizations and she hopes to continue working with him in the future.
With the school board seat now likely locked up — only a long-shot, writein bid remains for opposition — Stephens said she’s not wasting anytime getting to better know the school system before she officially takes office in November. She’s already met with Rising Sun Middle School principal Stuart Hutchinson and plans to meet with more school administrators in the coming months.
“I’m very, very honored. I don’t take it lightly,” Stephens said. “I’m excited to get in there and make a difference.”
Stephens, 40, and her husband, a Cecil County Sheriff’s Office senior deputy and Air Force National Guard member, have four children in CCPS schools and Stephens is a longtime school volunteer.
In addition to leading the Conowingo Elementary PTO, Stephens also currently serves on the CCPS school advisory committee. She has a partial degree in elementary education and plans to go back to school in the spring for a family and community services degree.
A county resident since 2002, serving the community runs deep for Stephens, who has been volunteering at county schools since 2009 in a variety of roles. As a board member, Stephens said she would focus on better connecting with the community as well as emphasize school safety.
“My heart really is in this community,” she said. “I love the kids I get to see every day when I walk into the schools. For me, it was just really important to give back.”
One of Stephens’ main goals is to close the “communication gap” that sometimes exists between the school board and the wider community, particularly parents. Many parents don’t know how to advocate for their kids or schools and don’t always have time to attend school board meetings or budget hearings, she said.
To that end, Stephens said she would like to make better use of social media, perhaps by holding Facebook live videos where parents can ask school board members questions. She’d also like to hold monthly coffee meetings where the com- munity can meet the board members in a casual setting.
“We have to make it easier to get people on board. The Board of Education is there to serve the community so we have to give them every opportunity possible to have a voice,” she said. “Just being present is so important.”
School safety is also a top priority for Stephens and with her husband serving with the sheriff’s office, Stephens said she is 100 percent behind the new ALICE active shooter response training CCPS has been implementing. But while ALICE is a step in the right direction, Stephens said there are more steps the school board can take to make the schools even safer.
There needs to be clear policies about not holding open doors for visitors and ensuring doors are locked, Stephens said, and there needs to be an emphasis on secure entrances at all schools.
And while recognizing that funding is always an issue, Stephens said she would like to see a law enforcement officer stationed at every school, not just as a deterrent but as a way to make students more comfortable with the police.
“We’re seeing time and time again that our students have firsthand information about many of these threats. Our kids are the first line of defense — they’re getting the information before anybody else is, whether it’s a conversation or social media. If we have a designated law enforcement officer in every school, they’re going to trust that guy,” she said.
With McCord’s withdrawal, the only remaining contested school board race is in District 5, where Diana Hawley is competing with Evan Jones Jr. for the seat currently held by board president Dawn Branch, who cannot run again after serving two terms. In District 4, incumbent Bill Malesh is unopposed and will serve a second term unless a long-shot write-in bid appears.