PTO pres­i­dent to run un­op­posed for school board

Cecil Whig - - LOCAL - By JES­SICA IANNETTA jian­netta@ce­cil­ Ar­chi­tect’s Ren­der­ing

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.


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