School board election to be held Tuesday
Residents of the Christina School District will go to the polls Tuesday to cast their vote for two school board seats.
Polls will be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at 17 district schools – Bancroft, Bayard, Brookside, Christiana, Downes, ElbertPalmer, Gallaher, Glasgow, Jones, Keene, Maclary, Marshall, McVey, Newark, Oberle, Shue-Medill and Wilson – as well as Quaker Hill Place Apartments in Wilmington.
In the Nominating District C race, incumbent Fred Polaski will face off
against Rich Jester and V.J. Leonard. In Nominating District E, Christy Mannering and Keeley Powell will battle for the seat being vacated by Harrie Ellen Minnehan, who is not seeking a second term.
While the school board is comprised of one member from each of the seven electoral areas in the school district, every voting-age resident of the district can vote in both races.
Whoever wins will play an integral role setting education policy in the district, but the election results likely will be determined by only a small fraction of residents. Last year, only 1.2 percent of eligible voters bothered to cast a ballot, a turnout even department of election officials called “abysmal.”
The winning candidates will begin their five-year terms in July.
Nominating District C
Jester, who lives in Beech Hill, is a data scientist for JPMorgan Chase and also serves on the board of the Delaware chapter of Business Professionals of America, a career and technological organization for students.
During a candidate forum at Downes Elementary earlier this week, he held up a large poster featuring a photo of a rusty, broken door at Christiana High School. Poor facilities are one of the reasons families are leaving the district, he said.
“We need to have safe doors,” Jester said. “We need to have things where kids can actually touch them without worrying whether they need a tetanus shot.”
He said his other priority would be increasing and improving the district’s use of technology in the classroom.
“A lack of resources has left Christina behind when it comes to the digital age,” he said. “The technology in a lot of our schools is out of date or non-functioning. I’ve watched smart boards with bulbs that are waiting five months to be replaced.”
Jester added that he wants Christina to be known as a “talent factory” with successful programs in culinary arts, agriculture, etc.
“I want our district to be the district everyone goes to for new employees,” he said.
Leonard, who lives in Williamsburg Village, is a graduate of Glasgow High School and teaches high school English in a neighboring district. He served on the district’s superintendent search committee and is looking to become even more involved with Christina.
He expressed lofty goals for the district.
“I want to be the best school district in the country, and I want to start by being the best in the state,” Leonard said.
The key, he added, is figuring out how to define “best.”
He wants to continually ask stakeholders what they think the problems are and hear their suggestions, adding that he wants to establish an electronic “suggestion box” to hear from the public. The best organizations frequently ask front-line employees for input, he said.
“We’re almost totally opposite in that regard,” Leonard said.
Polaski, a resident of Christine Manor, is seeking his second full term after already serving seven years on the board. A retired engineer, he currently serves as the board’s vice president.
Polaski said his priority if re-elected would be continuing to work with the state to continue to improve the district’s Wilmington schools.
He also noted that the board recently approved a strategic plan for the district, but there is more work to be done.
“Take that strategic plan and work out the detailed implementation steps for each of those items, budget them, prioritize them,” Polaski said.
He added that the board and administration need to do a better job publicizing the good things happening in Christina.
“The district is a lot better than people think it is,” he said.
Nominating District E
Mannering works at the University of Delaware as a communications specialist and lives in the Forest Glen neighborhood in Bear.
She has two students in Christina schools and another entering kindergarten next year, and has been involved for years, serving on referendum committees, as well as the Keene Elementary and Gauger-Cobbs Middle PTAs. She also serves as the chief operating officer for Brae’s Brown Bags, a nonprofit her 14-year-old son started five years ago to provide healthy snacks to the homeless and others in need.
“My passion is working with low-income people and under-performing students who people just don’t see their potential,” Mannering said. “I see their potential and I’m passionate about it and I love these people and I want to help them.”
She called for establishing “exploratory” programs – essentially elective courses – in the district’s middle schools, adding it would help with student retention.
“Maybe that will get them interested in going to a high school that has those programs if you can make it something that evolves and adapts into that,” she said.
Mannering also wants to see better art and music offerings.
“We have middle schools without art,” she said. “We have schools sharing the same orchestra teacher five different places.”
Powell holds a doctorate in educational leadership from UD, where she works as an assistant dean in the university’s College of Earth, Ocean and Environment. A resident of Academy Hills, she has one child at West Park Elementary School and two-year-old twins that will follow in a few years.
She views herself as a consensus builder.
“I don’t want to be someone who’s a complainer; I want to be someone who’s a change agent,” Powell said.
She said she is running because she is concerned about the high percentage of students who leave Christina for charter schools or other options. She hopes to find ways to better promote the good things Christina is doing and “win students back.”
“I want people to be proud of what we’re doing, and I think our communication and telling them the good news about our district can help with that,” Powell said.
School board candidates participate in a forum at Downes Elementary. From left: Christy Mannering, Keeley Powell, Rich Jester, V.J. Leonard and Fred Polaski.