Eight school board candidates vie for Kent seats

Editor’s Note: Questionnaires for Sussex County school board candidates will appear in Saturday’s Delaware State News.

DOVER — Even though this school year might be winding down, there are several candidates interested in helping lead school districts throughout Kent County in the future with positions on board of educations up for grabs.

School board voting for a combined total of eight candidates for Caesar Rodney, Capital and Lake Forest school districts is set to take place Tuesday, May 14, from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m.

Caesar Rodney has three candidates vying for a one-year, At-Large term while in the Capital School District, incumbent John C. Martin Jr. will be taking on challenger Dewitt Peterkin III for his five-year, At-Large term that expires June 30, 2024.

Jessica Marelli, the president of the Caesar Rodney School Board, is running unopposed and will retain her five-year, At-Large term, just like Smyrna School Board President Scot McClymont.

Meanwhile, CR school board candidates Dave Buckson Jr., Joyce Simmons Denman and William “Bill” Victory Sr. are all seeking a one-year, At-Large term that expires June 30, 2020.

Kimberly L. Hurd, Sarah Starkey and Wendy Omans are running for a five-year, At-Large term in the Lake Forest School District that will be vacated by Ronda Swenson.

Kristopher R. Thompson is running unopposed in Milford and will win an Area B, five-year term to the school board.

Polling places for the Caesar Rodney District election are at Allen Frear Elementary, 237 Sorghum Mill Road, Camden-Wyoming; W. Reily Brown Elementary, 36 Webbs Lane, Dover; and W.B. Simpson Elementary, 5 Old North Road in Camden-Wyoming.

For the Capital School District, voters can cast their votes at: William Henry Middle, 65 Carver Road, Dover; Hartly Elementary, 2617 Arthursville Road; and East Dover Elementary, 852 S. Little Creek Road.

Polling places for the Lake Forest District’s school board voting include: Frederica Fire Hall, 6 Front St.; Lake Forest North Elementary, 319 E. Main St., Felton; Lake Forest South Elementary, 301 Dorman St., Harrington and Lake Forest High, 5407 Killens Pond Road, Felton.

In order to vote, individuals must be at least 18 years old, a U.S. and Delaware citizen, live in the school district they are voting in and show proof of identity and address upon voting.

Caesar Rodney candidates

Dave Buckson Jr.

Dave Buckson Jr.

Age: 55

From: Camden

Education: Elon College, North Carolina, Roger Williams University School of Law, Rhode Island and Rollins College School of Business, Winter Park Florida.

Why did you decide to run for election to the school board?

As a father of two high school boys — one who is playing lacrosse and another who is a senior on his way to Clemson University— I spend a lot of time at events in the school district. I also volunteer as high school coach for the Caesar Rodney football team. These activities have afforded me considerable access to our district. I have witnessed first-hand the success and education afforded them throughout our district. The education they have received is in my mind second to none in the public setting. As always we need to look for ways to improve along with adding the most recent technology and teaching tools. However, our educators are the best and prove it each day and every day. As a graduate of the school district. I am living proof of what system offers and the rewards it continues to generate for our youth now and into the future. I am a 1982 graduate. I went on to the US Coast Guard, college, law school, graduate school earning an MBA. I have spent my life in the medical manufacturing business. The education I received in our district afforded me the opportunity to continue on this path. I have a strong belief we always need to reach for new standards and goals. This is why I want to serve on the CR school board

What do you believe are the most important issues facing the school district?

I feel that there is always room to grow and expand. I feel that we as a system should adapt as we evolve. Years ago we had defined ways for our youth to choose their way for the future. We did this through immersion in the trades and also college paths. Over time I think we have moved away from the emphasis of opportunity in all areas. We still have programs that help in this area. However, we have diminished our capacity in this area. Pathways and the ability to find your place should be an essential part of the education process. Not just an emphasis on college as the precursor to success. The world needs electricians, carpenters, plumbers etc. for now and into the future. I believe that helping to inform and empower our youth to make decisions is a significant part of the education process. There are various opinions and ideas working right now on this concept. The best part of being a parent and also a board member is inspiring debate in areas similar to Pathway, driving us as a district to become better for our children today but ultimately into the future.

What would your experience bring to the school board?

I have spent most of my life in business. I have been an advocate for progress, efficiency and productivity. In this I have been very successful. These drives and intentions are what I want to bring to the school board. I want to create an environment of communication, ideas and open involvement. This background leads me to the importance of education and our children. I feel our priorities will always be the students and their education. Whatever enhances their education or supplies a benefit, I will support. I believe that the school district has always been financially responsible in its decision process. I agree that some decisions could cause a hard look. However I feel that those involved strived to do the best at the time. If elected I would also strive to make the best decisions on finance, budgeting and areas of fiscal responsibility. Again I would affirm the teachers, students and anything directly related to their success would be a priority for me. It comes down to continued strides in providing the best education for our youth and environment in the schools.

Joyce Simmons Denman

Joyce Simmons Denman

Age: 66

From: Pennsylvania (1953 – 1974) (moved to Delaware in 1974 at age 21)

Education: B.S. ’74 (California University of Pennsylvania); M.Ed.’80 (University of Delaware); E.D. ’04 (University of Delaware)

Why did you decide to run for election to the school board?

Education is arguably the most important gift we can give our children. I am in awe of the systems we have created over the last 200 years. We have come so far, and I am very proud of our public schools. We keep getting better even though more is expected of us all the time. After 44 years as an educator, I am proud to have played a significant role in this evolution and I am now interested in using my cumulative knowledge to give back to the district that nurtured my children. My children graduated in 2005, 2006 and 2008 and have all gone on to wonderful careers of their choosing, thanks to the foundational influences of the Caesar Rodney School District. I have decided to run for the school board because I will always care about the families, like mine in our community and I am proud to have the proven experience to positively benefit the children, families, teachers, staff and administration of the Caesar Rodney School District.

What do you believe are the most important issues facing the school district?

Two urgent matters are population growth and student/staff safety. The schools are filled to capacity which impacts our ability to address other issues of great importance. Crowded classrooms hinder our ability to differentiate instruction, ensure safer environments, implement creative programming, and generally man-age the instructional day. Items of continuing importance are quality programming, professional development, specially designed instruction, strengthening the arts and athletics, and fair employee contracts.

What would your experience bring to the school board?

The first 32 years in education (1974-2006) as a Delaware teacher gave me front line participation knowledge and the subsequent 12 years as the supervisor/director of special education taught me how a school district works. Thirty-three years as a parent gives me global perspective and unique understandings as to how students flourish in all settings, but each case must be considered independently to create the best plan for every student (hence, the Individualized Education Program – IEP). The administrative years (2006-2018) deepened my understandings for the general operations of a school district through a broad lens. There is food service, financial management, transportation, secondary education, elementary education, special education and least restrictive environments, student services, curriculum, evaluation, federal grants, athletic programs, language immersion programs, English Language Learners, advanced placement, scholarships, technology, music programs, visual and performing arts, etc. It amazes me that the public schools constantly juggle so many initiatives. They can do this because the systems have evolved over time with good leadership. There is often much criticism out there, but when you view the progress retrospectively it is remarkable. We must appreciate what we have in order to continue our forward progress. Technology is important and we must stay on top of the ever-changing cyber landscape while holding on to relationships with students and parents. Students flourish when they know someone cares. My 44 years as an educator and 33 years as a parent offers a broad perspective to the board on a variety of issues.

William C. Victory Sr.

William C. Victory Sr.

Age: 66

From: Born in Cape Charles, Virginia. Came to Dover Air Force Base 1968 due to father’s military transfer from New Jersey,

Education: Graduated from Dover Air Force Base in 1971. Earned bachelor’s degree in Education from Delaware State University.

Why did you decide to run for election to the school board?

I have worked as an educator for Caesar Rodney school district for over 26 years. I am passionate about improving our schools for the students, faculty, and the district as a whole. I am committed to addressing the concerns of each entity. My roots and love run deep for this district. I want Caesar Rodney to be the best place to attend school and teach in the state of Delaware.

What do you believe are the most important issues facing the school district?

Caesar Rodney has become one of the lower paid school districts in the state. We cannot expect to retain the great educators we have or attract quality educators without increasing the salaries we offer. Competitive teacher salaries will be critical to ensure a top-notch education for our students. Also, in light of recent, tragic shootings on college campuses and other schools across the nation, safety for all schools in the district would be critically important to me.

What would your experience bring to the school board?

Currently, there are no educators on the school board. Having worked for Caesar Rodney school district for over 26 years as an educator I know the needs and concerns of the faculty, students, and school buildings. I want to use my experience, strengths, and talents as an educator and coach to be a positive addition to the wonderful people who serve on our school board now.

Capital candidates

John C. Martin Jr.

John C. “Marty” Martin, Jr.

Age: 55

From: Nashville, Tennessee, and currently residing in Towne Point in Dover

Education: Master’s degree plus 60 credit hours

Why did you decide to run for re-election to the school board?

I initially chose to run to bring a focus on equity for all of the stakeholders in our community. Students, families, members of our community and the district employees deserve a board that makes everyone’s well-being a priority. I have learned a lot during my term as a board member and I have enjoyed working with my fellow board members. Our diversity of experience and ideas has made our board strong and effective. Now I am running for re-election. If I am selected by our electorate, I believe our team will continue to thrive and benefit from our robust momentum.

What do you believe are the most important issues facing the school district?

Our district is facing some of the same challenges that schools across the state are facing. There is a shortage of school psychologists and our district leadership is proactively addressing this matter. Additionally, mental health is a major focus. Our district supports measures that address this national crisis and embraces research-based practices to deliver desired outcomes. Finally, the passing of our referendum means we get to meet the audacious challenge of building two new schools that will give greater opportunities for our students to succeed.

What would your experience bring to the school board?

I bring experience as an educator, coach, parent and community advocate. I have also served on this board for five years. Experience is invaluable. I have learned so much from my colleagues, past and present, and this experience has made a positive impact on my life.

I understand and honor the clear distinction of board members’ role in the district. Our job is to serve as stewards for the school community and to legislate with prudence. Therefore, it is with the utmost respect that I have served and seek to continue to serve our stakeholders.

Dewitt Peterkin III

Age: 69.

From: Darien, Connecticut.

Education: Attended Wesley College and University of Connecticut

Why did you decide to run for election to the school board?

This is my last chance for elected office. The Capital School District is one of the largest in Delaware and it’s always been my objective to help as many kids as possible. I think people who serve on the school board should be paid. If they just volunteer they won’t show up.

What do you believe are the most important issues facing the school district?

They need as much money from the state as possible to survive. More money is needed for teachers and higher educators to keep and attract the best candidates. The school budget right now is on a shoestring. When I recently visited Dover High School on a private tour, there was a vibe that teachers didn’t want to stay around after the last school bell rang. After it rang they were out the door. There’s no afterschool programs. Kids should not come to school with devices, they should leave their cell phones at home.

What would your experience bring to the school board?

I was a youth representative on the Darien, Connecticut school board. After I left UConn I did volunteer work in several Connecticut school systems.

Lake Forest candidates

Kimberly Hurd

Kimberly Hurd

Age: 35

From: Wilmington, North Carolina. Currently resides in Felton for the last 11 years.

Education: “Bachelor of Science, University of Delaware.”

Why did you decide to run for election to the school board

“I decided to run for election for a seat on the Lake Forest school board mainly by faith at first. I considered this would be a position that would allow me to shed some light on potential areas of need surrounding our district. Embracing such a candidacy would allow me to be a voice for all those who need to be heard. My decision was also driven by my three little ones who will make their way, as a Spartan, through Lake Forest District. Being involved at this level will allow me to know and understand the trials and tribulations our schools face. These children are our future and education is the most powerful tool in which we can ensure they realize their full potential and become proactive contributors to our society!”

What do you believe are the most important issues facing the school district?

“With respect to what I believe are the most important issues facing our school district, one of the main concerns I have is for the safety of our students and staff and improvements that need to be made. As an example, North Elementary has a completely enclosed playground with two small gates. If a situation were to arise where a perpetrator should enter the playground, the children have little reaction/response time to evacuate safely and effectively. Another area to mention would be the turnover rate at the secondary schools for teachers is high. I would absolutely focus on defining ways for our district to retain our outstanding staff. Issues like these must be addressed, and as such, I have specifically made the decision to actively pursue a position on school board in order to be in a better position to not only to develop strategies to address my concerns, but rather the concerns of other parents within the district!”

What would your experiences bring to the school board?

“Instead of focusing on my experiences, I would like to share my personal traits I believe are more important to possess in order to hold a position on the school board. First and foremost, I bring an open mind. I’m a lifelong learner, believing to acquire the best knowledge from any and all sources before making any decision. I believe I have a well-rounded personality and I am someone who can connect with others on a personal level, treating everyone with honesty, respect and sensitivity. I am a dedicated, hardworking mother who wants to make a difference not only for my children but all the children in our district. My motivation and enthusiasm paired with my undying drive will provide new insights to the district to develop strategies that will create the best opportunities for our children.”

Wendy Omans

Wendy Omans

Age: 44

From: Frederica

Education: “BA History; Wesley College”

Why did you decide to run for election to the school board?

: “First and foremost, I have a vested interest in the success of our school district as I am the proud parent of three current Lake Forest students and a 2013 Lake Forest graduate. After speaking to many parents, staff, students, and community members over many years regarding what they both loved and disliked about the district, I decided that I wanted to try and be a part of the solution to issues that face our district. As an educator for the past 18 years, I bring with me a wealth of knowledge to draw from which is invaluable when making decisions that affect all stakeholders within the district.”

What do you believe are the most important issues facing the school district?

“Declining Enrollment in the District: One major challenge currently facing the Lake Forest School District is a root cause for many other issues within the district. Declining enrollment within the district, primarily at the high school level, is a critical issue that must be remedied. When students choice out of your district, funds allocated for that student go with them to their choice district. While the loss of these funds can be problematic, students leaving the district brings about systemic issues which are not limited to funding alone. Everyone and every program within a district is affected when you continuously have declining enrollment. Data needs to be collected to ascertain why students are leaving the district. With this data, the district should then put a plan in place to curtail the exodus of our students to neighboring districts.

Retention and recruitment of highly qualified staff and administration: It is the duty of the district to retain and recruit the most qualified staff and administration possible. The retention of highly qualified staff requires the district to support all staff members by personally listening to their concerns, celebrating their successes, and by treating them as professionals who are an integral part of the district. When staff concerns are not addressed, we lose teachers, specialists, paraprofessionals, administrative assistants, custodians, and nutrition service workers. All of whom are equally important to the overall success of the district and its’ students.

While the loss of any staff from a district can be problematic, the loss of teachers in any district causes issues that can be detrimental to student achievement. Currently, there are classrooms at various schools throughout the district that have no permanent teacher in place. Students face a constant stream of substitutes who have been placed in the very precarious position of helping students to become proficient in content where they themselves may not have adequate content knowledge. There are other schools within the district that have had to split up students amongst other teacher classrooms when teachers have left the district after the school year has begun. Teachers are faced with larger than recommended rosters and students have to adjust to changes that can sometimes disrupt their educational progress.

Concerns addressed for all the stakeholders in the Lake Forest Community: After many conversations with staff, parents, students, and taxpayers it has become evident that most stakeholders feel that their concerns may be heard but that they are not being addressed. Communication is critical to successfully addressing stakeholder concerns. The district should be cognizant of the issues that concern its community and make plans, even if they are long-term, to handle the problems that are most important to stakeholders within the district. There are multiple options, including but not limited to, social media outlets, surveys (online as well as paper in hand), the district website, etc. to gather information from the community and develop a viable plan for consistent follow-up.”

What would your experiences bring to the school board?

“Educational experience is an invaluable tool for any school board member to possess. I have nearly two decades of experience within the educational system to help guide the decisions to be made for our students, teachers, support staff, parents, and community as a potential school board member. There is truly no substitute for experience when it comes to our children and the welfare of our school district.

I have been a teacher for the past 18 years at Dover High School, where I still currently teach College Preparatory Psychology and Advanced Placement Psychology. As an educator, I have had the opportunity to work with students from many different learning levels that range from advanced placement to a special education setting. I understand the impact that certain policies and procedures can have on students. I have many years of experience to guide me in developing policies that ensure there is equitable access to learning for all of Lake Forest’s students.

I am a member of the Delaware State Educators Association, the Capital Educators Association, and currently serve as a building representative for Dover High School. I am a member of the Capital School District Instructional Advisory Council who is charged with constructing the district calendar which is always an important topic for all stakeholders within the district.

My experience as an educator is not limited to the education taking place in the classroom, but in other realms as well. I was the Head Field Hockey Coach at both Delcastle High School and Christiana High School, and served as the Head Girls Lacrosse Coach at Dover High School. I was also a youth soccer coach at Harrington Parks and Recreation for 5 years. These experiences have provided me with insight into the education of children in nearly all age groups and has allowed me to see first-hand the benefits that school sports can bring to the lives of both student athletes and their parents.

As an actively involved parent of three students in the Lake Forest School District I have personally experienced many ways in which we, as a district, can improve upon communication and follow-up. As a member of the school board, I would advocate for and reach out to all stakeholders in the district to address their concerns.

I am an educator, a parent, and an advocate….and yes Experience Counts!”

Sarah Starkey

Sarah Starkey

Age: 37

From: Felton

Education: “Caesar Rodney High School (‘99), University of Delaware, Bachelor of Science in Elementary and Special Education (’03)”

Why did you decide to run for election to the school board?

“The people of our community, specifically my four children, led me to the decision to run for the open seat on the Lake Forest School Board of Education. I have spent the last sixteen years investing in the children and families of the Lake Forest community through church, community sports and school activities. Several friends of mine work and live in the Lake Forest School District, and I want to be their voice and represent them well. I also desire to be an advocate for our children to ensure that all students experience a solid, well-rounded education that best prepares them for college, career and life.”

What do you believe are the most important issues facing the school district?

“Cohesiveness, or the lack thereof, can make or break a district. Nothing is more important than everyone-custodians, paraprofessionals, nurses, secretaries, administrators, teachers, counselors, bus drivers, nutrition workers, coaches, and special services staff-working together to help our children succeed and ensuring that they are career and college ready. I want to lead the charge in reestablishing trust between all members of the district and community. When everyone’s end goal is the same and our focus does not get diverted, the result is a strong morale. A community of people who trust one another and come together for the greater good of our children is a district that people want to be a part of!

Another area that I believe needs some attention is the recruitment and retention of highly qualified staff that possess and demonstrate the district’s core values. We must strive to retain our best staff members and continue to search for candidates who will represent the district with pride, integrity and excellence in order to promote the success of all students.”

What would your experiences bring to the school board?

“Our family’s involvement in education and the community has provided me with a tremendous amount of experience that will prove to be beneficial in my role as a member of the Lake Forest School Board of Education, should I be elected.

I am relational by nature and I love people! I have learned the art of connecting with people and valuing them for who they are. Building and nurturing relationships with the people of the Lake Forest community has led, and will continue to lead, to a high level of trust being built between the community and myself. My approachability and genuine care for the people of our community would be assets to our district and community. Through my role as a Family Ministry Director, I have rallied and led many teams in order to accomplish common goals. I am able to effectively identify areas of growth and develop a plan to achieve positive results. I am a strong leader and can see the direction our district needs to go. I would use the skills I have obtained throughout my careers to implement the necessary steps to take us to that destination.

I spent two years as a classroom teacher before becoming a mom, and my husband has been teaching in the Smyrna School District for 22 years. Our experiences, combined with the experiences of our four children as students, have allowed me to obtain a very well-rounded view of education. My experience will help me approach every decision from the perspective of mom, teacher, director and community stakeholder to ensure that Lake Forest School District is the best little school district in Delaware.”

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

Reach staff writer Jennifer Antonik at jantonik@newszap.com

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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