Laurel school board election: Erskine, Pugh challenging Nichols for at-large seat

Voters head to the polls — or mail in their absentee ballots ahead of — July 21 for this year’s school board election. Downstate, there are seven contested elections. Learn a little bit more about the candidates below and check back for more districts this week.

To cast a ballot, voters must return an absentee affidavit four days before the election. The affidavit can be found at:

The affidavit can be returned by mail, fax and an email to

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Laurel High School, 1133 S. Central Ave., Laurel.

Barbara Erskine and Jana Pugh are both challenging incumbent Brent Nichols for his at-large seat at the dais for Laurel School District. The term for the seat is five years.


Why did you decide to run for school board?

I have decided to run for the Laurel School Board because I believe that my diverse background would be a welcomed asset to the Laurel School Board. I possess a lifetime of community activism involving both local, as well as national, policies. I am concerned about the declining performance scores that are plaguing the school district. I believe that only through the influx of new leadership can these inequities be met, and changed. We are dealing with the future of our country through our students – a responsibility that is not being fully met. We can do better, and I intend to see that we do.

Barbara Erskine

What’s the biggest challenge facing your district, and how would you address it?

There is more than one challenge facing the Laurel School District. Laurel has a series of realities that result in a failed school experience. As shown by the State of Delaware’s own statistics, the core goals of basic skills are not being met. Most students when they leave secondary school can read, write, and do simple math. Reading entails more than the ability to decode. Reading is the comprehension of meaning that matters. Knowing how to construct a rational paragraph & project your meaning is essential in today’s economy. Basic math skills that are formulated without the use of one’s iPhone are mandatory. Cash registers that print out the amount of your change were not created as a novelty. Core skills must be addressed through teacher assessments of the students’ proficiencies & by not allowing students to progress without obtaining required grade-level proficiencies. An educated workforce is what America needs. Not a class of students that cannot read with comprehension, cannot write a cohesive paragraph, nor are able to make change without looking at the cash register.

What are a few areas you’d like to focus on as a school board member?

As an adult, I was diagnosed with ADHD. This fact has made me acutely aware of the struggles faced by students with disabilities. I believe that I would bring this perspective to the board and advocate for enhanced programs for special needs students, including students where English is a second language. In addition, I strongly believe that it is imperative that all students have access to broadband. This includes having high speed Internet, as well as a computer or laptop to access the Internet. The recent pandemic has emphasis this necessity. Additionally, Sussex Tech (grades 9-12); a “vocational” school in Sussex County has the ability to allocate approximately $22,000 (2016-2017) per student. The Laurel School District, during this same period, was only capable of allocating about $13,000 per student (K-12). This system of funding is not equitable. Sussex Tech does not have to worry about local constituents for a referendum – its money comes from the State. School districts from lower income locations, such as Laurel, have to fight to get funds from either its residents or the state. Delaware has an 80-year-old funding system, one of the oldest in the country, and is one of only four states that do not provide additional state funding for English learners or low-income/at-risk students. As a member of the Laurel School Board, I would be in Dover, talking and motivating State Legislators to increase funding.

What do you offer that your opponent may not?

With my diverse background, and a lifetime of community service, I would bring to this Board something that it is seriously lacking – foresight. I have lobbied legislatures both in Dover and in Washington, DC, with positive outcomes. I have come face-to-face with the University of Delaware and seen them back down. I was instrumental in getting a campus-crime-bill passed in Delaware, as well as in Washington, DC. I have experience in getting things done and will bring that motivation to the Board.

What relevant experience prepares you for this role?

I lived in Africa for two years where I learned to interact with individuals of a different nationalities and different cultures. My husband is a retired certified teacher and my son is the Supervisor of Schools for the Colonial School District. I have been a homeroom mother and tutored fourth graders. I have handed our household finances and believed in living within your means. I was a member of the movement to allow the Christiana Hospital to be built and founded the Melody Meadows Civic Association. I was its president for ten years and coordinated multi-million dollar installation of sewers in the neighborhood. I was an actively involved member of the Route 40 steering committee, and spearheaded a movement to bring a YMCA facility to the Glasgow area. I was a member of the Bear/Glasgow Civic Association, Friends of the Bear Library, the Delaware Historical Society and a current member of the Laurel Historical Society. I attended the New Castle County Police Citizens Academy and the Delaware State Police Citizens Academy.


Why did you decide to run for school board?

My motivation to run boils down to two basic tenants:

Brent Nichols
  1. To provide and unbiased position/stance that promotes the best interest and provides the best opportunities for our students.
  2. To ensure that the Laurel School District was dedicated to tending to the needs of the WHOLE child, mental, physical, emotional, and social.

What’s the biggest challenge facing your district, and how would you address it?

In an ever-changing climate it becomes increasingly difficult to boil down the issues facing our district and list them from most to least important. Currently, I feel these would be the most important as of now.

  1. Regaining the trust of the Parents, Community, and students that we do have their children’s best interests at our core. That we will provide for them a school experience that focuses on them as a whole and serving their Educational needs as well as their Social, Emotional, and Physical needs.
  2. Working with the Community within the District to create a Partnership that has each and every person ACTIVE and INVESTED in our children.

What are a few areas you’d like to focus on as a school board member?

I feel that one of the biggest areas that we should be focusing on is that of trust. Over the many, many years that the Laurel School District has operated, there have been many times when the people in the community have felt that they could not trust the district as a whole “any farther than they could throw them.”

Since my election to the board, I bear this in mind at every meeting. Without trust, we have nothing.

I will continue to focus on building trust and promoting transparency so that we, as a district, can have the schools that we all deserve.

What do you offer that your opponent(s) may not?

I have been a member of the board for over 10 years now. I am also the current Vice President of the Delaware State Board of Directors as well as a member of the State Legislative Committee. These opportunities have given me a great deal of experience that I draw on when making decisions regarding the overall well-being of our schools.

I also strive to be accessible to everyone at all times. From Parents to Staff, and even the kids! Everyone knows that I am here to listen and offer any help that I can.

I am humbled by the fact that I have been chosen to fill this elected position. To that end I fully understand that it is my duty to make sure that the voices of each and every person in the district is heard!

I am Committed, Available, and Involved!

What relevant experience prepares you for this role?

My Board Accomplishments to date are:

  • Laurel School Board Member for over 10 years.
  • Current Vice President of the Delaware State Board of Directors
  • Represented Laurel at the State Legislative Committee.
  • Member of the Teacher of the Year Committee for Over 10 Years.
  • Member of the Wellness Committee.
  • Member of the Construction Committee for Over 10 Years.

The Community Organizations that I serve with are:

  • Member – Laurel Wesleyan Church
  • Member – Odd Fellows Charity Lodge #27
  • Member – Odd Fellows “Santa in the Park”
  • Member – Odd Fellows “Haunted House”
  • Past Scout and Troop Leader in the Boy Scouts of America

Other Experience that has aided me:

  • Served in the United States Air Force during the Vietnam War
  • Local Small Business Owner


Why did you decide to run for school board?

Jana Pugh

I’ve always thought that having a teacher on the school board would be beneficial. After all, it is the classroom teachers that know the students and their needs the best. I just retired in 2019 after teaching 24 years in the Laurel School District, and I think I can represent the teachers’ concerns for their students and the day-to-day issues they face. Also, I have ten, soon to be eleven, grandchildren that are, or will be, attending the Laurel schools.

What’s the biggest challenge facing your district, and how would you address it?

Since I am not currently on the board, I’m sure there are issues I am unaware of concerning policies, funding, legalities… things of this nature. However, I am aware of challenges in the classroom, where they really matter. A huge challenge is student buy-in and motivation. These children spend most of their waking hours in school, and they should enjoy it. I would like to visit classrooms and help teachers find ways to motivate their students so learning occurs. I think the place to start with this is relationships between teachers, students, and students’ families. It’s been my experience as a teacher that if the relationships are strong, problems such as non-compliance and behavior issues are minimal.

What are a few areas you’d like to focus on as a school board member?

As I previously stated, I would focus on motivating students to want to be in school and to want to learn. Discipline, curriculum selection and delivery, relationships, and community involvement are areas of focus to achieve this goal.

What do you offer that your opponent may not?

As I’ve said, I just retired from teaching. I was in an 8th grade classroom at Laurel Middle School as recently as 12 months ago. I think that my teaching experience and my knowledge of the day-to-day workings of the schools would be valuable on the board. Also, I know most of the staff members and still communicate with several of them daily.

What relevant experience prepares you for this role?

As a teacher, I served on many committees and teams. I was the team and/or grade level leader most of the years I taught. Still, the experience that is most valuable to take to the board is the time spent getting to know students and their families so I could give them the attention and education they deserved and needed. Even though I no longer teach, I still have the heart for the kids in our community and want to continue to help them be successful.