Willey challenges Baltazar-Lopez for Milford school board seat

Voters head to the polls — or mail in their absentee ballots ahead of — July 21 for this year’s school board elections. 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 elections.delaware.gov/services/voter/absentee/school.shtml.

The affidavit can be returned by mail, fax or an email to absenteessc@delaware.gov or absenteeskc@delaware.gov.

In the Milford School District, polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Milford High School, 1019 N. Walnut St., and Evelyn I. Morris Early Childhood Center, 8609 Third St., Lincoln.

Scott Willey is challenging incumbent Rony Baltazar-Lopez for a two-year term. Mr. Baltazar-Lopez was appointed to the seat a year ago.

RONY BALTAZAR-LOPEZ

Why did you decide to run for school board?

I am the youngest and only Latino on the Milford school board. I have had the pleasure of serving on the board for a year as an appointee. I have asked more questions and have introduced more policies than any of the other six members. If elected, I will continue to make our school district more transparent and accountable while ensuring that all our students and families — regardless of socioeconomic background — have a voice.

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

Our biggest challenge as a school district right now is the uncertainty of the upcoming school year due to COVID-19.

Rony Baltazar-Lopez

First, we need to improve and expand mental health supports and resources for students, families and educators. Our students have experienced an enormous amount of stress, anxiety or depression from being home all this time. Parents and guardians have had to become teachers for their children, while managing their full-time responsibilities. Moreover, teachers have had to abruptly transition from traditional lesson plans to finding innovative and expansive ways to reach their students.

Second, we need to alter school board policy to allow us to continue adjusting to the growing concerns around COVID-19 and create mechanisms to allow us to react quicker should we be hit with another crisis in the future. We do this by forming a committee of various stakeholders — students, teachers, parents and others — to find ways that we can improve upon any mistakes we made during this pandemic and improve for next time so that no student is left behind.

Third, as we continue discussions regarding reopening, school districts need to ensure that they are following proper protocol in accordance to the Department of Education’s recommendations to continue teaching our students while reducing the spread of COVID-19. These protocols must be translated and properly communicated to our non-English-speaking families.

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

As a school board member, I would continue focusing on:

• Improving graduation rates. Recently, the Delaware Department of Education released a report indicating that four-year graduation rates have improved since 2017. The graduation rate for Milford School District in 2017 was 86.32%, and it has steadily increased to 88.42% in 2019. Additionally, African American students, Hispanic/Latino students and students with disabilities also recorded the highest graduation rates since 2010. To further improve these rates, especially for our lower-income, diverse and disabled children, we must expand on early-warning indicators to track students who are at greatest risk of dropping out, and we need to address attendance rates and chronic absenteeism in our district.

• Better preparing our high schoolers for college and trade schools. In the 2018-19 school year, only 51% of our graduating seniors were considered college and/or career ready. According to Delaware Secretary of Education Susan Bunting, Delaware will hire or replace 30% of its workforce within the next eight years. As a district, we need to keep investing in the Delaware Pathways program and also provide more students the opportunity to enroll in Advanced Placement courses.

My other top priorities include addressing our overcrowding in our schools, improving the proficiency rates in English language arts and math for students between grades 3 and 8 and keeping our district financially stable in the long term.

What relevant experience prepares you for this role?

I have served for a year on the board as an appointee. My upbringing was in this town and school district, and I am a proud graduate of Milford High School (class of 2013). I graduated from the University of Delaware with a bachelor’s degree in political science, and I am currently pursuing a master’s degree in public administration at the same institution.

I have policy experience as I was a legislative aide in the U.S. Congress. I have outreach experience as I worked for a mental health nonprofit. I am currently the public information officer for the Delaware Department of Justice.

Furthermore, I serve on the La Colectiva de Delaware steering committee, and I am a member of the Hispanic Student Parent Mentor Association.

SCOTT WILLEY

Why did you decide to run for school board?

I feel like being involved with the community is a must. I do not want to be the person that just complains with no action to make it different. I feel like we have a great district and can make it better.

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

Overcrowding. We have to address this through a responsible referendum that the people of the community can get behind. We are wasting funds in our current budget, dealing with the overcrowding for all short-term solutions. It will cost less in the long term to get a referendum passed.

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

Community involvement. It needs to be looked at from a positive point of view from all people. If these kids want to go to school, it will lead to improvements across the board in grades, funding and staff.

What do you offer that your opponent may not?

I think that we all have good experiences that prepare us for positions like this. It is whether or not you choose to challenge yourself with a task like this.

What relevant experience prepares you for this role?

I have spent the last 16 years raising my four children. In those years, I have been a part of their school sports, the Little League board and school life. I am also partnered in two local businesses. My experience is built off of everyday life.

Editor’s note: All candidates were asked the same questions. They could decline to answer some. They were also asked to send a photo, but some did not.