This is the third in a three-part series featuring a Q&A with the candidates for Ellwood City Borough Council and Ellwood City Area School Districts Board of Directors. Todays Q&A features Ellwood City Area School Districts Board of Directors candidates Barbara Wilson and Claire Fauzey. Yesterdays Q&A featured candidates Kathleen McCommons, Renee Pitrelli, and Kathy Tillia. (Candidates Norman Boots, JoEllen Eichler, and Kathy Pansera did not participate).
Primary Elections are just around the corner. Residents will be able to place their votes on May 18. To find your polling location,click here. To learn more about the voting process and how to cast your vote,click here.
Take a moment to get to know the candidates running for Ellwood City Area School Districts Board of Directors.
Former Experience, Roles, and Years Serving onEllwood City Area School District Board:
Why are you running for School Board? If elected, what will be your priorities?I am running for re-election because I truly believe in public education. Over the last few years, I have been able to give valuable input into very important issues in our community. My top priorities are security, equity, and mental health. I would like to continue to serve my community in this capacity.
Is there a particular issue that motivates you to serve on the board? Yes, several. When I was running four years ago, my biggest issue was equity in our schools. I believed then, and now, that all of our children deserve to become their best self. It is up to us to provide ways for them to achieve this. For some, its academics, for others its sports, clubs, choir, band or the musical. Maybe its not an activity but a person that makes them want to come to school each day. Whatever their reason, we need to provide this in the best way possible for them. This opportunity needs to be available for ALL our children no matter what. Every child, with no regard to race, religion, gender, socio-economic status, deserves to receive the tools that they need to be successful. Now, in addition, I have become very interested and involved in school security. Our students cannot learn if they are worried about being hurt in school. So, I find it extremely important to do everything that can be done to keep them safe and secure so they can focus on learning.
What particular experiences or skills have prepared you to serve as a board member? I hold an Associates and a Bachelors degree in Elementary Education. I completed a Masters-level Reading Specialist program. I taught for 7 years including 2 years of RTII (Reading Interventions) for the ECASD at North Side Primary. We have 5 children, the youngest being a Senior this year, so I have many years experience as a parents of a school aged child. In addition, I am employed as the Director of a non-profit and work with and report to a Board of Directors, therefore also having that perspective.
In what school district or community activities/organizations have you been involved? My most recent project is planning this years After Prom with a few of my fellow board members and a great group of parent volunteers. I am the current President of the Ellwood City-Shenango Soccer Boosters and have spent the last 4 years working to make the soccer program successful through the boosters and by co-coaching the 2017 season. I have chaperoned many school fieldtrips. Whatever activity my kids were involved in, I tried to help or volunteer including school musicals, dance recitals, and athletics. When my children were younger, I was active on the PTO and as a Classroom Mom. Outside of school related activities, I volunteer regularly at The Ladle Soup Kitchen and participate in many local social justice and food justice programs.
What differentiates you from the other candidates and/or board members? Each candidate is unique and voters look for candidates that reflect their values. My life experiences are individual to me and they have shaped who I have become. I am hardworking and honest. I champion for each and every student in our district to be successful. And I am always open to having a conversation with anyone who has an idea to improve our district.
What issues do you believe your district needs to address in its academic program and offerings? What changes would you recommend? I would love to see more practical hands-on offerings in the areas of Technology/Computers, Family & Consumer Science and Tech Ed (Industrial Arts). I would also love to see ECASDs gifted program grow. I am proud of our partnerships with other educational institutes and would like to see those programs grow as well.
What should your school district do to better prepare students as citizens? Academic skills are important but equally important is teaching kids soft skills such as: communication, cooperation, ethics, teamwork, social skills, creativity, and reliability. Students need to learn higher level thinking to be able to problem solve in the real world. They also need to learn to be kind and helpful and how to be a contributing member of their community.
As a board member, where would you look to make budget cuts? (see next question as I am answering both together)
How does a school board balance the need to provide a quality education with the need to respond to the local taxpayer burden? This is a tough question(s) because I never want to cut from any program that benefits our children. Most of our budget is fixed. Payroll including insurance and PESERS (retirement) building costs, and state mandates comprise the majority of our budget. We actually have a very small percentage that is discretionary. So, I look at what I think our most important issues are at the present time and each year that may change. As with everything, you have to prioritize and ultimately, you have to look at ROI. Are the students benefitting enough for the amount of money that we are spending on this item? I am a huge fan of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle & Repurpose so if we can incorporate these thoughts into our budget, that will help. I find myself looking at the schools budget in the same mind frame as my home budget. We have this amount of money coming in so how do I think it is best spent? What are wants and what are needs? I also am a big proponent of finding grant money and/or business sponsorships. I would rather take those routes verses making cuts.
What attributes are essential for successful school board members? Being a school board member requires a lot of different skills. You must be willing to listen with an open mind. Its important to work as part of a team and keep personal feelings aside when debating topics. You also need to be flexible at times and compromise if needed, but also to know when to stick to your convictions when you feel a topic is important. It also requires a lot of balance. It can be a very time-consuming position, so knowing how to budget your time is important.
How would you handle the requests, if approached, by an individual? Special interest groups? When this happens, I listen to the individual or group. You can learn so much by listening to someones concerns. Sometimes, they just want to know how things work and I happily explain to the best of my ability. Sometimes, they have a complaint. If that is the case, then I make sure they know the proper channels to go through. There are steps to take before bringing a concern to the school board. If they have not received results to their satisfaction (after taking the proper steps) then I encourage them to come speak to the board as a whole at a meeting. I am always careful to let them know that a board member cannot take action alone but only as a group.
How can you contribute to a successful board meeting? First, I always come prepared to discuss the issues at hand. I read all the emails and attachments and the paper packets that are sent to us, which can be quite substantial at times. If necessary, I research the topic further to develop an understanding of the item at task. I ask questions to ensure that I understand the topic before I vote. Then, I do my best to listen to all of the comments on the issue, even if they are different than my own thoughts. You never know when you may learn something new or hear a different perspective that helps you understand another persons position. I try to be kind with my words and how I treat my fellow board members. Its important to discuss the issues and not the person speaking. Last, I have played moderator during many discussions. People come at issues with either one opinion or the opposite. Many times, there is a middle ground that can make both sides comfortable with the final decision. I like to be the person to help brainstorm alternative ideas and find acceptable solutions to our problems.
What do you see as the current challenges facing public education in our state? In our country? There are so many challenges facing public education at this time. I think our biggest challenge is funding. With adequate funding ECASD would be able to better meet these challenges head on. For example, I feel that we need to make students mental health a priority. Our children have faced so many challenges over the last 14 months and they need coping skills. Appropriate funding would allow us to bring in social workers and mental health specialists to support our children and families. When academic materials become outdated, funding would allow us to replace them in a timely manner. We could also update and modernize our facilities with better funding.
What are 2-3 strengths of which our district can be proud? Why do you see these as strengths? Our community is certainly a strength that we can be proud of. I see so many community members cheering on our sports teams, making donations for student events, providing activities to keep our youth engaged; we have such a wonderful library and many youth leagues. I also cherish the ECASD teachers and staff. They do so much for our children, way beyond what their job requires. Some kids do not have positive role models at home and having someone at school that cares for you can make such a difference in a childs life.
What are 2-3 needs that must be priorities for our district to address? Why do you see these as needs? Our needs have changes so much over the last 14 months. Through the pandemic we have seen such major changes in education. Our teachers and staff made a major pivot with no notice. We were able to feed our children, provide Chromebooks and instruction at home, and learned how to use technology to instruct, learn, and communicate better. Now that we are able to begin to return to some aspects of normal, I see mental health as a major area of focus for the foreseeable future. Many students have lost loved ones, faced social isolation, were unable to participate in their favorite activities or see their friends. I believe that keeping the students physically safe and healthy was the priority over the last year and now we will need to address the issues that stemmed from it, such as depression, anxiety and social behaviors.
If elected, what would you hope would be key accomplishments of the board during your years of service? I am so proud of all of the security improvements that the district has made in the past few years and I hope to be re-elected to see these projects through to the end.
Former Experience, Roles, and Years Serving onEllwood City Area School District Board: I have not yet had the opportunity to serve as a director on the Ellwood City Area School Board
Why are you running for School Board? If elected, what will be your priorities?I hope to use my experience as a public school educator and my degrees in education to make educated decisions that not only will benefit our students in a positive way but also promote our district. My main priority is making sure that the district is providing a quality education to our students. We have some of the best teachers and students around and they are deserving of a top-quality education. I will be an advocate for all students.
Is there a particular issue that motivates you to serve on the board? I believe a good board is based on communication, transparency, and always serving to promote the best interest in the kids. As the pandemic is an important issue, a seat on the board lasting four years will outlast issues concerning children returning to school, both academically and in sports. I believe that it is a current motivating factor, it will not be a permanent concern as we continue to return to normalcy. We need to focus on setting our district apart from others, making our curriculum, academics and technology stand out to provide an excellent education for our students. Preparing our students for the future should always be an objective. I believe that being a leader is not standing in front of the people, I believe that being a leader is standing behind the people you serve.
What particular experiences or skills have prepared you to serve as a board member? First and foremost, I think being a parent of school aged children in the district. Nothing is more motivating than wanting the very best for education. I was raised by a 28 year school board member and an Ellwood City school teacher, Tony & Mary Ann Celli. I know the importance and value of those positions firsthand, a director on the board is not something to be taken lightly. I have spent my entire life in Ellwood City, I believe in this town and attend almost every function that it has to offer. I think that is important to not only find the changes that need made, but also to find the goodness and support and promote positivity that already exists.
In what school district or community activities/organizations have you been involved? Before the PTO was renounced, I was a member for the years that my daughter was in school. I also volunteer my time for the ECLW Termite Cheer Squad. I am a member of Holy Redeemer Parish and in years past have volunteered during the parish bazaar. Prior to COVID, I participated in the Ellwood City Library Activities with our daughters and attend our community events to support our town. Also, this past year I had a fundraiser 5k race planned and approved by Ellwood City Borough Council, the plan was to host the Holiday Hustle in November and donate all proceeds to Catholic Charities for our local families for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Due to COVID it was cancelled but I am hoping to host it this coming November. Educationally, I am a member of the International Educational Honor Society, Kappa Delta Pi.
What differentiates you from the other candidates and/or board members? I have a multitude of degrees in education; Secondary Teaching Certificate, Master of Education Degree in Professional School Counseling, and a Master of Education Degree in Special Education. I am also currently completing courses for my Doctorate in Education Degree in Educational Leadership & Administration. I am a current public school teacher and have been in public education for the last thirteen years. I also understand the importance of a sound school board from a parent and tax payer point of view with two children who are and will be attending ECASD.
What issues do you believe your district needs to address in its academic program and offerings? What changes would you recommend? As the pandemic fades away and we resume some normalcy, there is still going to be a need for an online cyber program through the district to serve those students who learn best in that modality. Adjustments can be made to our cyber program to be more user friendly for both students and families. The goal should be to retain our students and not have students unenroll to attend other cyber charter schools due to frustration in our district. What are the parents and students looking for in a cyber program? What are they looking for in our district? That is what we should be offering. When we lose students we are losing thousands of dollars in funding to our schools. Another ongoing purpose is to keep up with the latest curriculum. Education is everchanging and we need to be changing along with it, offering our students the best. Also, not only are core academics important, but also do anything in our power to keep the arts our musicals, promote art programs, and allow students to excel in each of their own areas.
What should your school district do to better prepare students as citizens? We need to focus preparing students not only for four and two year colleges. Trade schools, the work force, and everything in between should be celebrated and supported just as much as traditional four year college choices. There needs to always be an emphasis on preparing those students for those options as well. I think that our district does a good job at this and it should always be important. Students need to be prepared for every day living outside of high school and they need to be learning soft skills. How to handle situations that dont go as planned, how to handle the unexpected, better coping and soft skills can not only help with life challenges but are great for students mental health as well. Also, encourage students to participate in extracurricular activities, whether it be a sport or club. This helps build responsibility, team building, resiliency, and social skills that can be used far beyond high school.
As a board member, where would you look to make budget cuts? I think that overall, as a board director we need to look at the funds we have to deal with and see how we can use them most efficiently. I think that cuts would be a last call solution to budget issues. It is important to utilize grants, make sure that our students are staying in house to guarantee our tax dollars are staying in our district, and that our hires are not only beneficial for our students but also that contracts are within our realm of appropriate spending.
How does a school board balance the need to provide a quality education with the need to respond to the local taxpayer burden? Look into grants. There are grants provided for resources, especially during this time that are underutilized and can benefit our students. Spending money efficiently and in the necessary areas is important. Also, it is important to keep our students in ECASD and not transfer to a charter school. When our students are unenrolling, not only are we losing the importance of students and families in the district, but there is large dollar amount of our tax dollars that leaves our district to go to the charter school. With a better cyber plan, our students can have the option of a quality online education in house. We keep our students and we keep our tax dollars.
What attributes are essential for successful school board members? I believe that you not only need to have the education and knowledge, but you need to be able to listen to understand. You need to hear the parents and teachers and know what is going on the good and the bad. It is important to not be a yes man and if you need to stand alone because you are willing to fight for what is in the best interest in the kids, then so be it. In addition, being transparent without hidden agenda or goals is a necessity. Being able to work together and collaborate with other board members allows for goals to be reached together and successfully. I think having a background in education is important as well. We are serving in the field of education, the more educational background one has the better informed decisions can be made.
How would you handle the requests, if approached, by an individual? Special interest groups? Regardless of who or what, it should be given the same attention as any others. Listening to the request and more importantly the reason why behind the request. If the request is necessary and beneficial for the students, it is then not about if it is feasible or not, its about how to we make it happen.
How can you contribute to a successful board meeting? I listen to understand and listen before responding. It is important that before an informed decision is made, all information must be presented and all situations are analyzed as to what is the best for our students. I know how to agree to disagree, nothing should be taken personally as I hope that we all have the same goals in mind to have the best school district for our students. Choices should not be taken lightly and should not be made to benefit the few but the majority.
What do you see as the current challenges facing public education in our state? In our country? Both locally and nationally mental health is becoming a crisis in our youth. We are on the upswing of a global pandemic that no matter what situation you are in, it uprooted your world and created instability and the unknown. For children this is even more significant. Recently I attended an education webinar, Teacher Toolbox Series: 6 Strategies to Social-Emotional Care for COVID-19 and Beyond. As we see school days looking more normal, it does not mean that all students emotional and mental wellbeing are also going back to normal. We need to take care of our students, only when a students social and emotional wellbeing is in good standing, can the best learning take place. I think that it is also important to emphasize individual strengths. Not every students strongest subject is Math or English Language Arts. Our district needs to always utilize courses in all areas so students can excel in their areas.
What are 2-3 strengths of which our district can be proud? Why do you see these as strengths? Number one is our students, all of the time you see our kids in the newspaper for their accomplishments. Whether they are academic, sports, or any other extracurricular I think that these accomplishments should never go unnoticed. The kids have worked hard especially this year, they have adapted and accommodated in ways that sometimes adults cant fathom. Our kids are the future of our town and our most prized possession. Our students should be praised and recognized for their accomplishments big and small. I am proud to say that both of our daughters will be students in ECASD, this is the school district we chose for them. Just as proud of our students, I think that we should be proud of our teachers and faculty. They are the backbone that make our school what it is. I am fortunate to have graduated from ECASD and was able to be a student of some of the teachers. I am also lucky to know these teachers on a personal level, as well as professionally. They are hands down some of the best people in the world.
What are 2-3 needs that must be priorities for our district to address? Why do you see these as needs? I think that one thing that has taken a back seat of school safety, as students were at home or in a hybrid model, there was little need but that does not make it less of importance. Security and/or police presence is important in all buildings in the district. As mentioned earlier, I think that with the push of in person learning and sports for mental health, I think that additional resources need to be available for those who need it. What can be done to provide our students with the supports that they need to succeed? Do we need additional guidance counselors to ensure that there is always one in every building if needed?
If elected, what would you hope would be key accomplishments of the board during your years of service? I think it is important to look far beyond this year, the pandemic will not be the issue in years to come (we hope) and issues need to be addressed as they evolve. How can the school improve its academics, what extracurriculars and sports can be added or incorporated to what we already have? Can we increase and improve our technology? I hope that open communication is something that becomes a norm and that parents feel are not only heard but also respected when approaching the board with questions or concerns. The only way we can achieve goals successfully is if we are all working together. I would also like to see the district gain money and resources through grants, they are out there and would be beneficial to receive. We can use these resources to always be updating and improving curriculum and technology. Most importantly, I want to see that students are staying in our district. That they want to be here because they enjoy the education, the enjoy participating in sports, and they enjoy the activities that are available. In turn staying in Ellwood and raising their own families to also attend our district and watch our town grow. I will be an advocate for all students, regardless of the situation and will fight for them to always have the best education and experience possible in the Ellwood City Area School District. I believe in leaving something better than when you found it.