FerndaleAugust 8, 2012
School board incumbents to face off against newcomers
By Jeremy Selweski
C & G Staff Writer
FERNDALE — This November’s Ferndale Board of Education election is shaping up to be a contest between old and new blood, with a pair of community education groups taking sides with either the incumbents or the newcomers.
Ferndale’s Citizens for Better Education (CBE) political action committee recently announced its support for Board President Keith Warnick, Board Secretary Katrina Collins, Board Treasurer Jim Pfleger, and first-time candidate Bradford Parks, who has served as president of the Ferndale Elementary PTA, the Ferndale PTA Council, the Ferndale Education Foundation (FEF), the Superintendent’s Advisory Council and other groups.
Meanwhile, a newer political action committee, CLEAR — Community Leadership Excellence Accountability Responsiveness — announced its endorsement of four newcomers: FEF members Amy Butters and Raylon Leaks-May, Ferndale Public Library Board President Jim O’Donnell and former Library Board President Kevin Deegan-Krause. All of CLEAR’s candidates are parents of current Ferndale students who spent time working on the district’s bond renewal campaign earlier this year.
With Board Trustee Darcey McLaughlin opting not to run for re-election, there will be four open seats on the board when Election Day arrives on Nov. 6. It will mark the first time that the district has held its elections in November, following a board decision in late 2010 to make the switch from May elections, and the first time that some board members will be elected to six-year terms. The two candidates with the highest number of votes will serve for six years, while the next two highest vote-getters will serve for four years.
CBE President Carol Frederick, a former school board member, said that CBE interviewed all eight candidates and made its endorsements based on their level of experience, knowledge of the issues, focus on financial stability and commitment to the future of Ferndale Schools.
Warnick, Collins, Pfleger and Parks “would hit the ground running because they have a lot of leadership experience and really understand the issues facing our district right now,” Frederick said. “They have been involved with just about every school program in some way, and they all have had kids graduate from the district and go on to college.”
But CLEAR Board member Jodi Berger argued that there is more to a strong candidate than prior experience on the school board. She said that when making its endorsements, CLEAR selected Butters, Leaks-May, O’Donnell and Deegan-Krause because they favored greater transparency in the district, a stronger strategic vision, better student retention and higher academic excellence.
“These are proven, capable community leaders who know how to get things done,” Berger said. “Their experience outside the school district has prepared them well, so they know what the role of the school board is. What impressed us most about them was that they’re not afraid to ask the tough questions that others are not asking.”
However, Frederick believes that while CLEAR’s nominees have good intentions, they are not yet ready to be part of the school board. She said that during their interviews with CBE, the candidates showed that they would have “a huge learning curve coming in” due to very little experience at the district level, a lack of knowledge about school issues and questionable long-term commitment.
This is why Frederick prefers candidates whose children have already made their way through Ferndale Schools. “That’s a huge benefit to the board because it gives them a great view of the entire school experience — all the pros and cons, from K through 12,” she said. “Few things speak as highly of this community as school board members who stick around after their own kids have graduated. I just feel like experience will take the district further and get us there faster.”
Berger, though, contended that the district has too many problems right now to continue along the same path. She cited the need to improve students’ standardized test scores, retain a greater number of students throughout their school career, develop a clear plan for future growth and establish more open communication with district families.
“Our goal is to make Ferndale Schools a district where parents want their kids to be,” Berger said. “We have too many students leaving early right now, so we need to make sure that none of them are falling through the cracks. The candidates that we support understand that in order to do that, we have to do a better job of bringing all four communities in the school district together.”
There is one thing that both sides seem to agree on, however: If some of CBE’s candidates and some of CLEAR’s candidates are elected to the board, they will put aside their differences and work together.
“All eight of these individuals helped out in some way to get the bond proposal passed in February,” Frederick said, “so we already know that they can unite under a common goal. They all really know how to listen well, so I would hope that there won’t be a divide that would be detrimental to the success of the board.”
Added Berger, “It helps that all of these candidates are genuinely nice people with a collaborative approach to leadership. They all want what’s best for our students, our teachers and our district as a whole.”
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