Harper Woods voters to select 4 school board candidates

By: Brendan Losinski | Advertiser Times | Published October 26, 2018

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HARPER WOODS — Harper Woods voters will be electing several candidates to the Harper Woods School District Board of Education in the general election Nov. 6.

Seven nonpartisan candidates are running for four seats on the school board to serve for four years each, from Jan. 1, 2019, to Dec. 31, 2022. All seven live in Harper Woods.

Curtis E. Blackwell II is one of three incumbents running to remain on the board. He was appointed to the board in April of 2018; he has a master’s degree in science and education from Baylor University; and he previously worked as a substitute teacher in Oak Park Schools, as a youth football coach at Detroit Martin Luther King Jr. High School and as director of college advancement at Michigan State University.

“The biggest issues I see (in the district) are getting more parent and community involvement in the school district, closing the achievement gap, helping the administration get the most qualified teachers in our school district and ensuring students can achieve in the classroom equal to their grade level,” Blackwell said. “Voters should vote for me because I will continue to be an advocate for youth, be present within the community and be engaged with student and parent needs, and be a leader to keep Harper Woods at the forefront of innovation.”

Incumbent Kayetta Holly was appointed to the board in July of 2018, when she was selected in a special vote by the school board to fill a vacant spot. She has a master’s degree in human resources and was employed with the city of Detroit’s Human Resources Department.

“I temporarily sit on the board. ... I know it sounds like a cliché, but I want to make a difference,” said Holly. “This is not only because I am a resident of Harper Woods, but also as a parent of children in the district. Seeing the community come together to support the school district is important, and I want to continue the positive changes the district has made. This includes the (International) Baccalaureate program at the middle school, Wayne County Community College courses available to high school students and career-readiness programs. … I’ve worked extensively with the staff and the community to better our district. We have some very talented and devoted people in the district, and I would love a full term to continue to work with them and get some more done.”

Incumbent M. Joan Mannino began serving on the board in 2009. She is a former technical writer and has a bachelor’s degree from Wayne State University.

“(The district) is a candidate for the International Baccalaureate program, and that is a feather in our cap,” Mannino remarked. “This is so important and is the most important thing we’ve done in the last year. We also are bringing in trades training. Not every kid can afford college, so this way all kids can get out of high school ready for a good job. I’m the mother of nine children, and I’ve served on the board for nine years.”

One of the four challengers is Terry Hughes, who has an associate degree from the Wayne County Community College District in social work.

“I am running for the school board because I am a parent of a student that goes to Triumph Harper Woods Middle School and was always an active parent with the Detroit school district. I know I am qualified to do the job and am always willing to be open-minded. I have time to put the effort in,” Hughes said. “The district needs to let the parents know their children are doing well in class. Not near the end (of the year), where parents feel like they are clueless. Also, some parents are asking about busing still, and about how the dress code keeps changing. The best thing that’s happening at this school district is it is showing the students how to prepare for their future, with qualified teachers to help guide them in the right direction.”

Ernestine Lyons is another challenger for a seat on the board. She has served as a teacher and a member of the Harper Woods Planning Commission in the past, as well as worked as an English teacher overseas. She has a bachelor’s degree in Asian studies and international studies from Wayne State University, and a master’s degree in political science.

“The school district faces a myriad of problems due to an influx in the student population and larger class sizes. Students may not be getting all that attention they need, and disciplinary issues can often go beyond the role of what a teacher is qualified to do,” said Lyons. “There is also the problem of more administrators and understaffed teaching faculty. I have heard about teachers who have walked off the job during the middle of a teaching day due to stress, leaving the students unattended. … I aim to question every decision this board makes to be sure it is in the best interest of the child, the child’s sense of well-being and the interest of the community of Harper Woods, and not just the financial bottom line of the school district.”

Candidate Alicia McKay has a master’s degree in higher education, taught seventh- and eighth-grade math, and served as an interventionist for students.

“For me, the most pressing issue surrounds the connection between the parents and the board members,” said McKay. “I will focus on identifying what problems are and what the right route is to the solution. It seems like the communication mechanism in the district isn’t working. I don’t think the district has a problem solving problems, but I do believe they have a problem identifying problems. My strongest quality is that I am a parent and I was previously a teacher, so I have experience at multiple levels within a district, and I am able to see everyone’s different interests, even when they conflict. I would consider everyone’s point of view when determining the right path for the district and Harper Woods as a whole.”

Candidate Gowana Mancill did not respond to requests for an interview in time for publication.

There is also a partial term for the school board on the ballot, although no one is running for the seat on the ballot. The partial term lasts until Dec. 31, 2020.

One candidate has come forward as a declared write-in option: Angela Fenderson, who is currently on the school board but missed the deadline to get on the ballot.