7 candidates running for 5 open positions on school board

Cade Skuse, Editor-in-Chief (Print)/Copy Editor

With five positions up for grabs on the school board for the November general election, competition has been tight between all of the candidates. With three current school board members and four new competitors, only five of the seven candidates will be elected to serve on the board, with six running for four four-year seats and one running for the two-year seat. In order to help better educate the community on each of the candidates, they took a survey that asked each of them about each of their different platforms.
School board candidate Emily Evans is running for school board because she believes “it is time for a fresh perspective, creative planning and increased student success and support.” She wants students to continue to have the option to grow and learn while at Freedom. With regard to the relationship between the board and the community, Evans want the board to have an open relationship with transparency.
“The board serves the district and community and should always do so with an open mind and should be met with valid concern and consideration,” Evans said.
She expects a board member to be able to do the hard work, grant writing, stay current with laws and keep in touch with the local politicians. Evans also thinks the board should continually strive for the overall success of the students above all else. Her view on the biggest challenge the district is facing is a lack of funding. In order to try to relieve this, she wants to stay in touch the senators and representatives and make it known what the district needs.
“We are Bulldog strong. Freedom has great teachers and inspiring young students. It would be an honor to serve and support them,” Evans said.
School board candidate Sharon Geibel, the only candidate for the two-year seat, decided to run for school board because she is passionate about the value of education.
“I want to contribute to establishing a district with a strong educational and fiscal vision and a plan to obtain it,” Geibel said.
She envisions having an education system where the system is based on collaboration and meets the individual needs of each student and provides all of the resources necessary for them to have a successful future. Geibel believes that as an elected official, board members have the obligation to maintain communication with parents and the community.
“The relationship should be one of providing leadership on behalf of the community and having the willingness to have open dialogue with all stakeholders. The most important thing is to have a mutually respectful relationship,” Geibel said.
Geibel says that in order to be a successful board member, board members must “be active listeners, have the ability to think outside the box, provide information to stakeholders, work collaboratively with other board members as well as administration, be transparent, have the best interest of the district in mind at all times and provide a balanced budget.”
From her view, she believes that the biggest struggle within the district is the budget deficits from a lack of state funding and declining enrollment. In order to decrease the budget deficit, she plans to work with other board members to find alternative sources of funding, to establish a grant writing program and to bring diverted cybercharter funds back into the district. To fix the problem of declining enrollment, Geilbel’s plan is to work with our surrounding communities to collaborate in finding ways to grow our communities, to bring back students who are cyber/charter transfers and to create talk about Freedom Area School District.
“Freedom is a great school district. We have incredible teachers and students. I think our biggest strength is that we have extremely hardworking parents who want to give their children better opportunities than they were given. There is always someone who is willing to step into a leadership position when needed and to help propel our students to success,” Geibel said.
Gerald S. Inman III has been on the school board for a total of 24 years. He chose to run for school board because he wants to help continue to support and serve the students, staff and communities of Freedom Area School District. He wants to continue to set good policies and provide the best possible education for all students at the most affordable and effective cost.
“Our students should be motivated, critical thinkers who demonstrate communication, collaboration, innovation, perseverance and responsibility to become leaders in their chosen fields and in society,” Inman said.
Inman believes that the board should practice an open line of communication with the community and be willing to listen to what they have to say for the betterment of the community and the district. He also thinks that school board members should also be able to work collaboratively with other board members, be open-minded, collect data from all stakeholders before making a decision, set good policies and be an open communicator.
“One challenge is limited resources including lack of state and federal funding. As a result, we need to look for grants, private funding as well as partnerships with businesses; expand on sharing resources with other districts or educational institutions; continue to lobby local legislatures for additional funding to help with the unfunded mandates,” Inman said.
Besides the issues of the school district having a lack of funding, Inman sees the declining enrollment throughout the district as another issue.
“The district needs to continue to encourage students to return to the district from charter and online schools. It takes great cooperation from parents, students, teachers, and the community so that all students can experience success and thrive in our global society,” Inman said.
Inman believes that the biggest strength of the district are the students, the staff and the community that are all a part of Freedom Area School District.
School board member Michelle Micija has been serving on the school board for one year and four months. She was appointed to former school board president Jennifer Sayre’s position after Sayre moved out of the district.
“Being a board member is something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and I am now at a point in my life where I have the time necessary to be a dedicated board member. I have over 20 years of experience in public education and believe I bring a unique perspective to the board as an educator, Freedom alum, and life-long resident of the district. I received an excellent education at Freedom and am very proud of where that education lead me. I consider it a privilege to be a member of a team that shares the same passion and enthusiasm for students’ education as I do,” Micija said.
For her vision of the district, she wants to make sure that students are receiving the best education they can and are being challenged academically, encouraged, supported and prepared for their life after graduation from Freedom.
“Not all students learn the same way and not all students will choose to go to college, so we have to continue to offer a variety of classes and activities to help each student reach his/her goals. With that comes the responsibility of making sure that our teachers have continuing education opportunities that will help them stay current within their disciplines, as well as the ever changing requirements set forth by the [Pennsylvania Department of Education],” Mijica said.
Micija believes that since the school board plays such a crucial role in how students are educated, the board has a responsibility to communicate and collaborate with the parents and community on behalf of the students in the district. She expects school board members to hold students at the center of the decision-making process and to be dedicated to the oath that they take when they are inaugurated on the board. They should also regularly attend meetings, have a positive attitude, be able to ask questions and be respectful.
As a whole, Micija believes that the board should be responsible for advocating for students’ needs by creating an environment that provides academic excellence.
“In addition, the board is responsible for executing sound leadership, setting a fiscally sound budget, adopting local and state policy, conducting open meetings, setting goals, assessing administrative goals, promoting accountability, negotiating contracts, just to name a few,” Micija said.
According to Micija, the biggest challenge that the district is facing is low test scores, but she believes them to be improving. She believes that students are more than just a test score and everyone in the district has been doing all they can to improve them, such as by learning new curriculum, purchasing new textbooks and using remediation and prevention strategies to target struggling students. By hosting events such as the “State of the District” presentation and having parents, local businesses, teachers and administrators from other districts, she feels that this would be a good start to bettering the district.
“Our district has phenomenal teachers and administrators who are — in my opinion — the unsung heroes of our district’s success. We also have an unwavering sense of pride and community that isn’t always present in larger school districts. Without sounding completely cheesy, even though we are diverse, at the end of the day, we are a family and have each other’s back,” Micija said.
School board candidate Lynn Patsiga decided to run for school board because of urgent need to improve the educational environment and outcomes of the school district, as well as the need to improve the integrity and transparency of the school board. Her vision for the education of students is to improve the effectiveness of Freedom’s K-12 education programs, enforce the zero-tolerance policy against bullying, improve the support structure and effectiveness of teachers by resuming direct and confidential disclosure between school directors and teachers. She also wants to increase the opportunities for students’ voices to be heard by placing two students on the school board as non-voting delegates.
“The school board should form and maintain a collaborative partnership with parents, teachers, students and community members that lead to win-win outcomes,” Patsiga said.
She expects a school board member to interface with teachers, students and parents to gain insight and solutions to the district’s challenges. In order to address budgetary concerns, Patsiga wants to utilize as much of the state funding as possible, as well as investigate and address the season district residents are sending their children to non-FASD schools and market Freedom in order to inspire them to return.
“We are lucky to have some of the best, most dedicated teachers in the county. Just ten years ago, we were one of the top schools in Beaver County,” Patsiga said.
School board member Mary Ann Pectovic has been on the school board for 36 years. She decided to run for the school board because she thinks that every kid is amazing and she wants every child to have the tools they need in order to be successful.
“The Board should have a open communication with parents and community in an effort to have understanding of the issues that arise and the restrictions the Board has in addressing every situation,” Pectovic said.
She thinks that commitment is the biggest thing expected of a board member, as they are the ones that are at every board meeting and to make the big decisions. The board is expected to set the policy and to make sure that it is being followed.
“One of our biggest challenges is finances as we are a small, rural community with little tax base. Providing a quality education for all students as well as extra curricular activities and a safe environment with a limited amount of money will always be a challenge,” Pectovic said.
She believes that the teachers and the support of the community is the biggest strength of the district.
School board candidate Leslie Rizzi has been a long-time advocate for special education at Freedom and has served as a volunteer in the community. She is running for school board so she can continue to serve the district and be a positive voice for all students.
“My vision for the education of our students is to provide them with the education and life skills they need to not only pursue, but to succeed in, their future path, whether it be college, trade school, work force or military service,” Rizzi said.
Rizzi believes that school board members should be expected to be impartial in their role of improving their district. They should have the needs of the students and the district as their top priority by continually asking questions, researching issues, and considering input from all stakeholders in the issue.
She thinks that the board has a responsibility to make the District better and stronger so that students stay and new families are enticed to move into the District. In order to do that, the board must focus on the important areas they are tasked with overseeing: test scores, special education, curriculum, life skills, valuing teachers, giving teachers what they need to be successful, valuing students with differences and other categories that are important.
“One of our greatest challenges if to be fiscally responsible while staying current in 21st century education. We need to be creative in our thinking when it comes to problem solving. Working together with our District community – students, teachers, administrators, families, local leaders – I believe we can ensure that our focus and fiscal policies will lead to success for all our students,” Rizzi said.
She deems the biggest strength of the district to be the small community atmosphere. By celebrating team and individual accomplishments both in and out of the classroom, she believes that the district can continue to do great things together.
The upcoming November election takes place on Nov. 5. All of the voters in the community are asked to go out and vote for their choice in the school board members to represent them and the students in the district for the next two or four years.