3 school board seats up for grabs in next month’s election
CHARLES TOWN – Voters could select a new majority for the Jefferson County school board next month when three seats on the nonpartisan body come up for grabs.
Only school board president Gary Kable and Mark Osbourn, the former C.W. Shipley Elementary principal elected in 2012, are assured continued time on the board following the May 13 election.
Incumbents Scott Sudduth and Mariland Dunn Lee are seeking additional four-year terms on the board. The race also includes three challengers: former school board member Alan Sturm, who hopes to return after a two-term absence, and Laurie Ogden and Kathy Skinner, both parents and active school volunteers.
Larry Togans, who was appointed by the school board to serve out the unexpired term of Pete Dougherty after he resigned last year to become Jefferson County Sheriff, is not seeking to remain on the board.
Another candidate, Theresa Rinehart, is listed on the ballot but has pulled out of the race because of a death in the family.
Sudduth, Lee, Sturm, Ogden and Skinner talked about their positions on issues and answered voters’ questions at a public forum held last week at the Charles Town Library.
Key discussion points during Thursday’s event sponsored by the Jefferson County League of Women Voters included Common Core standards, how to retain the best employees and incentives to increase student achievement.
A look at the five candidates:
Mariland Dunn Lee of Kearneysville
The lifelong county resident taught for 32 years at Jefferson High, where she taught Advanced Placement classes. Now retired, she has been on the school board since 2006.
“I have a passion for the school system,” she said. “I’ve seen it from the teaching side and the administrative side. My experience gives me a lot to offer. I understand the day-to-day issues teachers and staff face, and I understand revenue issues.”
Lee, 64, said finances have grown more challenging. “We have less money than eight years ago,” she said. “Things are very tight. The board has to be frugal.”
Among the current needs of the school system, according to Lee, are adequate gyms for Ranson and Shepherdstown elementary schools.
A graduate of both Shepherd College and West Virginia University, Lee points out that recent capital improvements have moved nearly all students out of portable classrooms. “The only trailer still in use is at Jefferson High – and that’s because the ROTC there wants to be in that space,” she said during the forum.
Lee also is proud of the system’s efforts toward keeping schools safe. Lee said all buildings have key-card entry, with door locks and lockdown drills for students and personnel.
“Safety issues are foremost in my mind,” she said. “The staff is educated to handle every situation.”
Lee, who has two grown sons, said she remains grateful to voters’ support. “I don’t take my role on the board lightly,” she said.
Scott Sudduth of Charles Town
Also seeking a third term, the attorney and father of two has been involved with higher education for 25 years.
He is director of federal relations for the Texas A&M University system and opened the university’s D.C. office. Sudduth, 55, holds a law degree from Catholic University and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas.
He sees students’ academic performance as a major issue. “We have pockets of excellence in Jefferson County,” he said. “I want to see that across the board. We have an 89 percent graduation rate but only 69 to 70 percent go to college or continue their education in other ways.
“That’s not good enough. We need to do better.”
Sudduth said he voted against axing programs designed to keep high-quality staff and attract new employees such as tuition and child care reimbursement programs and bonuses for years of service.
“We have to be more competitive,” he said. “Jefferson County is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Our community should be defined by excellence in education, too. The first thing businesses look at when they consider moving to an area is a skilled work force. Excellent public education would put Jefferson County on the map.”
Sudduth also worries about the level of bureaucracy. “Students and teachers aren’t rewarded for creativity,” he said. “Teachers need the space and freedom to instruct and do their jobs. There is way too much teaching to pass tests, initiated by Congress and the state.
“Teachers can’t focus on the needs of the students.”
Alan Sturm of Shepherdstown
After serving two terms on the school board, the retired administrator opted not to seek a third term because of family issues, which have sent been resolved. Now he’s eager to begin serving again, he said during the forum.
He spent 30 years in schools, mainly in Upshur County, where he was a classroom teacher, principal, curriculum director and assistant superintendent.
Sturm, 73, sees board members’ reaction to budget woes in recent years as unfortunate. “Benefits were cut and there were reductions in personnel,” he said. “It hurt teacher morale.
“Instruction is the key to everything else that happens in a school system. We must continue to recruit and retain highly qualified teachers.”
Sturm is the father of two adult children. He holds degrees from West Virginia Wesleyan and West Virginia University.
He sees other changes that must be made to improve students’ academic prospects. The county’s middle schools are operated the same way junior highs were 50 years ago and in recent years experts have found better ways to meet students’ needs, Strum said.
He also wants to see schools do better on standardized tests. “We need to develop a county-wide plan to assure that every school in the county meets the state established target scores,” he said. “I personally believe that too much emphasis is placed on testing, but that is the name of the game currently, and we must play it well.”
The school board must provide leadership to the county, Sturm said. “We need to set a positive tone for the school system – give clear direction to [the] superintendent.”
The school system lacks direction now, he said. “We no mission statement,” he said. “With the resources available, both financial and cultural, there is no reason that I can see why Jefferson is not the premier school system in the state, but it isn’t.”
Laurie Ogden of Harpers Ferry
The mother of four is taking her third shot at a seat on the board. “People ask me why I keep trying,” she said. “It is that important to me. I have a vested interest and a fresh perspective. I know what is happening in the schools now.”
Ogden, 43, holds degrees in early childhood education and in sports and health sciences from American Public University in Charles Town and works as an exercise therapist at Capitol Rehab in Charles Town.
She has served multiple terms as treasurer, vice president and president of Parent Teacher Organizations and is president of the Jefferson High School Football Boosters.
It’s essential that the school system spends every penny wisely, Ogden said. “Fiscal responsibility is important,” she said. “We’ve had some lean years. The money is the taxpayers’. The board should be run more like a business.”
Communication is a key to getting things done, according to Ogden. “All parties of the educational community need to feel they are involved and part of solutions to problems,” she said. “The board should work as a team. There is so much work to do, but we’re all on this bus together. Our students are too important. We can’t just give up,”
n Kathy Skinner of Charles Town
A business owner who holds an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, Skinner says Jefferson County Schools must make changes to boost student achievement.
“You work for excellence, not just hope for it,” said the mother of four who is making her first try for a board seat. “We are known for excellence in sports and music. In too many other rankings, we’re mediocre.”
Growing up with a mother who worked as a history teacher in Fairfax County, Va., Skinner said she understands the essential components to great schools are “good teachers, good principals and a culture of excellence.”
Skinner, 43, who earned her undergraduate degree in accounting from William and Mary, serves on the Local School Improvement Council for three schools. She created and organizes the annual 5K Race for Recess, which raises money for school playground and physical education equipment.
One of Skinner’s ideas is to challenge all of the system’s principals to find an area in which his or her school would work hard to become No. 1 in the state.
“I don’t care if it’s the spelling bee or the math fair or geography or handwriting, best attendance, whatever,” she said during the forum. “Set that goal and get everyone working toward it. It would foster a sense of pride and overflow into the community.
“When you give the community pride in the school system, they will support it.”