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Primary election 2023: Wilson School Board

There are 11 candidates running for five seats on the Wilson School Board. Each has cross-filed, meaning they will appear on both the Democratic and Republican ballots.

School board members serve four-year terms, unless otherwise denoted. The position is unpaid.

The candidates were each asked to respond to the following two questions.

Question 1: Why are you the best candidate for this position?

Question 2: What is the most pressing issue facing your school district and how would you address it.

Incumbents are denoted with an asterisk. Here are their responses:

Bernard McCree

Age: 63

Occupation: Director of financial aid services at Kutztown University

Bernard McCree
Bernard McCree

Response 1: I am the best candidate for this position because I am a firm believer in quality public education for children. I have worked in higher education for 30-plus years and see the changes that are occurring in public education, especially with our kids. They have had to become survivors in so many ways that have hindered their learning process — such as  COVID or active shooter situations.

Active, engaged learning cannot exist in chaos and confusion; our students need to experience learning in a collaborative and welcoming environment. I want to work to help provide that environment with all our stakeholders involved in the process: students, teachers, parents and administrators.

Response 2: I believe that the lack of effective communication hinders not only Wilson School District but others as well. We have too many agendas and talking heads out there trying to push their viewpoints forward and it does not involved the well-being of our students.

I am a proponent of transparency and seek to welcome all to the table for a viable conversation about the future of our students in our district and how we can all be partners in their future success. Interactive listening sessions with all stakeholders in the community invited would be a fresh approach to resolving some of the issues.

Craig Stonaha

Age: 45

Occupation: Engineer

Craig Stonaha
Craig Stonaha

Response 1: I have been involved with Wilson on multiple levels for years. My involvement includes, but is not limited to, sponsoring events through the Wilson Education Foundation, volunteering to teach Science Explorers at the local elementary schools, assisting local PTO organizations, hosting Wilson High School Interns, hiring Wilson graduates, co-creating the Wilson safety podcast and working closely with the administration on multiple issues.

As my relationship with my school district deepens, I am looking to take the next step in providing public service, which is to bring my talents and efforts to the board. Additionally, my experience with budgeting, human resources, strategic planning and facilities management gained as a leader in the business community can be extremely beneficial to Wilson, especially during uncertain economic times. This is a way for me to give back to a community of which I value being a long-time member.

Response 2: Like most schools, Wilson is facing numerous issues that require strong leadership. From struggles with transparency between the district and the community to addressing discipline problems in our schools, there is no shortage of challenges that require attention.

The most pressing issue, though, would have to be controlling spending and fiscal responsibility. One of the primary responsibilities of a school board member is to make sound, strategic decisions that balance the needs of the students, teachers, parents and community members. That means showing the taxpayers who fund us that we will make smart decisions with their money.

With inflation at historic highs, it is our duty to avoid burdening our community members with higher taxes. It is also our responsibility to show our children what fiscal responsibility looks like. Budgetary oversight can help reduce wasteful spending, eliminate redundancies, and help us run our district more efficiently and effectively.

Guadalupe Kasper*

Age: 50

Occupation: Professor at Penn State Berks University

Guadalupe Kasper
Guadalupe Kasper

Response 1: During my first term serving this district (2019-2023), I have come to learn the many challenges public education has to navigate. Throughout the past four years, I have gained emotional and practical skills and believe my perspectives and contributions are still needed to continue the work of reinforcing our collective responsibility in elevating the essential role public education plays in creating stronger communities.

I’m a parent of two children who attend Wilson schools and I want to ensure they continue receiving the high-quality education that Wilson provides. I’ve been an educator in higher education for over 20 years and an advocate for school and community partnerships.

Given the rapid growth of our diverse community, my perspective and experiences as a representative of the Latinx community and a lifelong resident of Berks County, positions me to ensure that public education is inclusive of all voices and viewpoints.

Response 2: I believe that public education and our democracy are currently threatened by divisive rhetoric aimed at limiting the rights of our most marginalized populations. I believe that this is hurting our most valuable assets, including our educators and administrators in our schools — education is losing valuable talent because our educators are exhausted. We need to increase the pressure on our lawmakers and policy advocates to invest more resources in paying more competitive teacher salaries and create a supportive climate for all educators to provide quality instruction.

School boards need to advocate for inclusive academic, social, and supportive opportunities and policies representative of all students and families. We also need to work together to change the narrative regarding the education profession as a meaningful career choice for our young people.

Val Delp

Age: 39

Occupation: Financial adviser

Val Delp
Val Delp

Response 1: I believe I am a great candidate for Wilson School Board director because I have extensive experience in education, finance and business, which gives me the ability to tackle problems from multiple perspectives when dealing with issues that school boards face today.

I work with many people in our community through my role as a financial adviser and see my responsibility to them as taxpayers. As a former educator, I also understand the challenges teachers face, and where students and teachers are lacking support. I’m also a mother of two young children who will be enrolled in the district in two years.

I feel a responsibility to be a part of creating an excellent educational experience for them and all of the children in our community, so that they may graduate feeling confident and prepared to enter the workforce or continue to enhance their skills at the collegiate level.

Response 2: The most pressing issue facing our district is the current teacher shortage. In the last few years we have seen many veteran teachers retire, and a drop in students choosing to go to college to earn a teaching degree nationwide.

Some things I would support to attract and retain quality teachers would be to focus on creating a districtwide culture of respect for our teachers and support staff, and to consider ways to reduce the challenges our teachers face when trying to teach one class with children at multiple levels. I would support restructuring of classrooms at the elementary level so that students are in classes with other students at or near the same level in math and English. I think this would allow more time for teachers to individually support students when they are able to work exclusively with a group that is learning at a similar pace.

Cindy Rusnak

Age: 67

Occupation: GED instructor

Cindy Rusnak
Cindy Rusnak

Response 1: I have extensive experience in a multitude of leadership and service positions. I understand the importance of encouraging and obtaining information, opinions and data from all aspects of a business or organization in order to determine how to come to the best possible decision for that business and organization.

I value input from all and work steadfastly to promote a sense of ownership by all members of the organization; our school district decisions and long-range plans must include input from teachers, staff, students, parents, administration and taxpayers. I have and continue to teach in a classroom and understand the challenges educators face in supporting all students on their paths to academic and personal success and preparedness for the future.

I am also a quick and willing learner; I have a solid work ethic, and I am willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done.

Response 2: Daily, our district faces challenges, and I believe that one item found lacking and in need of change is a willingness to look at all ideas, opinions and data from a variety of sources, including all those who make up the district community. I believe it is the board’s duty to make information and ideas available to the entire community and to expect a diversity of thought and opinions in response to challenges facing the district.

Underlying the entire decision-making process is the need to meet budget constraints. A process where honest appraisal of programs, services and the means to provide them must align with the budget parameters. All decisions should consider the burden placed on all taxpaying members of the district.

Finally, great teachers know what it takes to make their classrooms successful. Emphasis on giving students a foundation in reading, writing and math is necessary for becoming critical thinking, independent, contributing members of society.

Bob Schneider*

Age: 45

Occupation: High school social studies teacher

Bob Schneider
Bob Schneider

Response 1: I don’t like to presume I’m the best candidate because I know what some of the other candidates bring to the table and they’re fantastic. What I can say is that I’ve been a teacher for almost 20 years. I’ve been a Wilson community member most of my life. I am active in the community as a volunteer, soccer coach, Boy Scout leader and youth water polo coach. I have been on the school board for almost four years.

I understand what is needed to make schools, districts and this community successful. Wilson is where I grew up and where I moved to raise my children. I am proud to be a bulldog and that my children are bulldogs. I’m running for the same reason I ran last time, to continue to grow the district to be all it can be. I will always advocate for the kids and the community.

Response 2: The most pressing issue facing this district is the upcoming election. There is a slate of candidates who want to push a false narrative of parental choice, and then limit parents’ rights in terms of all children.

They say the district isn’t fiscally responsible, but don’t seem to understand how school’s budgets have their hands tied by outside forces. They say things like Wilson isn’t safe and then turn to applaud the district for their recent response in terms of a possible threat. They applaud the choice the board made in the hiring of the superintendent, but say our leadership is poor.

This group is using out-of-district monetary donations to push a political narrative to have their agenda met. That’s not what’s best for the students, the district, or the community. Politics have no place on the school board and I am running to keep it that way.

Jennifer Denny

Age: 52

Occupation: Attorney

Jennifer Denny
Jennifer Denny

Response 1: I am the ideal candidate for Wilson School Board because my deep community ties, diversity of experience, strong leadership skills and commitment to serving others will enable me to make a positive impact on the district today while visioning for the Wilson of tomorrow.

I am 100% invested in Wilson’s success because my children attend Wilson, I went to Wilson and my family, dad and friends pay taxes to Wilson. I am the only candidate with a background in social work and the law. I worked in child abuse advocacy, managed a nonprofit agency, and served as a D.C. prosecutor. I have volunteered in founding and/or leadership roles in the Faithful Friends Consignment Sale, and the West Lawn UMC leadership team, personnel team and preschool.

I have volunteered extensively within Wilson and have personal relationships with teachers, staff and administrators. If elected, I will always be working for Wilson.

Response 2: School boards have become very politicized, diverting our focus from helping children achieve their full potential. A major challenge facing Wilson and other districts is the influence of highly partisan national groups giving large donations to local candidates to push agendas.

I have no hidden agenda and have accepted no support from individuals outside of our community. My decisions will be nonpartisan and based only on what is best for Wilson. I will not concentrate on sound bites but on legitimate issues facing Wilson, such as continued population growth as a destination district and the resulting need for facility expansion and an anticipated significant funding change due to a recent Pennsylvania court ruling finding the existing system unconstitutional.

Wilson needs directors with diverse experience, strong leadership skills and the ability to advocate locally and in Harrisburg.

Keegan Orzechowski

Age: 42

Occupation: Scientist, principal investigator

Keegan Orzechowski

Response 1: Because of my background as a scientist, I am familiar with and able to use data and critical thinking both to understand the issues and to tackle them objectively. I am a quick learner with the necessary level-headed mindset to be a school board director.

As a parent of three boys in the district, I understand the high level of responsibility demanded of this position. Directors should conduct themselves with integrity and respect when interacting with the community, even when encountering disagreement. We are all part of the same community and should seek consensus on the majority of educational goals. I plan to build a better relationship between the school board and the entire Wilson community.

Response 2: There are several pressing issues facing the Wilson School District. Addressing these issues highlights the need for respectful community engagement so everyone’s voice can be heard. It is critical that we have open and transparent communication with teachers, parents, administrators, students and the community.

Making progress with issues such as academic performance, safety in schools and parents’ rights needs to be accomplished with responsible decision-making that limits the financial burden on taxpayers while still supporting our common objectives.

Brad E. Hart*

Age: 52

Occupation: Retired principal

Brad E. Hart
Brad E. Hart

Response 1: My background and experiences are an asset to my ability to be an influential board member. I have been involved in education for the past 26 years, serving as a teacher, principal and school board member. I was a principal in the Wilson School District for six years before retiring due to vision loss.

I have also been an active community member and taxpayer within the district. I have other viewpoints through my wife, a current administrator, my youngest son, a special needs student, and my other four children who have graduated from Wilson.

Through my experiences, I represent various interests and understanding from diverse perspectives to help make complex decisions for continued educational excellence in the Wilson School District. I am vested in strengthening the district’s quality and the systematic processes necessary to ensure a comprehensive education and a safe learning environment for all students.

Response 2: School safety and security is one challenge facing the school district, which involves not only the physical environment of the schools but also the safety and security of students and staff. As a school board, staying up to date with safety protocols, resources and best practices is essential to improve the processes necessary for a safe and supportive learning environment.

The school board needs to work with all stakeholders to ensure all facets of safety are identified and addressed within the district, including focusing on potential threats, student mental health, behaviors and discipline. Schools have experienced continued trauma-related problems, bullying and classroom disturbances. As a school board, it is essential to understand the data specific to the needs of students and focus on a comprehensive school mental health system to identify programs for early identification of mental health challenges and implementation of services based on the needs of the students.

Michael Martin*

Age: 69

Occupation: Retired CPA, international accountant, auditor and Real Estate director

Michael Martin
Michael Martin

Response 1: As a retired CPA, international accountant, auditor and past Real Estate director, I bring multiple areas of expertise that dove tail well with Wilson’s goals over the next four years. My experience in construction, budgeting and finance provides an important layer of knowledge and understanding that is critical for Wilson’s future plans. In addition, boards work best when there is a diverse knowledge base from many different backgrounds which I bring to the table.

Couple this with 10,000-plus hours of community service over the years working with children of all races and economic status, including children with autism and special needs, has provided me with a solid background in understanding key issues facing schools.

My conviction for facing hard truths and making tough decisions has always been part of my culture along with being fair and impartial which is absolute. As well as listening to parents and the community.

Response 2: I see teacher burnout as the most pressing issue over the next several years. Teachers have to do so much more than just teach. They are being overwhelmed by individualized education plans, lingering COVID issues, student behavior concerns, distracted students and often have to deal with social emotional learning issues in addition to planning their curriculum. And the shortage of teachers only compounds the problem.

There is no one solution to addressing the concerns above as they have been compounding over the years. At Wilson we have significantly increased the professional and administrator staff at a far greater rate than the increase in enrollment. We need to do a better job in allocating resources to support more in-class assistance that directly impacts and supports the teacher in the classroom. We need to be address respect, discipline in the classroom, along with meaningful deterrents to reduce disruptive behavior.

Amy Murray

Age: 50

Occupation: Complex supervisory manager

Response 1: Having been employed in the financial industry for 25 years, I bring multiple levels of experience in administration, management and compliance.

Similar to my career, I have multiple layers of life experience. Becoming a single mother at a young age with little education I have experienced some of the same challenges our community members are experiencing today. Through determination, hard work and pure grit I removed obstacles, climbed mountains and forged a path through a life I am proud of. Having been a foster parent, I have a clear understanding of the unique circumstances some children face. I am passionate about providing all children a safe, loving environment to learn and grow in.

My background in compliance in the financial industry has prepared me to look at things in a logical objective way. I assess risks and rewards, analyze complex information and determine a course of action driven by results.

Response 2: The pandemic was challenging for all. We learned how critical the educational system is to our community.

Teacher shortages and discipline in our schools continue to be an issue contributing to already declining educational achievement levels. Board members contribute to the culture of a district. Ensuring a culture where teachers feel supported, and children are held accountable for their mistakes and successes is important to me. Teaching to where kids are now by grouping them with peers on the same level maybe a way to maximize their learning trajectory and instruction while minimizing frustrations.

Over the last few years, I have observed an increasing divide in our community. Improving the relationship, the board has with the community and encouraging open, respectful dialogue with those we serve would also be a priority to me.

Source: Berkshire mont

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