Four people have thrown their hats into the running for a seat on the Christina School Board.
Looking to fill the seat are Naveed Baqir, a software developer; Katie Gifford, an assistant policy scientist at the University of Delaware; Tim Kim, assistant director of student life for UD’s English Language Institute; and Claire O’Neal, a visiting assistant professor at UD.
The school board will appoint one of the applicants to serve until the next school board election in May 2020. Then, voters will select someone to serve the remaining four years of the vacant term.
To fill the vacancy, the board put out a call for applications last month. The search brought in five applicants, four of whom were eligible to serve.
The board announced Tuesday it plans to interview the applicants behind closed doors, with a public vote on who to appoint tentatively scheduled for the September board meeting.
The vacancy was caused by the resignation of Catherine Hegedus, who quit the board just minutes after being sworn in July 9.
Hegedus, who ousted two-term incumbent John Young in May, announced during her campaign that she would not be able to serve should she be elected, due to family health issues that arose after the filing deadline passed. However, Hegedus decided to leave her name on the ballot to give voters a choice. Had she dropped out, the election would have been canceled, and Young would have automatically received a third term.
Voters weren’t deterred by the unusual circumstances, electing Hegedus by a landslide. The election saw the highest turnout for a Christina board election in the last 10 years, with Hegedus earning the most votes of any single candidate in that time frame.
Baqir, 41, is a resident of the Westover Woods neighborhood and has lived in Delaware for about a decade. He comes from a family of educators, as his mother and father served as principals, and his wife is principal of a local parochial school.
“I’ve seen the problems that the school communities face and the solutions being devised for those problems,” he said. “I think the children in the schools in the district, parents of the children, and the residents in Christina School District, they deserve a school district that everybody is proud of.”
He highlighted economic development and the role schools play in that.
“It defines the property value, which is an obvious thing for everybody to understand, but it also impacts employment opportunity, because good employers, usually one of the criteria for them to move into a community is the quality of schools, the quality of workers that they’re going to get,” he said.
He noted the district has a strong group of faculty, staff and students but said that there needs to be more cooperation to address the challenges the district faces.
“My action items would be to involve parents, involve community, involve community leaders, build consensus and build a spirit of cooperation, and try to solve the struggles not as an individual,” he said.
Gifford, 41, of Devon, decided to apply because of her dedication to the community, she said. She noted that she was born and raised in Delaware and is familiar with the landscape of education.
“It’s not uncommon for kids in the same neighborhood to be going to different schools,” she said, noting that is frustrating. “If more people trusted local public schools could provide kids with a safe setting and good education, I think we’d have more families sending kids to their feeder school, and the result would be a stronger community.”
With her background in research, she said that she is accustomed to taking complex issues and understanding it through data. She noted, however, that kids aren’t numbers.
“You have to be empathetic and understand the different backgrounds and situations,” she said.
She noted that her son, now at Newark Center for Creative Learning, started his education in West Park Elementary but eventually the family “went in favor of another local option,” she said.
“In a sense, I could walk away from some of these issues,” she said. “I don’t want to just walk away. I want to be part of that solution. I can bring that viewpoint and tell you what it would have taken to keep us there.”
Kim, a 2001 graduate of Glasgow High School, said he was prompted to apply because of his history with the district.
“It’s always been something that I’ve been considering, just somehow giving back,” he said.
With his work at the UD, Kim, a 36-year-old resident of Brookside, said he has had experience with administration, has worked with students coming to the university from regional high schools and has acted as an academic advisor for at-risk students.
That, he noted, has given him a lot of insight.
“It helps me understand the challenges and maintain compassion,” he noted.
His interest in serving doesn’t only come from his experience in the Christina schools as a student, he added.
“I do want to raise my future family here,” he said. “I see not just my personal history, but my future, is here in the Newark area.”
He noted that there are “big picture items” facing the district, with renewed discussion about redistricting and the structure of Delaware’s referendum system.
“I’m hoping to learn very quickly, to dive headlong into research to understand what the challenges are, but to bring really a willing, level-headed approach to the challenges,” he said.
O’Neal, 40, was one of several district parents who spoke out prior to the May election, saying that the district needed a change from Young and urging voters to vote for Hegedus so the board could appoint a new member.
O’Neal said the recent election showed her the need for community members to step up and serve.
“The decisions of the school board affect me as a community member, a property owner and also as a parent of two CSD students,” she said.
O’Neal, a resident of Devon, said both her sons attend Christina schools – Shue-Medill Middle School and Newark High School – and that she has been involved with the PTAs at her sons’ schools.
“I feel that my active volunteerism as a parent in Christina schools has helped me to understand what our schools do well, and what could be points of growth,” she said. “My work with the PTAs has most importantly taught me how important it is for CSD to communicate clearly with parents and community stakeholders.”
She identified the recent failed referendum as a challenge for the district, and noted that she hopes the district can improve communication between itself and the community to build support for public education.
“Having children in the district, I can readily see what wonderful and positive things are happening in our schools,” she said. “As a board member, I would look forward to engaging and working with local and state officials as we seek to solve together much larger issues with state education that affect our district, including funding.”