Christina School District residents will go to the polls Tuesday to vote in two school board races.
In the third race, the incumbent is running unopposed.
Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at 17 district schools and other locations.
While the school board is comprised of one member from each of the seven nominating districts, every voting-age resident of the district can vote in all of the races.
Two recent forums gave voters a chance to learn more about the candidates.
One forum on May 4 was hosted by the Friends of Christina School District, the other on April 29 by Delaware PTA, First State Educate and S.A.F.E Schools. The forums were live streamed on Facebook and are still available on the platform.
Nominating District F
District F features a race between incumbent Warren Howell and Naveed Baqir.
Howell, who was appointed to fill a vacancy last year, said that he understands that parents prioritize safety and education. Howell spent 20 years in the Marines before moving to education. He currently works as the parent and community engagement coordinator at Delcastle Technical High School, which is not part of the Christina School District.
His opponent, Naveed Baqir, taught at elementary schools in Pakistan before moving to Newark. He later taught at the University of Delaware before moving to healthcare IT. He also served as a founding board member of the Tarbiyah Islamic School of Delaware. He is also a leader of the nonprofit Friends of The Christina School District, which recently purchased masks, headsets. and UV light disinfection robots for the district.
Howell said that implicit bias is often a cause of disproportionate disciplinary results. He said teachers who have cultural competence have less disciplinary problems as they are less biased toward their minority students and are better able to educate them.
“Our professional developments must include the difficult conversations of what is expected in the classroom, incorporate the implicit association test or some other assessment that would allow us individuals to begin to recognize your biases, and be ready to immediately counteract unconscious bias when it is recognized,” said Howell.
Howell also said ensuring teachers can competently relate to students of different cultures is necessary in order to improve student outcomes.
Howell hopes to continue to develop the Christina Virtual Academy, use CARES Act funding to offset the cost of infrastructure improvement and increase access to AP classes.
Baqir agreed with Howell’s statement that implicit bias is present in the district, leading to unequal discipline outcomes. Baqir emphasized that the district needs to serve the often-neglected Hispanic and Asian communities in the district. Baqir said mental health issues that could be addressed with adequate resources are often turned into discipline issues.
“When children have mental health issues, they manifest as discipline issues,” Baqir said.
Baqir said the referendum process needs reforms. Baqir said his work in the community shows that he is able to bring elected officials and other stakeholders to the table to create change.
He noted that Christina is the only district not participating in New Castle County’s property tax amnesty program, which would waive late fees for residents who pay overdue property taxes by June 25. He said that is an example of how, though funding reform is needed, transparency and discussion with the community is also important.
Howell pointed to the New Castle County Vocational Technical School District as a possible model of funding without relying on referendums, as it is able to increase taxes within certain limits to adjust funding without needing a referendum.
“I know that there are residents that want the control of taxes that a referendum provides,” said Howell. “But each time a referendum is voted down, there is a negative impact on the school district, which has a negative impact on the community.”
At the April 29 forum, Baqir expressed his disagreements with Howell directly, arguing that Howell represents a status quo that must change. When Howell said that the current board works well together without voicing arguments in public, Baqir said Howell’s answer showed that the current school board lacks a diversity of ideas.
“I am horrified by this response,” said Baqir. “What Howell has just alluded to is the country club thinking, that the country club is fine, no new members are needed, no new ideas are needed.”
Baqir said the format of meetings must change to allow for more input from community stakeholders. He said he hopes to have a more transparent and resilient district, with the virtual infrastructure being a great insurance in case of another crisis that makes physical learning impossible.
Nominating District G
District G features a three-way race between incumbent Susan Mitchell and challengers Donald Patton and Delilah Starcks.
Mitchell, who was appointed to fill a board vacancy last year, was a teacher at Gauger-Cobbs Middle and Newark High for 23 years. She also serves on the board of the Newark chapter of the NAACP.
Starcks is a computer science teacher and business owner.
Patton worked for Christina for 23 years. He served as principal at Kirk Middle School and the Bayard School before becoming the supervisor of student services until he retired in December 2019. He currently serves on the board of Las Américas ASPIRA Academy.
Mitchell said the board, along with establishing policy, should function as an ambassador for the school district, going out and engaging with the community to get ideas for the district.
She focused on increasing cultural competence among staff, with her proposing the idea of creating study groups for all staff, from bus drivers, to teachers, to administrators, on how to deal with implicit bias.
“I’ve heard people talk about mental health, and acting out, but there’s an issue with that,” said Mitchell. “The child who acts out who is Black gets treated differently than the child who exhibits the exact same behavior, who is white. That’s what has to be addressed.”
Mitchell said voters often vote down referendums because it is the only opportunity they have to directly impact their tax rates. She echoed Howell’s comments about the Vo-Tech District being a possible model for future funding.
Mitchell said she hopes to raise graduation rates, enhance infrastructure and develop creative ways to engage with the community. She said that along with an expanded emphasis on Black history, she would like to see a discussion of labor history in the classroom.
Starcks said that improving the district starts with training in the classroom and the administration. Starcks agreed that the referendum system has issues because it is difficult to get people to increase their own taxes. She echoed with Mitchell’s comment about the Vo-Tech district model as something that could be pursued.
“It’s challenging to get homeowners to agree that ‘I’m going to give you more money,’” Starcks said. “I think we have to come up with a logical solution for how we’re going to get this done.”
She said the system needs to increase English skills, create a comprehensive assessment system and provide students with skills for college, careers or wider life.
Starcks said that the current format of public comment in board meetings is not long enough to provide a true forum for the community to discuss their concerns.
Patton said his main concerns are large class sizes, a lack of professional development and aging infrastructure. He specifically hopes to bring changes to the Sarah Pyle Academy, which serves students who have trouble succeeding in a traditional school.
“I want to see Sarah Pyle reimagined to be what students need, what students want and what parents are telling us they want,” Patton said. “We need to start listening to them.”
Patton disagreed with the other candidates who opposed the referendum process. He said that though regular funding is necessary, giving parents a say in funding is still important. He argued that the vote also forces the district to pay attention to the voice of parents and encourages voters to engage with the district.
“I think the reason parents have said no is that we haven’t done what we were supposed to do,” said Patton.
He said along with professional development, he would like to see teachers and staff receive training in restorative practices.
Nominating District B
Incumbent Monica Moriak is running unopposed in this race. She is a previous member of the Citizens Budget Oversight Committee and was appointed to fill a board vacancy last year.