Along with choosing a president and governor, Allen County voters will be selecting representatives in a variety of school board races on Election Day, Nov. 3, this year.
School board seats around Allen County are up for the taking as the general election approaches, and several challengers are hoping to shake up the local governmental bodies.
On the Fort Wayne Community School (FWCS) Board, the body is comprised of seven members, with five representing specific geographic districts, and two being at-large members.
The FWCS system comprises 30 elementary schools, 10 middle schools, five high schools, one career and tech center, one alternative school, two early education centers, and one intermediate school.
Members are elected to serve four-year terms, and the races are staggered so different districts run every two years.
This year in District 2, incumbent Glenna Jehl is facing off against challengers Regenia Jones and Jennifer Mathias.
Jehl, who was first elected to the board in 2012, is currently serving her second term and shooting for a third. She noted that one of the biggest accomplishments in her time on the board is the hiring of Mark Daniel to replace the now-retired Wendy Robinson.
Robinson spent more than 20 years leading the system.
“Individual accomplishments aren’t really something you can point to,” Jehl said, “but I’ve worked hard to earn the trust of voters in the district.
“I make myself available when there are problems, and listen to all sides of an issue before making decisions.”
She said her goal for a next term is similar to her current goals: for FWCS to keep pace with other districts in Allen County.
The FWCS Board approved a referendum that saw voters pass a $130 million bond issue that will pay for upgrades at more than 30 local schools, including major renovations in some locations.
“My goals for the future are similar to my goals from the past,” she said. “We have to be able to continue to compete with districts right here in Allen County. We have to get our academic performance on par with other districts locally.”
She added: “Our graduation rates are wonderful, but we need to make sure that when our students graduate, they’re ready for the future,” Jehl said.
“I consider it an honor and a privilege to give back to the community,” Jehl, 63, said. “And I will never stop fighting for our students to get the best education that we can possibly provide.”
One of Jehl’s challengers, Jennifer Mathias, said having her children in the school system right now is her advantage in the race.
The 48-year-old currently has one child at Blackhawk Middle School, and another at Snider High School, she said. Two of her children already have graduated from Snider, 4600 Fairlawn Pass.
“I grew up in District 3, but moved a street over, so now I live in District 2,” she said. “I have been very active in FWCS for a long time. I’ve had a child in the district for over 17 years.
“I think parental engagement is essential to the success of my child and to all the students in the district.
“And I believe a parent’s voice on the school board is necessary.”
Jehl’s other opponent in the race, Regenia Jones, believes her years of experience in social service will give her the understanding necessary to make the most of a board position.
“If I’m elected, one thing I can promise,” said Jones, 52, “is that when I’m sitting at that table, my decisions will always be what’s best for our district.
“We are representing every child, so that no child is left behind,” said the owner of the local social services agency Hands On Services of Indiana.
In FWCS District 3, William Critell is running to replace incumbent Thomas Smith, who recently announced he is dropping out of the race for personal reasons.
Critell, a lifelong educator who has been teacher and administrator in several FWCS schools, said he hopes to continue his years of service to local students.
“I have been a part of FWCS for 43 years,” the 66-year-old retiree said, “starting at Memorial Park (school). I’ve seen a lot of things and been involved in a lot of things, and there’s so many new possibilities for education to be proactive and to create new experiences for the kids.”
And in FWCS District 5, incumbent board member Steve Corona is running against challenger Jose Dominguez. Neither Corona nor Dominguez could be reached for comment via phone or email.
East Allen County Schools
In East Allen County Schools (EACS), the district’s board is comprised of seven members. Five represent specific geographic districts, and two seats are at-large.
The seats have a two-year term.
The district includes six elementary schools, four middle schools, three high schools, and one alternative school.
District 5R Incumbent Robert Nelson Jr. noted that one of the biggest accomplishments he’s seen since joining the board is the growth of the East Allen University program now housed in the former Harding High School, 6501 Wayne Trace.
The program allows students to graduate with high school diplomas, as well a college associate degree in their field of choice.
He added that if reelected, he hopes to help the district deal with the population spurts in some of its areas.
“We are having major growth in the Leo area, with new housing out there, so we’ll have to take a look at possible new schools for that area.
“There’s also growth in the Harding attendance area, so we need to continue to offer the best educational opportunity for our kids, regardless of what part of the district they’re from,” Nelson, 63, said.
One challenger, Jennifer Blackburn, who is running for the spot for her first time, noted as a parent of children currently in EACS, she hopes to make the school board more open.
“As a parent, I appreciate the transparency of any organization,” she said. “I definitely want to make sure the school board is transparent in terms of meetings. And I want them to get more input from parents and teachers as far as how money is spent and getting more people involved.”
She noted that so far — during Nelson’s term — she hasn’t felt included in much of the decision-making in her district.
“He’s been there three terms,” said the 36-year-old employee of the New Haven Police Department, “and I definitely, as a parent living in New Haven, haven’t felt included or involved.
“I definitely just want to make sure everyone gets their say.”
Another challenger, Lee Wilson Jr., said he is running “to make a difference.”
“That’s one of the main reasons why candidates run at the local level,” the 35-year-old said. “I want to broaden the scope of what’s taught to our students and add to what’s already there.”
He noted that he admires what Nelson has done in his time on the board so far, but admitted he’d like to see more diversity on the body.
“I admire the things he has done,” said the self-employed owner of a gift basket business. “I commend him for what he’s accomplished, but I think it’s time for the board to be a little more diverse; I think we need more African-Americans on the board to increase on our school board.”
In District 4E, Scott Garner is challenging incumbent Steve Screeton. Neither Garner nor Screeton could be reached for comment by phone or email.
Northwest Allen County Schools
The Northwest Allen County School (NACS) system is comprised of 10 schools, with Carroll High School, 3701 Carroll Road, being the top tier of the organization. The board has five members who are elected to serve four-year terms.
The system features seven elementary schools, two middle schools, and one high school, Carroll.
In District 1, Kent Somers is running unopposed.
The local man is going for his third term on the board, already having served eight years. This is the first time, however, he will run for the post without a challenger, he said.
He said he’s proud of his time on the body so far, especially the district’s recent “One-on-One Computing” program, which has allowed the district to tackle remote learning during the pandemic more effectively. “And we were able to finance that through restructuring our debt,” he said, “so it didn’t really cost us any additional money.”
Somers said he’s also eager to see how new development in his system will play out.
“I’m excited about the growth in our district,” the 57-year-old said. “We are on schedule to open a new elementary school – Aspen Meadows – next year. And we’ve been able to install a lot of improvements at the high school (Carroll High School).”
He noted enhancements there include a new practice field for the marching band, upgrades to the football field, lighting and locker rooms, as well as to the stadium parking lot, and a new soccer field.
He said a local company also performed a traffic flow study for the school in order to maximize the efficiency of the bus drop-off and student pickup areas for better traffic flow while parents are doing drop-offs and pickups.
Somers said he also likes the big-small dichotomy of his system.
“One of the best parts of NACS is that we’re a very big district, but we create small environments for our students,” he said. “We like to make a good learning environment and a good working environment for our teachers and administrators.”
Running in District 2 against incumbent Steve Bartkus is challenger Zachary R. Felger. As a recent graduate of Carroll High School, Felger hopes to inject the NACS board with some youthful energy and knowledge.
“Being from NACS,” Felger, 28, said, “I was always lucky to have great teachers and great administrators.”
He noted that while current board members have done a good job, most are older people who may not fully understand today’s youth and their challenges.
“It’d be kind of nice to have a younger voice who knows what the kids are going through,” Felger said. “I’d just like to make sure the kids now have more opportunities than I had when I was there 10 years ago.”
Bartkus could not be reached for comment via phone or email.
Southwest Allen County Schools
In Southwest Allen District One, Paul Moss is running to replace Bradley Mills.
Moss said his extensive experience on local government boards should help him tackle the school board job with ease.
“The timing was right for me,” said Moss, 57, “I’ve served on many community boards, and this just seemed like a good time to jump in and bring my experience to the SACS board.”
Incumbent Bradley Mills, who was first elected to the board in 2016, pointed to the successful expansion and renovation of Homestead High School as one of the big accomplishments of his time on the board.
“We were able to move forward with the renovation project at the high school,” Mills, 54, said. “And we did that with no additional cost to the taxpayer.”
He added that student safety is one of his biggest goals, as well. “We’re going to do everything we can to keep our kids safe, both in terms of general safety and personal safety.”
He added: “I’d like to thank the people for giving me the opportunity to be in this position. I like spending time doing this, and making a difference, and I’m happy to have this opportunity.”
In SACS District 3, Scott Myers, Jennifer Bennett, and Tracy Bilodeau are all vying for an at-large seat.
Myers, a 49-year-old pediatrician, said his upbringing and current job both make him well-suited for a school board spot.
“Both my parents were teachers in Fort Wayne,” Myers said. “So basically I’ve got a lot of education in my past experience.
“And as a pediatrician, I deal with K-12 issues every day; I interact with that K-12 population frequently.”
Bennett says she wanted to run because the school board post is kind of an extension of the work she already does each day – mentoring children and families in their homes.
“I knew that the current person wasn’t going to run again, so I wanted to throw my hat in the ring,” Bennett said. “I wasn’t going to run, but I’m an educator, and they don’t really have any educators on the board.”
Bennett, 49 added that electing her to the board would increase its diversity.
“I am a person of color,” she said, “and if we want to attract more diversity, we need to increase the diversity on our board.”
The other District 3 challenger, Jennifer Bilodeau, said having children in district schools gives her a big stake in making sure the SACS board does its job well.
“I am the mother of three daughters who attend elementary, middle and high school in SACS,” she said. “I am an active parent volunteer and serve on committees at each level.
“I have served as PTC secretary and vice president. I volunteer in the community. My objectives are effective communication by acting transparently and listening actively, continued excellence in education for every student at all levels of learning, and fiscal responsibility through the careful stewardship of district resources.
“I will build a collaborative relationship with our superintendent, our educators, and the community in order to maintain and expand programs that promote student success,” she said.