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Municipal Elections Tuesday; Two Newcomers to Challenge School Board Incumbents for Seats

by on May 21, 2013 6:30 AM

When voters head to the polls for Tuesday's primary election, one of the most competitive races will be for the State College Area School District Board of Directors. Three incumbents are being challenged by two newcomers, all vying for three seats on the board. And the focus will be on plans to renovate or rebuild the high schools.

The candidates include current board president Penni Fishbaine and incumbents David Hutchinson and Jim Leous. Scott Fozard and 18-year-old State High senior Michael Straw are also in the running.

Fishbaine has served on the board for four years and is running for a second term. She wants to see the high school project completed and believes consistency is important in keeping the community engaged. 

"I'm really pretty involved in the high school planning project, so I'm usually in meetings every day or every night," Fishbaine said. "We're doing a lot of things... trying to be transparent and represent the community as a whole." 

A referendum in the fall will determine whether the project moves ahead.

Fishbaine said she believes there is a serious need to enhance the high school students' learning environment, especially after several tours of the school. While the facilities may be disappointing, she said, the accomplishments of the students are astounding. 

"It's amazing what they do in the space they have and I think a new space could add to what they get out of it," Fishbaine said, who added that she wants to serve another term on the board because of her connection to the community.

"I'm passionate about it. My kids went through it. I was PTO President when they were in elementary school ... I like to be involved, " she said. 

Hutchinson said he wants to continue to be part of a team that makes things happen for students. While taking no particular side on the high school project, Hutchinson said he wants to make sure "the community has the necessary information to make a decision that we can look on favorably thirty years from now." 

"We need to ensure that our students have the opportunity to develop the skills they will need to be successful in the emerging global economy, which is very different than it was 30, or even 10, years ago. Skills such as critical thinking, and the ability to collaborate and be creative have become essential.

"To give one example: How do we ensure that our students develop the kind of communication skills that go beyond that which is measured in standardized state tests?

"To accomplish this will require that we become more efficient with our resources, and make greater use of the talents of our faculty and staff, by giving them the time and opportunity to learn from one another - developing a culture of best practices that affects every classroom. We need to give more deliberate attention to relationships throughout the school community in order to create a school and classroom environment most conducive to twenty-first century learning," Hutchinson said. 

Jim Leous, also an incumbent running for reelection, said he is committed to the high school projects and all of its components. He wants to make the process transparent.

Leous said the high school project isn't the only change that's coming. He says there will be many more across the school district. 

"In the next few years we will also see changes in how we teach literacy – not just reading and writing, but science, math, history, government, and financial literacy. We will see changes in curriculum and state and federal requirements. We should also see changes in how we teach the STEM subjects, particularly incorporating design and the arts.

"Our greatest challenges as a board, however, will be achieving fiscal sustainability in an environment of higher retirement (PSERS) contributions, decreased State contributions, and increased federal and state mandates. Hopefully, some of the measures that we have put in place in this first term will foster this sustainability," Leous said. 

Meanwhile, one newcomer, Michael Straw, is on the brink of becoming a State High alumnus. The high school senior says he's running for school board because he's acutely aware of the most pressing issues the district faces and needs to address. 

"I felt that I should give back to the community... I feel that I can be a valuable asset to the board. I am also running to insure that all students after me get the great education that I was provided, or better," Straw said. 

Scott Fozard says that as a parent and a taxpayer he wants to be a part of the ongoing change within the school district. Fozard said the high school project was the impetus for his decision to run for a board seat.

As he became more involved in the process, Fozard said he realized his strong financial background could be a benefit to the project, especially with the several options currently being considered. He said he wants to ensure the district will have success in the near future and in the next 20, 30, even 40 years.

"I think my experience is something the board needs to balance the budget." 

More information, including "What to Expect at the Polls" is available online

Laura Nichols is a news reporter and @LC_Nichols on Twitter.
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