As the Indian River School District school board election approaches, two relative newcomers hope to represent the 5th voting district. Three of the school board’s 10 seats are up for election this year. The school board election will be Tuesday, May 8.
Derek Cathell and Carla Ziegler are competing to serve District 5, which includes Selbyville, Gumboro and parts of Frankford. Jeffrey W. Evans has withdrawn from the race.
In District 5, the winning candidate will just serve one year, finishing the term of another board member who had moved away this winter. In District 3, candidates Dana Probert and Leolga Wright are vying to represent south Millsboro and north Dagsboro on both sides of Route 113.
Board Vice President Rodney M. Layfield will automatically serve a five-year term, as there were no challengers for his District 2 (northern Millsboro and southern Georgetown) seat.
All terms begin on July 1.
District residents do not need to register to vote. Eligible voters must be 18; U.S. citizens; Delaware citizens; and live in the voting district for which they’re casting a ballot.
Absentee voting will be permitted, but people must request and return an affidavit to the Department of Elections in order to receive an absentee ballot by mail. Or they can vote in person at the Department in Georgetown by noon on Monday, May 7.
People can request an absentee affidavit by printing one online, emailing email@example.com, calling (302) 856-5367) or visiting Department of Elections Sussex County Office at 119 N. Race Street, Georgetown.
All election details are online at https://electionssc.delaware.gov/school_absentee.shtml.
Editor’s note: In order to give candidates the last word before the election, the Coastal Point will publish candidate questionnaires on May 4. April 27 will be the last publication of letters-to-the-editor regarding the IRSD election.
Carla M. Ziegler, the challenger
Education has always been in Carla Ziegler’s heart.
After many years teaching in Delaware, including in the IRSD, Ziegler now runs a registered multi-family homeschool for local students in Selbyville. That’s where she hears parental concerns.
“I have a ton of experience in education. … I know what works and what doesn’t work,” she said.
“I am in the community. I deal with these parents on a daily basis. … We need to get these people involved again. We have to give them hope about their children’s education,” said Ziegler, who hears public frustration with the school board.
While she admits that finances aren’t her forte, she would definitely want to have a say on proposed spending. Moreover, she has strong opinions and said she wouldn’t be peer-pressured into voting against her beliefs.
Currently, the IRSD is trying to manage the ever-growing student population and finite space. The school board will likely request to build new schools or additions, which would result in a public referendum to fund the project.
Ziegler warned that “many parents right now are not happy with our district and will most likely refuse to dish our any more funds for, well, anything. Many parents are now pulling their children from the school system and placing them in homeschool or private schools,” she said.
That may benefit her business, but it’s not her goal, said Ziegler, adding that she believes “free public education is a blessing and God-given gift to our country. I see the pain and frustration in many of the parents in our community,” which she said is why she wants to bring her perspective as an educator who works closely with parents and the community.
Holding two degrees in education, Ziegler also tutors students at night through Traveling Tutorz. Throughout her career, she has participated in curriculum writing, benchmarks and assessments at the local, state and even national level, including the Smarter Balanced Consortium Committee. She was also a team and teacher leader in her schools.
Her complaints about the current education system focus on the curriculum and lack of teacher autonomy in the classroom. Although she believes the board should have a “strong voice” in overseeing curriculum, she said she also feels that curriculum and standardized testing are changing too much.
In a broader sense, to increase local autonomy, “My goal is to have a free public school, but not funded by the State.”
Ziegler graduated from Indian River High School, as did her oldest son. Her second son left to do homeschool and college courses early. Her young daughter is homeschooled fulltime.
For Ziegler, homeschooling made sense because it’s already her fulltime job, and now she gets to educate her daughter.
The first board meeting she attended was this past winter, when a large number of parents attended to protest the proposed State Regulation 225, which was intended to expand anti-discrimination protections for students, but was criticized for its potential impact on the parental right to be informed.
“You can’t discriminate against children … but you can’t do [things] behind the parents’ back,” Ziegler said.
“I’m trying to do what’s right for the children,” said Ziegler, adding that she wants to serve the community. “I do care 100 percent, or I wouldn’t be doing this.”
As for school safety, she said, “I feel that our schools a have done a pretty good job.”
But ultimately, Ziegler said, loading up on police can’t prevent a school shooting. Only a metal detector could stop firearms at the door. Also, “I wouldn’t put my child at a school with a teacher with a gun at her hip, unless she had the proper training.”
Ultimately, Ziegler said, she would like to help improve public perceptions of the board.
“The board’s trying really hard. They’re not doing a bad job at all, as far as our kids go. … I guess my job would be to be a peace person with the parents,” Ziegler said. “They vent to me… I don’t really say much. I listen, unless it’s something that should be said. I can be that voice.”
Derek Cathell, recent appointee
This spring, Derek Cathell has been warming up to the job of school board member. The Frankford candidate was appointed to the school board fill a temporary vacancy in January.
It’s all been a learning experience from there.
“I’ve really enjoyed my time in the last few months,” Cathell said. “It’s a lot of information, a lot of information I wasn’t aware of until I started attending board meetings and executive sessions, how the district runs and how the schools run. … I’m getting my feet under me.”
He’s just begun learning about school choice, administrator interviews and the many accounts and rules associated with various sources of local, state and federal funds.
As a detective for the Major Crimes Unit of Delaware State Police, Cathell did not bring with him a specific background in education. But he emphasized his leadership, a common-sense approach and a love for the district.
“I’ve been an assistant supervisor in several capacities for the Delaware State Police,” he said. “Sometimes in public service, you go to these situations and it seems you have to take control. I’ve been a trooper and just started my 21st year.”
He has served on DSP patrol, in the Governor’s Task Force, in criminal investigations and then joined the Major Crimes Unit three years ago, investigating sexual assault, robberies and deaths.
“I care about the district. … I have a dog in the fight. I have a genuine interest in the wellbeing of the school district and its students and faculty,” Cathell said. “And I know being on the school board — it’s a tremendous commitment, but it’s one that I welcome and one that I’m ready to take on.”
An IRSD graduate, Cathell’s wife is a school counselor and English Language Learner program coordinator. His children attend elementary school and preschool in the district. His sister-in-law is also an IR employee, and her children are students.
“I just think I could make a difference,” he had previously said.
“I think a lot of people in the community are aware that the growth in our schools is staggering. We’re going to have to figure a way out to [accommodate] … make sure all the students that move to our district are properly educated,” Cathell said. “There’s been a lot of things that have been discussed. …The school board’s going to have to put our heads together and formulate the best plan of attack for this.”
After seeing such a small crowd at the district’s first public planning meeting, he said he hopes more people will attend future Major Capital Planning Committee meetings.
“I was very eager to hear some of the ideas that they would bring to the table. Obviously, if you’re asking for money from the public,” then the board would want public input, he said. “We don’t have all the answers.”
As for IRSD school safety, “I think we’re head and shoulders ahead of everyone else in getting ahead of that. I think we have a great plan in place,” said Cathell, adding that he supports the district’s armed constables, who are all retired law-enforcement officers. “Being a parent of two kids in the district, going to work every day, it’s a nice feeling” knowing his children are safe, he said.
Cathell’s temporary board appointment only lasts a few months, until June 30. The public election will fill the rest of the original term, through 2019.
“It’s certainly been an honor and privilege to serve on the board for the last few months, and I look forward to the opportunity to serve for the next [year], if elected,” Cathell said.
By Laura Walter