Two new members will be sworn in to the Indian River School District Board of Education, as Madeline Moses and James “Jim” Fritz were appointed to fill two vacancies in representative District 1 (Georgetown area).

By coincidence, the two previous Georgetown board members, Anthony Cannon and Leo Darmstadter III, had both moved to new homes outside of their geographic district, requiring them to relinquish their seats on the board in March. Both men had been among the newest IRSD leadership, both having run unopposed in last July’s school board election (delayed from the spring, due to COVID-19).

Since the District 1 vacancies occurred after the spring election cycle, the other eight board members interviewed four candidates on April 26 to find people to fill two one-year appointments (ending June 30, 2022). Next spring, the District 1 seats will be posted for regular election again. (No other board member terms were due to expire in 2021.)

Madeline Moses was raised in Bishopville, Md., and raised two daughters in the IRSD. She has practiced pharmacy in Delaware for 35 years, including at Happy Harry’s and Bayhealth, and as a consultant pharmacist at the Stockley Center and PRN pharmacist at SUN Behavioral Delaware.

Besides her encouragement of lifelong learning, she also brings a health perspective to the education system.

“Of society, my fear is that when we reopen school districts … I think our teachers are going to encounter things that they have never experienced before. When I stand behind the counter, I see escalated rates of depression, anxiety, drug-seeking behavior, that we were finally getting a handle on, pre-COVID — all of the students who have been exposed to fear and anxiety, that’s going to trickle over to the classroom,” Moses said.

She has earned degrees in pharmacy, business management and chemistry (and also nearly completed a Spanish major).

James Fritz had retired from the IRSD school board when his term expired in 2020. Although he did not apply for reelection then, “It’s amazing, when you’re out of something, how much you feel an obligation to be part of something,” and he said he wants to serve again. “I can hit the ground running with very little learning curve.”

He has eight years of board experience, including on the Finance Committee, Buildings & Grounds Committee, and scholarships, contracts and salary committees. A 1984 IRSD grad, Fritz works in building finance and mortgages (and he also taught high school for six years).

Because he currently has no family in the district, “I truly feel like I bring an independent, unbiased voice to the board, who can make decisions that are solely based on the betterment of our children and staff.”

He said he hopes to provide a good education for students and be a good watchdog of taxpayer money.

A more transparent process

There were four total candidates for the position. Dr. Beth Conaway has been a principal, assistant principal and teacher (including 10 years in the IRSD). After retiring in March from work for the Cape Henlopen School District, she said she wished to continue serving the community. A lifelong Sussex Countian, she discussed her experience with school budgets, redistricting, and student needs, such as inclusion, special services and English language learners.

Conaway’s candidacy raised some concerns in the public. During public comments, an IRSD employee and District 1 resident questioned Conaway’s wanting to join the IRSD board after leaving Cape midyear, as well as a family’s members legal problems in past years.

“We, as a district, should do our best to ensure that those representing our district and schools are representing them in the best light possible,” Melissa Abbott said.

Lisa Hudson Briggs is an IRSD graduate, as well as a mother and grandmother of IRSD students. Now fully retired from careers in social services and the elections department, she also has leadership experience in the PTO and church. She discussed recent housing growth in Georgetown and the process of bringing students back for in-person learning.

All four candidates submitted letters of interest earlier this month, and then they were given five minutes to speak on Monday night, followed by a public vote by the board.

The process appears more transparent than that of past appointments, in which the school board would interview candidates in executive session (closed to the public) and then vote publicly on unnamed “Candidates 1, 2 or 3.” That confidential process mirrored their treatment of district employees but gave little insight to candidates seeking to serve in public office.

This time, each board member first simply shared their top three candidates to move forward. That presented a fairly balanced slate, as each candidate received five or six favorable votes. The final vote tallies were counted by yes-no-abstention: Briggs (4-2-2), Conaway (4-1-3), Moses (6-1-1), Fritz (5-0-3 initially and 6-0-2 finally). Board President Rodney Layfield abstained from participating in every single vote, except the one at the end to approve Fritz.

Staff Reporter

Laura Walter is an award-winning reporter on schools, environment, people and history. A graduate of Indian River High School and Washington College, she has rappelled off a building and assisted a magician, and encourages readers to act on local issues.