Independent adds spice to Highlands School Board race

| Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013, 1:06 a.m.

The Highlands School Board election was shaping up as a ho-hum affair after the primary.

The incumbents, Eric Miles for the single Region I seat, Debbie Beale and Ron Lang for the two Region II seats, and newcomer Kerry Myers in Region III had all crossfiled. They all locked up both nominations, pretty much ensuring they would win board seats.

But since the primary, Michelle Thompson Peters, another newcomer, filed as an independent in Region III. She will square off against Myers on Tuesday.

“I have no personal agenda,” said Myers, who is a Highlands graduate and a police officer in Allegheny Township. “I'm doing it for the kids. I have no political agenda. A lot of people say that board needs a breath of fresh air, and hopefully I can be that breath of fresh air.”

As for district problems that he would like to address, Myers said it's taxes.

“Number one, there's a delinquent tax problem that is going on,” he said. “Everybody I talk to is mad about the taxes, how high the taxes are. People are very worried about raising taxes.”

He said his solution is for the school board to run the district “like a business.”

“I would like to get in there and see if there is money being wasted, if there are programs that need to be cut,” Myers said. “You hate to cut anything, but with the times that we are in, that's what businesses do — they cut back.”

Regarding changes or improvements he would like to see in the educational program, Myers said he is at a disadvantage since two of his three children are in district schools for the first time. They previously attended a parochial school.

”I really don't have enough information on that,” he said. “So far, I can tell you both of my boys love it.”

Peters, who works as a director of operations for Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, said she likes to be engaged with what her children are doing and that was one reason she decided to run.

“I was born and raised (in the district). I graduated from there,” Peters said. “I just feel that it is my time to give back to the community.”

She sees two problems the district must address.

“State funding and parental engagement — parents not being involved or not understanding how to be involved with their children's education,” she said.

To help parents become more involved, Peters said she would like to try a program used in the Pittsburgh city schools that she said has been successful. It is called Family and Community Engagement, or “FACE.”

“One thing that they do is, there's one teacher at each building who works with the parents,” Peters said. “They reach out to the parents, which is kind of something regular teachers may not have time to do.”

She thinks the district can do that without hiring additional personnel by offering it to current teachers as a supplemental contract, similar to those used for coaches and club sponsors.

On the matter of declining state funds, she said it is an issue that she would have to “dig into” in order to propose a solution.

Peters said the district's educational program needs to be more specialized in terms of helping individual students.

“I know they are doing more standardized testing that is more rigorous,” she said. “That's fine, but I think teachers need to have more control in the classroom, be more individualized. They have to do everything standardized for the state and federal governments. But they know the students, and they know where the students are at with their education.

“I really think that sometimes, the teachers are forced to make them do well on a test because that's how the district is judged. That's difficult.”

Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4675 or

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