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Incumbents, newcomers seek Southmoreland seats

| Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

There will be five candidates — two incumbents and three newcomers — vying for the four open seats on the Southmoreland School Board in Tuesday's general election.

They are: incumbent Levi Miller, 69, of Upper Tyrone, board president who has served as a member from 1989-1993 and 1995-2003; incumbent Gail Rhodes, 59, of East Huntingdon, who will be seeking her second term; and newcomers, Cheryl Byers-Shipley, 59, of East Huntingdon; Robert Callaro, 64, of Scottdale; and Lois Eberly, 58, of Scottdale.

Miller, Rhodes and Byers-Shipley will appear on the Republican and Democratic tickets. Callaro will appear on the Democratic ticket. Eberly will appear on the Republican ticket.

The candidates were asked a series of questions.

What do you think is the role of a school director?

Miller: “Governance. That is the art of listening to various voices and looking at several options and working with others around the table to select the best decision to provide a high-quality educational opportunity to our children.”

Rhodes: “A board member is an overseer of the school district. You have to make sure that you have good administration in place over the staff of the school district, and you also have to listen to the residents — the taxpayers — and keep all aspects in mind when making decisions. You have to always be considerate of the taxpayers, work well with administration and staff, and most of all, let them do their jobs.”

Byers-Shipley: “The role of a board member is to help create and approve policies and set standards for the school district and adhere to those standards and the other standards that are set forth by the state.”

Callaro: “I think that the role is to make sure that you can provide the best education possible for the students while also protecting our taxpayers money.”

Eberly: “The role of a school board member is to collectively plan, set policy and evaluate results in providing a quality education for our students balanced with promoting fiscal responsibility and accountability to taxpayers.”

Where do you think the Southmoreland School District needs improvements?

Miller: “Our biggest need is to strengthen the high school academically. I fully support our principal Dan Kropfcheck's effort to push all students into more rigorous courses, especially in mathematics.”

Rhodes: “The high school is in warning status and I know that Mr. Kropfcheck and his staff have presented a plan and I have every confidence that the plan will work for the high school to bring it up to par. You have to really work well with the administration to collectively take it up a notch.”

Byers-Shipley: “I would like to see improvement in our secondary level. I also feel that we should do what we can to prepare our graduates for employment, whether it be college or technical school or to get training. We have to see to their needs to get them ready for that next step.”

Callaro: “I think that there needs to be more cooperation between school board members. There is a lot of contention in the school district and the board members need to have more cooperation.”

Eberly: “Although Southmoreland excels in many areas, we need to improve the academic performance of students at the high school level and be better stewards of our finances and assets.”

What should the district do to help improve students scores on the various testing that is required?

Miller: “Let's keep doing what is working for us. Southmoreland's test scores are the envy of the region and the state. Having said that, the state mandates way too much testing, but I guess that's a subject for another day.”

Rhodes: “First of all, you try to do the best that you can for all the schools. If it's mandated, then you need to make sure that your staff has stepped up and is doing a good job. In the middle and grade schools, they are really working to see that no child falls between the cracks.”

Byers-Shipley: “I think that concentrating a little more on the basics would be a good idea. Concentrate on basic math and reading and deduction skills. You have to get the kids ready to take their next steps and be active members of society.”

Callaro: “Obviously, they need to improve a number of areas that have been cited for improvement. They need to look at what may be needed education-wise. Maybe look into tutoring or whatever is out there and available, but you need to keep that within the cost of what the taxpayer is putting out.”

Eberly: “The district should work together with the school board to develop a comprehensive plan with measurable results, which is reviewed periodically to assess progress. Some elements of a plan might include: review of curriculum, adjustment of teaching techniques — if necessary, mentoring, tutoring and encouraging student responsibility and parental involvement.”

Marilyn Forbes is a contributing writer.

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