Crestwood School Board: A mix of options in 11 candidates

By Mark Guydish - [email protected]
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WRIGHT TWP. — Crestwood School District residents have the choice of 11 candidates running for five seats. Recent decisions by the board regarding construction of a new field house, apparent roadblocks in trying to obtain district records, and recent problems with a bus contract (that prompted the departure of two administrators) have become hot district topics.

Four incumbents are seeking re-election: President Bill Jones, Vice President Joseph Kaminski, Treasurer William Thomas and Anna Hollock Bibla. Four challengers are running together as “United for Change”: Jim Brogna, Stacy Haddix, Lauren McCurdy and Kimberly Spath. Three other challengers are running independently: Dan Cornelius, Irene Webby and Tom Stavitzski.

Here are some highlights from those who responded to questions sent to all. Complete written comments are available on the web with this story at timesleader.com.

Incumbents

Bill Jones, current board president, was out of state and did not respond to questions. He is chief executive officer of Mr. Paul Enterprises, a local food service distributor. He has most recently touted changes in district curriculum and other moves to correct what he sees as poor decisions by a previous board, and supports construction of the controversial field house. Bids totalling $3.4 million were recently awarded. He has suggested the district must come to a decision on whether to renovate the two elementary schools or build a new one near the existing middle/high school.

William Thomas, retired from 42 years in the corrugated box industry, has a degree in economics and is completing 16 years on the board, including time spent as the district representative on the Joint Operating Committee that runs the five-district Wilkes-Barre Area Career and Technical Center. He listed fiscal responsibility as his top priority, supporting the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) offerings in the district, and negotiating a “fair and responsible” bus contract in the wake of problems with Rinehmer Bus Lines that led to a critical report from the state auditor general’s office this week, and the removal of Joseph Gorham as superintendent and Operations Manager Christopher Gegaris.

Thomas stressed he demands accountability from the board, staff and administrators, and that he wants to “maintain quality programs” for all students. “All eyes are on Crestwood, failure is not an option.”

Ann Hollock Bibla joined the board two years ago, has a masters and works as an occupational therapist with autistic children, which, she said, gives her added insight in dealing with students with special needs.

Joseph Kaminski, retired, is completing his first four-year term on the board and has pushed for more academic offerings in the district.

Challengers

Jim Brogna has been prominent in the “Citizens Preserving Quality Public Education’ group that voices frequent opposition to the current board on its Facebook page. He has more than 20 years at Allied Services Integrate Health System, working as vice president and cites work on “dozens of nonprofit boards” in the area. His top priority is “better communications with all stake-holders” and “prudent spending.”

Brogna contends that, in the last three years, the district has made poor decisions, wasted money, botched transportation contracts and reduced curriculum choices. “Our family moved to Mountain Top 20 years ago and one of the primary reasons was the quality of public education,” he noted, adding he wants to restore that reputation.

Stacy Haddix has spent the last two decades as “facilities director for a not-for-profit healthcare system,” and says her top priorities are “transparency, safety, education first, fiscal responsibility, communication and stability.” She has been active on the Citizens Preserving Facebook page, along with Spath, McCurdy, Webby and Stavitzski.

Kimberly Spath graduated from Greater Nanticoke Area High School and Wilkes University with degree in psychology, with two children in Crestwood schools and a third starting kindergarten this fall. She also cited decline in the district in the past two years and said transparency, education and safety are her top priorities.

Lauren McCurdy is a Crestwood graduate who, in Facebook posts, has pushed for school security, fiscal support for supplies and STEM offerings.

Tom Stavitzski is a 17-year educator who coached Little League and has two sons in the district. He has lived in the district for 10 years, and also cites safety, transparency and academics as his top priorities, promising to oppose furloughs and program cuts.. Three specific proposals: A word of the day at the middle and high school to improve SAT scores, “a Spanish immersion program at the elementary level,” and more “community-based learning projects with our high school students.”

Irene Webby cites a balance of fiscal responsibility and student education and safety as her top priority, and said she has often “been told by my coworkers and friends that I have key communication skills.” She stressed open discussion and the need to listen to others before making decisions.

Dan Cornelius retired from the U.S. Navy after serving 20 years in the construction force known as the Seabees. He said he believes the current board “has done a good job” of getting the district back on track” after “mistakes were made.” He said he would have to see more information before supporting a solution for the elementary schools, but suspects in the long run a new single school could be the right choice, “but let’s get some money saved up for it first.” He said safety and fiscal responsibilities are his top priorities.

Written responses (Some candidates chose to respond by phone. Board President Bill Jones was out of state and unable to respond in time for publication).

Irene Webby:

Top Priorities if elected:

First and foremost, the top priorities if elected, would be the education and safety of our children, but fiscal responsibility should not be neglected. As a school director, providing the best possible curriculum, textbooks and new technology would be high on my agenda. This however, would take a backseat to what I consider our most important resources, our human resources, the teachers and staff. Avoiding program cuts and furloughs would be the priority here. I watt to make sure that courses needed for success in whatever college and career pathways students wish to pursue are available so that they could compete in today’s ever changing world. Spending our financial resources wisely needs to be approached with much attention to the communications process. Teachers, administrators, and staff should know what areas need to be cut in order to maintain a balance. Open communication needs to be present.

Schools need to provide a safe environment to learn. District officials have been making many safety related decisions recently. New procedures regarding visiting the schools have been made, but there are still some very important safety decisions that will be coming in the future. With those decisions that will be coming in the future. With those decisions, it is imperative that children always feel safe at school, and likewise, parents feel that same sense of safety while their children are at school.

Occupation/Qualifications:

I have been told by my coworkers and friends that I have key communication skills that would be beneficial to any organization or entity. I pride myself on these skills and believe that showing respect for others by listening to their concerns and needs before expressing my own opinions has been a key to success in this area. In my present and past jobs, I have always expressed the need for open communications. I believe that when we3 talk openly we accomplish more. It is the job of a school director to listen and consider all parties interests when making decisions. the interests of students, parents, taxpayers, teachers, staff, and administration all need to be considered when making effective school-related decisions, and to best make those decisions, the parties need to be heard in a line of open communication.

Reasons residents should vote for me:

I want to be part of the process in assuring Crestwood School District continues its reputation for educational excellence for generations to come.I will do my best to do what is right by and for our children.

Anna Hollock Bibla

My name is Anna Hollock Bibla. I am seeking a seat on the Crestwood School Board for a 4 year term. I am currently serving my 2 year term on this board. I ran for School Director because I wanted to give back to my community that has given so much to me and my family. My husband and I are both graduates of Crestwood High School. I went on to earn my degrees from Misericordia University with a Bachelor’s in Health Science and a Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy. My husband was awarded a full scholarship to the University of Miami to play football, earned a degree in Liberal Arts, and play football in the NFL. This school district gave us the foundation to be able to pursue our dreams by way of teachers, coaches, guidance counselors, and community support.

I am 38 years old, a mother to 5 children. I am an Occupational Therapist for Encore Therapy at The Graham Academy. I provide Occupational Therapy services in a school setting for children living with autism and emotional challenges. Knowledge of Special Education, working within budgets, and work ethic are my skill set that would benefit the Crestwood School District.

I currently serve on the Academic, Transportation, and Co-Curricular committees within the school board.

Tom Stavitzski

Top priorities, if elected?

I want to bring the focus of the district back to education. If given the opportunity, I would work together with the new board in a collaborate and transparent manner with the objective of putting our students and taxpayers first. I believe in having and maintaining safe schools is a top priority, and I would immediately address some safety issues that have not been addressed.. I would stand against teacher furloughs and the cutting of essential programs such as STEM, Industrial Arts, Music, Art, and Kindergarten. I would like to implement a Spanish immersion program at the Elementary level. I want to start an (SAT Word of the Day) to be used throughout each school day at the Middle School and High School levels. I would like the district to start using Community Based Learning Projects with our high school students and I want to see more challenging courses and electives offered at the high school level and less study halls.

I am 45 years old. I have been an educator for 17 years. I am married and have two sons in the district. I have volunteered my time as a coach with the Mountaintop Little League and Junior Comets organizations as a 10 year resident of Mountaintop.

If the Crestwood voters choose to elect me, they would be getting an open and honest voice. I am not afraid to speak my mind and voice my opinion, I am committed to making Crestwood great once again. I have two masters degrees in Curriculum & Instruction and in Special Education, and I believe my experience in Education would add a unique perspective to the board.

Jim Brogna

Top priorities, if elected?

Better communications with all stakeholders- especially teachers, parents, the public and elected state officials. Prudent spending until we can get a detailed, line-item budget with awareness of where money is truly being spent/wasted.

Age, if you are willing to share: 48

occupation/qualifications for the post:

-Vice President Allied Services Integrated Health System 20+ years

-Masters in Organizational Management & Leadership from Misericordia University

-Served on dozens of nonprofit boards including Leadership Wilkes Barre, Greater Wilkes Barre Chamber, Kiwanis Club of Mountain Top, UNICO National- Scranton Chapter, Catholic Social Services of Lackawanna & Wayne Co., Burnley Employment & Rehabilitation of Poconos to name a few. These volunteer opportunities and civic leadership has afforded me the best experience in working together with people in the community for common good. In the case of our public education, one of the most important community needs, I believe quality public education, is paramount to our property values, economic growth and fulfillment of life goals for each child in the Crestwood School District.

Our family moved to Mountain Top 20 years ago and one of the primary reasons was the quality of public education at the Crestwood School District.

Now, within the past 3+ years, our district has regressed dramatically with:

✅ poor decision-making

✅ wasteful spending

✅ failed school bus agreements

✅ failed Pre-K funding

✅ reduction in curriculum choices

✅ complete failure to implement restorative discipline.

These are just a few concerns. All has dramatically affected my decision to run for School Director.

Reasons residents should vote for you:

any other comments:

Honesty. Commitment to community with a passion to help others. Trusted across the community.

I pledge to follow PSBA (Pennsylvania School Board Association) Principles for Governance and Leadership and will attend necessary training https://www.psba.org/

I have never held a political office or elected position; however, I am a 20+ year senior executive in a very large, growing nonprofit health and human service organization. My primary responsibility is to create effective communication channels within our healthcare system, as well as in the community!

I’ve worked diligently to build excellent relations with our elected officials, as well with other leaders in the community, which I hope will help begin to restore Crestwood’s reputation as one of the finest public school districts in Pennsylvania.

Stacy Haddix

Top priorities, if elected?

Transparency, safety, education first, fiscal responsibility, communication and stability. All you have to do is ask the community about what the needs are at Crestwood and they are too numerous to list. We have needs not being met at every school, for every student.

Age, if you are willing to share: 46

Occupation/qualifications for the post:

I have been a facilities director for a not for profit healthcare system for the past 20 years after leaving the private sector. On a daily basis, I manage a multi-million dollar operations budget and over the past 6 years, have played an integral role on more than 200 million dollars in capital projects. I believe my expertise provides a synergy that would be useful with the current state of the district’s buildings and expansion plans.

Reasons residents should vote for you:

I became involved because of my children. My oldest son begged for me to do something more than a year ago when the talk for furloughs developed. I started attending meetings and I was disappointed with many of the decisions and the direction the current board was taking. My goal is to help provide the best experience possible for our children to succeed balanced with the satisfaction of our taxpayers.

Kim Spath

I have 3 school aged children in the Crestwood School District – 1 8th grader (14), 1 6th grader (12) and 1 starting Kindergarten next year (5). I am 40 years old. We moved here 3 years ago, specifically because of the District’s reputation for excellent education. I grew up in the Northeast PA region, specifically Nanticoke and graduated from Greater Nanticoke Area. I’m a graduate of Wilkes University with a BA in Psychology. I moved to Philadelphia for a few years after college but otherwise have lived in this area my entire life. I work in a leadership position for a large organization here in the northeast PA region. I lead a team responsible for strategic communications and implementation of new programs and projects, which has given me experience managing both individuals, budgets, and large scale, complex projects.

Priorities and reasons:

I am committed to restoring transparency with the community, making the students education and safety the number one priority, improving financial responsibility, and creating stable leadership within the district. I have been attending school board meetings and community meetings for almost 2 years and have been disheartened by the shift in our district’s priorities. My goal is to create an inclusive, supportive environment for our staff and students as well as any family and community members that want to be involved with the education process.

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By Mark Guydish

[email protected]

Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish

Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish