2023 PRIMARY ELECTION: 6 running for 5 seats on Farrell school board
Apr. 29—EDITOR'S NOTE — The Farrell school board race was inadvertently left out of The Herald's Voters Guide last Saturday. Some candidates did not submit photographs.
FARRELL — Six candidates, all on the Democratic slate, are running for five nominations to the Farrell Area School Board.
There are no candidates on the Republican ballot.
Terrence "Terry" Harrison
Terrence "Terry" Harrison, the board president, is running for re-election.
Terrence graduated from Farrell High School in 1979 and was a career counselor in the Air Force, where he received a college education and participated in various leadership schools.
He retired from the Air Force in 2011 after 32 years, and he is the pastor of Valley Baptist Church in Farrell.
Terrence first joined the school board in 2005, and said he was interested in being part of the changes taking place at the Farrell Area School District.
Since then, he said the district has undertaken four major renovations at the district, with the most recent being the school football field, and the district's STEAM lab, STEAM referring to science, technology, engineering, art and math.
Aside from preparing students for life post-graduation, Harrison said the district works to promote good behavior in its students, who are "great kids" that excel in the arts, academics and athletics before becoming "great citizens."
"We've been blessed with so many things at Farrell, such as getting our students state-of-the-art learning classes and robotics programs, and I'm excited about running and working with our superintendent and principals to continue taking our district to that next level," Terrence said.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic affected Farrell and other school districts, Terrence said it allowed the district to develop technological alternatives for remote education.
There will also be other issues, such as potential issues with state funding toward schools, but Terrence said he has learned over the years the importance of working alongside his fellow board members and school staff when confronting challenges.
"When we work together collectively as a board with the school district, the outcomes are positive," he said.
Also running for re-election is Charles Branca, who serves as board treasurer and been a board member for 16 years.
Branca is a 1968 graduate of Farrell High School, who graduated from Youngstown State University as an education major in 1974. He then completed his post-graduate work at Slippery Rock University and Clarion University in 1983.
He was a teacher for at Farrell High School for 33 years, with 25 years as athletic director.
Branca said he first became involved with the school board as a way to give back to the district, sharing his experience with education and extracurricular activities — a desire he plans to continue if elected to another term.
"Before I retired, there was never one day where I said 'I was going to work,' I always said 'I'm going to school,'" Branca said. "I think I have some expertise that I can share, but I'm still learning every day."
Having previously served as both a teacher and athletic director, Branca said he understands the importance for students to balance academics in the classroom with athletics, as well as the challenges faced by teachers and the difficulties in balancing a budget.
The district has encountered some challenges, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, but Branca said the students now have Chromebooks to learn remotely.
Although there are other challenges, such as hiring new staff and dealing with a decreasing student body, such hardships teach school officials how to move adapt and move forward, as illustrated by the technological improvements made due to the pandemic, Branca said.
"We've done great things in the elementary school with the renovations and we have a new curriculum in place, and these kinds of things are all positives for the future of the district," Branca said.
Fellow board member Dan Dragicevic is running for re-election, having served on the school board for four years.
Dragicevic, a 1995 graduate of Farrell High School, serves as general manager of a local tire distributor. He graduated from Penn State with a business degree.
Prior to his time on the school board, Dragicevic had served for four years on Farrell City Council.
Dragicevic said the time on council exposed him to different aspects of government, such as how to communicate with the public or hold open meetings.
Dragicevic was interested in running for the school board due to what he perceived as a disconnect between the district and the community. Although Dragicevic said there have been improvements in terms of the district's communication with the public, he would like to see more community involvement and feedback.
"It is discouraging when you have little to nobody at your board meeting, so I think we've got to encourage people to come out," Dragicevic said. "When we meet as a board, we're there to pass policy, but we're also there because that's a time where the community can be heard, whether it's good or bad."
Dragicevic said school officials should continue improving transparency and promoting the good things happening at the district, such as the students' achievements, while bringing some of Farrell's alumni back to the district.
This could give current students a chance to learn firsthand what Farrell graduates have achieved and potentially give them direction for their own lives, along with events organized by the school to recognize those alumni.
"We keep putting out excellent students every year, whether its people who joined the military or had success in the trades, entrepreneurship or college, and they're people that our students can relate to," Dragicevic said.
Lifelong Farrell resident Allen Harrison is running for re-election.
A 1973 graduate of Farrell High School, Allen attended a summer program at Gannon University but later went on to work at General Motors' Lordstown factory until his retirement in 2008.
Harrison was appointed to the school board in 2011, and has since served two full terms. A victory in this upcoming election would mark the beginning of Harrison's third term, and he said is continues to enjoy the challenge of serving on the board while seeing Farrell's students prepared for life post-graduation.
One of the district's accomplishments that Allen is proud of was the development of the district's STEAM lab, which gives students the ability to explore different activities and potential career paths in the technology field outside of a traditional classroom setting.
"Something I found out about General Motors is that they want all the engineers they can find, because the competition wants engineers," Allen said. "Because of the STEM and STEAM labs, our kids might find they enjoy working with their hands and that gives them a leg up on the competition."
One of the challenges facing the school district, along with other districts statewide, is the loss of funding toward public education in favor of cyber and charter schools.
However, Allen said Farrell schools can offer a "solid education" with opportunities in the arts, science and education.
Allen has raised four kids in the Farrell school system, as well as grandchildren, nieces, nephews and cousins who are still in the district, showing him the firsthand benefits of a Farrell education. Allen also coached sixth grade basketball for three years, and is still approached by former students.
"I know that when a kid comes here, from their first day of school to their last day, that kid is well taken care of," Allen said.
Farrell resident Gary Satterwhite is also running for re-election.
Satterwhite, a 2001 graduate of Kennedy Catholic Family of Schools, received his bachelor's degree in accounting from Slippery Rock University in 2010. He now works as a treasury analyst at Duquesne University.
Satterwhite said he was interested in pursuing another term on the school board in order to continue helping to improve academics, and improving cohesion between the community and the school district.
"I enjoy helping out the kids and students, and I think communication on both sides, including the school board and the community, is important," Satterwhite said.
Satterwhite said some of the issues facing Farrell schools are the same as those encountered by other Pennsylvania school districts, such as decreasing populations and the need for more state funding, as well as making sure the students' basic needs are being met.
In the case of the Farrell Area School District, Satterwhite said the district is unique in its ability to use its smaller size to cause changes on an individual basis for students.
When working to solve problems, Satterwhite said it was important for school boards to not caught up in group thinking, and ensuring that different or opposing viewpoints are present when making important decisions.
Satterwhite said his financial background is beneficial when it comes to understanding the district's finances and budgeting process, and he added that it is important to both not rush decisions while not hesitating to take action either.
"We need to understand that not everything will happen tomorrow, but at the same time, you can't keep putting things off so that a plan never comes together," Satterwhite said.
Louis A. Falconi
Running for his first term on the Farrell Board of Education is Louis A. Falconi, a lifelong Farrell resident.
Falconi is a graduate of Farrell Area School District and Edinboro College. After he graduated from Edinboro in 1970, Falconi was drafted into the Army and served a tour in Vietnam in 1971.
Falconi then returned home and was hired at the Farrell Area School District in 1973, where he worked as a high school social studies teacher and football coach until his retirement in 2006.
Falconi and his wife both attended Farrell schools, and the couple had three children graduate through the school district as well.
"I was born and raised in Farrell, and my wife and I love the city and the school district," Falconi said.
Although this would be Falconi's first term on the school board, he previously served on Farrell City Council from 1976 to about 2010.
Falconi said that, if elected, his experience as a teacher, coach, city council member and a parent could be an asset to the school board, especially when it comes to increasing cooperation between the city and the school district.
Some of the biggest issues facing the school district include the decrease in Farrell's population and the need to retain qualified teachers. However, Falconi said there are plenty of positive things at the school district that should be promoted, from the district's swimming pool, new football field and planetarium to the student's athletic and academic achievements.
"We've got to work with the city government and see about increasing the population with new housing, but we've also got a lot to offer families at the school district and a lot to be proud of," Falconi said.
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