2023 PRIMARY ELECTION: 8 running for 5 seats on West Middlesex School Board
Apr. 29—WEST MIDDLESEX — Eight candidates are running for five seats on the West Middlesex Area School Board, including five incumbents and three newcomers. All are cross-filed on both the Republican and Democratic ballots.
Board President Dr. Andrew Erb is seeking re-election. He is a Shenango Township resident
Erb is a 1992 graduate of the West Middlesex Area School District, and he received a bachelor's degree in music education in 1996 from Westminster University, a master's degree in music in 2008 from Youngstown State University, and a doctorate in music education in 2019 from Boston University.
Erb has served on the school board for eight years, and said he is interested in continuing to serve due to a desire to be involved with the community and to help the school district.
"The school's been very proactive with grant writing over the past eight years, and I think we're almost to $1 million with grants we've received, and we're looking at programs like the superintendent-sharing arrangement with Reynolds that is going to save us thousands," Erb said.
As someone who is both an educator and a parent with three kids in the district, Erb said he understands the importance of athletics, academics and the arts, and the need for students to balance all three.
However, as someone with an elderly mother who lives within the district, Erb said he also understands the relationship between the school district and the community, such as the effects that increased taxes could have on people with a fixed income.
Erb is a professor of music and director of bands at Grove City College, which lets him speak with college students who recently graduated from high school and receive ideas that could be applied at the school district.
"Sometimes a student will say they took a course and it gave them an advantage later on, or a student will say they wished they knew about something before they graduated," Erb said.
West Middlesex resident Rachelle Newton has served on the school board for six years and is running for re-election. She works in food services.
Newton said she was interested in another term due to the "fantastic" journey those years of service have been so far, and said the district was blessed with outstanding staff and administration.
"I look forward to helping our district grow and to provide our students with opportunities to share fantastic futures," Newton said.
Newton is a 2000 graduate of Shenango High School in Lawrence County, and she received a degree in English literature in 2004 from Slippery Rock University.
Newton has three children in the school district, and since her husband is Shenango Township police Chief Jason Newton, Rachelle said safety and security is a major priority for her, whether it's continuing the relationship between the district and the police department or developing the recently-established anti-bullying committee.
The six years on the school board has allowed Newton to learn how the school district operates, as well as the importance of working with parents as much as possible and for the board to get creative when solving challenges, such as sharing the district superintendent with Reynolds School District.
"Something that I've learned over the years, especially during COVID, was how the board can have very different views and yet we can have enough respect for each other to debate and be friendly with each other, because our main goal is what's best for the school," Newton said.
Pulaski resident Michael Seech is running for re-election, currently serving in his first four-year term.
Seech is an English professor at Butler County Community College, including their locations at LindenPointe and Lawrence Crossing. Seech previously worked in healthcare as an MRI technician and as an MRI salesman.
A 1985 graduate of West Middlesex schools, Seech graduated from an X-ray program at Sharon Regional Medical Center in 1990, then received a bachelor's degree in radiography from LaRoche University in 1998. He later received a master's degree in education from Duquesne University in 1999.
Seech said it is important to find ways of keeping school taxes low while keeping equipment or property updated, such as repairing the district's track or the recent roof renovation project at the district.
"We're from here and we love the community," Seech said of his family. "Whether it's going to homecoming parades and football games or going to baseball games in the spring, where you can smell the hotdogs and smell the dirt."
As an educator, Seech said he works directly with freshmen and sophomores, which allows him to understand the needs students have when entering college.
One of Seech's two sons graduated from West Middlesex schools in 2020 and took almost a college semester's worth of college-level classes in high school. Having heard of similar benefits for other West Middlesex students, Seech said he remains a big supporter of college-level classes at West Middlesex.
"When I was gathering information and getting signatures, a lot of parents said how wonderful those courses were for students because of the advantages it gives them and the sense of what college is like before graduation," Seech said.
Board member and Shenango Township resident David Poore is running for his first full term, having been appointed to the board about a year ago to fill a vacancy.
Poore graduated from Steel Valley High School in 1998, and worked a few jobs before he graduated with dual degrees in general education and technology and engineering education from California University of Pennsylvania in 2012.
Poore is a technology education teacher at the Ellwood City Area School District but has previously worked a variety of jobs including ride maintenance at Kennywood amusement park and computer numerical control, or CNC, work at a mill. Poore ended up teaching other employees CNC work, which led to his career in education.
Poore said his experience in a variety of jobs gives him firsthand knowledge of the paths students can take toward either college or the trades.
"With the way the job market is, I think there's a lot of kids that, instead of going to college, are getting into that mindset of, 'what's going to make me more valuable,' and we need to help those kids get those marketable skills," Poore said.
If re-elected, Poore said he would continue to support programs that introduce students to jobs or trade schools, as well as looking at ways to improve communication between the school district and the community.
This would help give people a better understanding of the board's actions while dispelling any misinformation that might spread through rumors or social media.
"Even during the COVID years which were tough, what I found was that every decision the board made was either absolutely in the best interest of the school, or it was explained that it was the best option we had," Poore said.
Lackawannock Township resident Hope Dalessandro is running for re-election, after serving for two years so far.
Dalessandro is a 1965 graduate of Hickory High School, and she has a bachelor's degree in Biblical theology from Beacon Bible College in Florida and a bachelor's degree in nursing from Penn State Shenango.
Dalessandro serves as pastor of Abundant Life Church in Sharpsville, and she volunteers helping West Middlesex students in kindergarten through second grade with reading, writing and arithmetic once a week.
Aside from her service on the school board, Dalessandro is the board's alternate representative for the Mercer County Career Center board.
"I feel like I have an understanding of how everything at the school works, and I think I'm making a difference," Dalessandro said.
If re-elected, Dalessandro said it is important to continue introducing safety measures for the children, from physical improvements to the building to the district's anti-bullying committee.
Her time as a pastor also gives her some perspective on the issues facing families and the community throughout the Shenango Valley, while Dalessandro's time working with students allows her to see firsthand what the district's children are struggling with.
Dalessandro said she is excited about some of the educational changes at West Middlesex schools, including more individualized assistance for students depending on their struggles. This helps the students' performance while removing some of the stigma toward needing extra assistance.
"Because every part of every subject is being examined, the kids are always being helped, and you can see improvements with their self-esteem and participation," she said.
New Wilmington resident Teresa McKissick is running for what would be her first term on the school board.
McKissick graduated from Wilmington Area High School in 1989 and received her degree in radiology from Saint Francis Hospital, through West Virginia University. She works in women's health at UPMC.
McKissick said she was interested in serving on the school board in order to bring a different perspective to the board, especially when it comes to issues such as special education and mental health.
"With the way the world is, and social media and bullying that kids today have to deal with, I think we need to make sure that kids have all of the resources they need," McKissick said.
McKissick has already attended some of the school board's meetings, and said she is also interested in finding ways to increase the community's engagement with the school district, as well as building transparency and communication between the board and the community.
McKissick previously served on the West Middlesex football board for nine years, and on the disciplinary board for the Shenango Valley Midget Football League.
Both of these roles gave McKissick experience serving on boards and engaging with the community, especially parents, in order to share information or resolve issues.
"If I'm elected, I want people to reach out to me so I can bring these concerns to the board," McKissick said. "When I was with midget football, all of the parents had my phone number, so we need to be open with the community."
ATTEMPTS TO CONTACT candidates Sara Kaufman and Scott Bartholomew were unsuccessful.
Like David L. Dye on Facebook or email him at .
Like David L. Dye on Facebook or email him at email@example.com.