Contested seats in Indian River, Woodbridge

Though the majority of the school board races in Sussex County this year are uncontested, there are a few key races voters will decide on Tuesday, May 8.

According to nonprofit DelawareCAN, fewer than 2 percent of registered voters participate in school board elections each year, or about 7,000 people statewide. They choose all school board members in the 13 public school districts.

“This isn’t a presidential election where your vote kind of goes off into the ether,” said Indian River School District candidate Dana Probert. “These elections are won by a handful of votes. It’s really important to have your say.”

In Sussex, only Woodbridge and Indian River have contested seats this year.

Woodbridge candidates

The Woodbridge School District encompasses the Bridgeville and Greenwood areas in northwestern Sussex County and serves about 2,500 students. Jeffrey Allen and Darrynn Harris, both of Bridgeville, have filed for the member-at-large seat.

Allen is a 47-year-old farmer and a Woodbridge High School graduate. Three of his children attend school in the district. He believes communication is one of the biggest issues.

“We should always be striving to improve. Technology has made it so much easier,” he said. “There should be clear communication pathways between students, parents, teachers and the board. I feel that my rapport with [them] would be beneficial for the district.”

Allen’s opponent, Darrynn Harris, 31,  is a Woodbridge grad and teaches in the Indian River School District. He has a 2-year-old daughter who will soon begin attending Woodbridge schools.

“I was lucky enough to go back to Woodbridge as a teacher for a period of time, and I see what gets passed down to our kids,” he said.

Harris believes growth is the biggest issue facing the district.

“It’s about being transparent with the community and keeping them as a partner, so that as we grow they are more willing to support initiatives like referendums and fundraisers,” he said.

Indian River candidates

The Indian River School District is the largest in Sussex with more than 10,000 students and growing. It serves students from Georgetown to Selbyville to Bethany Beach. A crucial 2017 referendum passed by the skin of its teeth, saving the district from staff cuts. This year, board of education seats in Districts 3 and 5 are up for election.

Leolga Wright, 64, is the District 5 incumbent. She’s served for six years and is running to retain her seat. She is challenged by 41-year-old Dana Probert. They both live in Millsboro.

Wright is involved with the Indian River Volunteer Fire Company, Nanticoke Indian Association and Indian Mission United Methodist Church, to name a few of her community endeavors. She and her son are graduates of Sussex Central High School.

“I’m very proud of the Indian River School District,” she said. “I think we’ve become more financially stable and transparent.”

Wright hopes to continue to address overcrowding, whether with renovations or referendums. She also wants to see the construction of a new Howard T. Ennis School completed.

“It’s a special school and for special needs children and it is antiquated,” Wright said. “Without modern equipment, those children aren’t exposed to everything they could be. I’d like to see our progress come full circle, but it will probably be two or two-and-a-half years before building begins.”

Probert is a civil engineer. She has two children enrolled in the IRSD. Probert started paying closer attention to district matters during the referendum and is focused on growth issues.

“I want to find creative solutions to growth challenges, different ways of doing things,” Probert said. “And I want a good return on tax dollars. We need to do our research, and I would love to be a part of making that process more rigorous and transparent.”

Derek Cathell was appointed as District 3 representative in January, after a former member moved out of the area. He’s running to retain his seat. His challenger is 48-year-old Carla Ziegler, of Selbyville.

Cathell is a 44-year-old resident of Frankford and a Delaware State Police detective. He is an Indian River High School graduate and his wife is employed as a guidance counselor at Sussex Central High School. They have two children attending school in the district.

“Our biggest hurdle is the continued growth,” Cathell said. “It doesn’t seem to be slowing down so we have to start taking some steps to deal with it.”

Ziegler, too, graduated from IRHS. She taught in Delaware schools for 15 years before starting her own business, Traveling Tutorz, and runs a multi-family home school.

“People were approaching me and asking me to run,” she said. “And I was teaching my kids volunteer services, so I integrated it into my lesson. This is how I can give back to my community.”

Zeigler has a wealth of curriculum experience. As a member of the Smarter Balance Consortium Committee, she studied Common Core standards in order to help teachers, parents and students better understand them.

“I’d like to see a little more autonomy for teachers in the classroom with how they utilize the curriculum,” she said. “Common Core standards are so regimented and not all kids are linear thinkers. It’s something we can change that doesn’t cost money.”

Zeigler hopes to address district growth by increasing voter trust in the district’s board, administration and staff.

“I know we need funding for new schools, but in order to get that we have to have voter trust,” she said. “Right now, there’s a disconnect. If they know that we’re doing everything we possibly can to ensure the success of each and every student, that can change.”

Uncontested races

The incumbents in these Sussex school board seats are unchallenged this year:

Cape Henlopen School District Area A, Jessica A. Tyndall Delmar School District Member-At-Large, Shawn B. Brittingham Indian River School District District 2, Rodney M. Layfield Laurel School District Member-At-Large, Sabrina H. Taylor Isler Seaford School District Member-At-Large, David A. Tull