Milford School District will hold an election on May 10, 2022 with two candidates filing for an At-Large seat vacated by Rony Baltazar-Lopez who chose not to run for another term. Scott Fitzgerald, who holds a District D seat on the board, is running unopposed. Jalyn Powell and Matthew Bucher both filed for the At-Large seat. Milford Live sent the following questions to each candidate and Powell’s responses are written in her own words.
Q: Can you provide your background? Education, career, family, etc.
A: I was born and raised in Sussex County, Delaware where I attended and graduated from Milford Senior High School with honors. I went on to pursue my Bachelor of Arts in Political Science at Delaware State University. I was recognized in 2017 with Delaware State University`s George Washington Leadership Award for my community outreach contributions and stellar performance within their Political Science Department. I graduated with a Master of Arts in Law with a concentration in Human Rights and Rule of Law in May of 2020 from Regent University School of Law. I am now a co-lead for the Delaware Racial Justice Collaborative`s Youth and Young Adult Development Workstream. I am the lead organizer of the “Walk of Change ” movement which consisted of peaceful demonstrations that were marched in silence. The Walk of Change demonstration held in Milford, Delaware brought hundreds of people together to demand Racial Equity and Social Justice in lieu of the rising public displays of police brutality. I was one of the speakers for the March For Our Lives Movement in 2018. I’ve worked with and for organizations like Delaware Futures, Dual School, Pathways to Success Inc. and Strive Leadership to enhance youth voice and prepare students for the workplace and real world.
I serve on various boards representing the BIPOC community and youth voice such as the Girls Basketball Committee with the DIAA, Delaware Center for Inland Bays`(CAC) Community Advisory Committee, YWCA Delaware`s Racial Social Justice Advisory Committee and more! Ultimately, I was inspired to launch my own business servicing youth and young adults, OUTLOUD LLC which empowers young adults by providing them with support services and educational resources to create leaders of today. I serve as the Youth Lead for the State of Delaware`s System of Care Grant where I provide young adults with peer support training and education around mental health and wellness. Now I am a traveling speaker, business owner and community advocate servicing our youth and community in areas of social justice and mental health and wellness.
Q: What are your plans to help create the most successful and desired school district in Delaware?
A: Equity and Efficiency is on top of my list. I would work with the school administration and the Supervisor of Equity and Support Services to create and sustain equitable access to resources, opportunities and environment for our students, staff and community. I would also work with the teachers and the Curriculum Committee to review ways to improve our student`s efficiency in STEM related subjects. Currently, Milford School District has a proficiency rate of 17 percent in mathematics and 39 percent in ELA (English Language Arts), and for me that is unacceptable. Whether that’s improvement in curriculum or access to tutoring services, I will look into ways to improve our students’ efficiency rates in those areas to make sure we are doing our job as an educational system in preparing our students for the future.
Q: School districts across the country have been issuing restrictions regarding what is taught in the classroom, with respect to historical and contemporary conditions in the U.S. How will you handle requests for curriculum changes from parents and the community?
A: I would ensure that both parents, teachers and professionals are represented on the School Curriculum Committee. This will ensure that the parental voice is being represented. Teachers that would have to teach the content and professionals that can give sound advice, such as information and assurance as to why these works of literature or topics are or are not necessary for student learning, should be on the Committee. There should be a collaborative effort to ensure students are getting the most efficient and diverse education while also understanding parental and community views are important through this process.
Q: Do you anticipate policing of the arts and literature that students are assigned or create? How far do you feel the First Amendment extends to students?
A: Schools should be a safe place for students to learn, grow, and be able to express themselves so long as it does not interfere with the free expression rights of others. Students should be able to discuss and express views relevant to the subject matter in classrooms to assure meaningful participation and respect the contributions made by others. Students should have the right to express themselves through direct and symbolic means as long as such expression does not interfere with the educational process and does not reflect obscenity, vulgarity, and inflammatory statements. Moreover, students should be able to have the right to petition school officials regarding activities directly related to the conduct and improvement of the educational process. I believe that students deserve to have their voices heard; not diminished. Schools are learning pods, places where students will learn from their mistakes. To effectively learn and grow and become productive citizens of this state and country, students should be exposed to diverse thinking.
“Policing” literature is already done through the School Curriculum Committee where a holistic K-12 curriculum is recommended to the school board for approval. However, I will have my modes of communication open to the community because understanding the different viewpoints and concerns of others and reaching consensus among all stakeholders is the type of governing I want to uphold.
Q: Do you anticipate a political group or business influencing any decisions you make as a board member?
A: The only influence I have when making decisions is the community I am representing. Parental, student and staff opinions and concerns will be taken in consideration along with any qualitative or quantitative supporting data on whatever issue is under review at that time.
Q: Diversity has been on the forefront in education lately. In what ways do you plan to promote diversity as a school board member?
A: My election as a school board member would be the first step in promoting diversity. Currently, Milford School District has about 50 percent minority enrollment and of the seven board members only two are racially diverse and only ONE is a woman. During a conversation with two students, they shared with me how they don`t feel like school is a safe place for them to be vulnerable because they don’t see people who look like them. When they had minority representation at the administrative level and in the classroom, they felt more comfortable coming to school and sharing issues because they felt they had someone they could relate to. During my tenure I will work with the Supervisor of Equity and Support Services and the Superintendent to improve hiring practices and retention strategies to recruit and retain minority educators. I believe it is important our students see diversity in leadership from their teachers to the administration and board levels. When you have diversity shown and practiced in your institutions students feel safer and more comfortable when working with different social groups in the real world. Studies show diversity also promotes students’ creativity and innovation, problem solving and critical thinking skills.
Furthermore, diversity in education also means ensuring that younger voices are being heard on the school board. As a 25-year-old, I would continue to uphold a younger voice that already exists. To inspire our youth and children they should be able to see that young people can be in positions of power. I will also continue to make sure that the Board has a student and teacher representative at each school board meeting.
Q: During the COVID-19 pandemic, many parents were angry at school boards for mandates given to them by the governor. What is your opinion on governmental mandates and how school boards should handle them?
A: Governmental mandates are imposed using data, professional guidance and with the best interest of the public in mind. I believe in following the mandates of the Governor to ensure the safety of our students in public spaces such as school. I also acknowledge that educational decisions affecting our communities should have community input. I will consider decisions made on a case-by-case basis, taking in inputs from all members of our community.
Q: As a board member, you will likely approve the final plans for the former Milford Middle School renovation. What will you be looking for in the renovation plan and what would you not want to see included?
A: I am truly grateful that the community came out in droves last year to approve the revitalization of the former Milford Middle School. As a former student who enjoyed being part of the last class at the Milford Middle School before it closed its doors, the completion and trajectory of this project is both personal and important to me. With that in mind, I look forward to working with the existing Milford Middle School Committee—made up of community members, board members, staff, and other stakeholders—to ensure that plans are transparent and accessible to the public. Public trust is important when making these decisions moving forward. I also look forward to ensuring that the finances of the school district are balanced as we are talking about millions of dollars being invested. To ensure financial responsibility and oversight, I will do my due diligence to hold the Administration accountable, especially the superintendent. Lastly, I also look forward to making decisions such as the design of the building, the naming of the building, and making sure that the property is accessible to the community, such as the track and open fields.
Q: What types of activities would you like to see offered to students to keep them active and busy when school is not in session?
A: I would love to see more community engagement. Working with community partners to create after school programming to better prepare students for the future. Specifically programming that focuses on tutoring, financial literacy, socio-emotional learning, mental health and wellness and college/career readiness. The school day can only teach so much within 7 hours but adding additional opportunity for growth as students will not only keep our students active but continue to ensure we are giving our students the opportunity to be successful holistically.
Q: Now that virtual learning is an option, would you support expanding that option to parents or students in the district, such as high school students? Why or why not?
Yes, I support continuing the virtual option to students in the district on a case-by-case basis. In-person learning improves socio-emotional learning, so we want to make sure we are prioritizing in-person fellowship as long as it’s safe. However, in certain cases I would look to maintain virtual or hybrid options. For example, if a student is sick and cannot physically come into school, they should be able to stay on top of their school work. Providing flexibility to reduce chronic absenteeism, bullying, and other factors should be our priority. I will continue to support keeping the hybrid option for school board meetings. Parental, student, staff and community voices are important when making these decisions that affect them all. Virtual options allowed me to attend more school board meetings this year because of the previous conflicts in my work schedule, which is a common phenomenon for working class parents and community members.
Voting in the Milford School District Board of Education election will be held at Milford High School, Benjamin Banneker Elementary School, Lulu M. Ross Elementary School and Evelyn I. Morris Early Childhood Center from 7:00 AM until 8:00 PM. In order to vote in the election, you must be 18 years of age and live in Milford School District. You must provide proof of identity in the form of a driver’s license, state issued ID card, work ID card with photo and home address. Other proof’s of identity include U.S. postal material with name and address, a State of Delaware vehicle registration card, a recent utility bill, a rent receipt, a signed Social Security card or a telephone directory listing in a current phone book.
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