SUBSCRIBE NOW

Two candidates in CR Board election July 21

Emily Lytle * Delaware
elytle@doverpost.com
Dover Post

The Caesar Rodney Board of Education election is Tuesday, July 21. Incumbent Joyce S. Denman and Justin A. Puchalsky are running for one seat with a five-year term. Each candidate answered questions relating to issues in their district, including remote learning and the district's response to the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Joyce S. Denman, incumbent

Why did you decide to run for re-election?

Being a lifelong educator, it has always been my privilege to work in the field and contribute in ways that create ongoing improvements that make education accessible to all. I am just completing Year 1 on the school board and have spent this time attending meetings, visiting schools and becoming acclimated to the protocols and proceedings that make this district work. I feel that with my background in education and my sincere and genuine interest in the students and staff in my community, I am uniquely poised to help the district move forward as we think of, create and develop new and innovative ways to provide educational opportunities for our students.

What makes you proud about your district?

There is a lot to be proud of at Caesar Rodney! The district enjoys a great reputation with regard to: 1) providing a solid foundation for students to move ahead in a career or college, 2) nurturing school spirit and developing a sense of belonging in “Rider Country” for students and staff, 3) developing a strong online presence across the district for community and parents, 4) hiring strong leadership to keep the district making forward progress, 5) frequent state/national recognition and 6) a proactive approach toward construction and future needs.

What do you think needs to be improved?

School districts are the result of years of evolution as they interpret and implement new initiatives along the way. Research is constantly providing a wealth of information to educators about what works, what is promising and how we should best proceed.

Current events have resulted in school districts looking deeply into practices and procedures that are marginalizing students of color. This is important work and needs to be addressed immediately and with utmost passion and interest. It is not a problem that can be solved without total collaboration and humble recognition of the problem. Caesar Rodney’s superintendent and high school principal have developed foundational initiatives to get moving in a positive direction around equity issues. As a board member, I support them.

The best implemented programs and initiatives are generally grounded in a slow and steady initiation plan (tortoise and the hare-slow and steady wins the race). Controlling the speed of implementation gives educators a chance to acclimate and accept the new procedures and ideas and more effectively integrate their own knowledge and expertise into the initiative. Teachers are incredibly creative and giving them the tools and encouragement they need to move forward will yield incredible progress! Recognition of incremental success and patience during implementation are tools that we have to guarantee that we achieve our goals. In summation, we can always improve all initiatives by thinking, planning and constantly evaluating current practices. Once we become complacent and feel like everything is perfect, we start to degrade. Keep innovating!

What is something new or different that you bring to the board?

The thing that I bring to the board is my educational background. Conversations with teachers and principals are easy for me since I have experiential background. which helps me ask the right questions. I can recognize when really good things are happening in the buildings and classrooms. Talking to students of all ages is a strength for me. Watching them work and succeed brings me the greatest joy. I remember early last year visiting a third-grade classroom at W. Riley Brown Elementary and observing the students entering comments in journals. One young lady was working very hard and shared her entry with me. The first thing I noticed was her proper use of quotation marks as she was giving the characters in her entry “voice.” Third grade! Proper use of quotation marks! I know adults that are insecure about this. Being able to engage meaningfully in conversations with students, parents, teachers and principals is an area of comfort for me.

School boards are entering uncharted territory with remote learning. What are your ideas about how school districts should approach this?

This is the hot topic on everyone’s mind. The entire country is developing a new appreciation of the work of our school staff as we are mobilizing to keep the education going in this time of crisis. As I mentioned earlier, teachers are amazing when it comes to problem solving and creativity. Mass lessons in ‘ZOOM’, ‘CLEVER’, ‘GoToMeeting’ and other online platforms are happening everywhere. Delaware is a forward-thinking state and had actually implemented a platform, Schoology, several years ago that is accessible to all Delaware educators. Teachers have been gradually developing and adding content to their accounts in their respective areas over the last few years and those who jumped on this platform when it first rolled out are probably really happy they did that now! Some teachers were already fluent with this option and had been using it in their classrooms anyway. The remote access was always an option and teachers used it for makeup assignments and to reach students who needed differentiation or review. Today, teachers have been involuntarily thrown into online learning sessions, which is necessary for them to access many of the students they teach remotely. This happened to them with no time to prepare, so they are doing a fantastic job considering the magnitude and quickness of it all. The big problems have been access for all and attendance to the online sessions. There are still areas in Delaware without service and these students have to drive somewhere to get their Wi-Fi. Districts need to make sure that all students have the hardware they need. Internet access is where the state can step in and help.

Remote learning will continue to be a part of the solution as we work out plans to reopen the schools. Social distancing will be a requirement and to implement this we will have to keep the number of students physically in a classroom at the same time down to about 10 (or less). That likely means split sessions and split schedules. Students may take turns between being physically present and being present online. Meeting the needs of our special education students will take additional planning with parents. Protocols developed collaboratively at IEP meetings will enable problem solving for each student’s needs. The summer will be time to plan and innovate while we create environments that keep everyone safe.

Justin Puchalsky

Why did you decide to run for election?

I decided to run for election this year because I feel as though I can bring a different perspective to the board. I am fully invested in the district, as I have young children attending two different schools, and I want to make sure that the environment they grow in is the healthiest, most productive, and best possible learning environment. I feel that there are key areas where we can improve, but I feel that those areas need to be highlighted with a keen focus on improving and recognizing deficiencies. We have high expectations for the students to bring their best every day, and I feel that the same expectation needs to exist for the district backing those students.

What makes you proud about your school district?

The teachers, the clear pride in the district, the unique educational opportunities, and the desire to be and do better. The heritage and the history behind the district is a matter of pride. With a legacy, such as Caesar Rodney School District has, and the namesake it represents is a tradition that should be continued for years to come.

What do you think needs to be improved?

As mentioned previously, I believe the district needs to be more involved in the identification of deficiencies, and the collaboration in finding real world solutions that can be implemented now. Simultaneously, we need to start leading the state in innovation in our educational opportunities, and how we prepare our students for the world after public education. While our immersion program is one of the best, we need to continue bringing fresh ideas to the world of public education.

On the topic of equity and the Black Lives Matter movement, I believe that Caesar Rodney as a district needs to maintain accountability and transparency in all situations involving the families and students that create the Rider Pride Community. I am encouraged by the news of a formation of a Black Student Council/Black Student Caucus. This is an opportunity for our students to have a true voice in the topics that are important to them as individuals, and consequently should be important to each and every member of the Rider community, student and faculty alike. All students should have a voice that is heard from the littlest Rider at McIlvaine through the graduating senior at our high school.

What is something new or different that you will bring to the board?

I am bringing the perspective of a single working parent, doing their best each day to provide for their children. I represent the parent that is fully invested in the district and the success of the district. I am motivated and driven to make positive changes within the district, and to strive to that end goal.

School boards are entering uncharted territory with remote learning. What are your ideas about how school districts should approach this?

Moving forward, there are a variety of different ways that we can implement remote learning. I feel that while a plan is great it needs to be actionable and not just exist on paper. Continuity of operations is key to the whole process; we need to find innovative ways to practice this on a regular basis. We like to say that while the building is closed, school is still in session. I think an important lesson learned is the need to implement this thought process moving forward. My college degrees were all obtained online, and while this is not always feasible for the younger students having the educational opportunity available to them during days when traditional school is closed (weather contingencies, homebound students, etc.) would allow the gap in services to be mitigated.

Candidate profiles

Name: Joyce S. Denman

Age: 67

Years lived in district: 36

Occupation: Retired educator (teacher, supervisor, director)

Family: spouse, William; three adult children, Jamie, Kevin and Mike

Experience in education: 45 years: 32 years (teacher), 12 years (supervisor/director) and 1 year (Caesar Rodney School Board of Education). Doctorate in Educational Leadership (University of Delaware ‘04).

Leadership: Supervisor/Director of Special Education for 12 years

___________________________________________________

Name: Justin Puchalsky

Age: 39

Years lived in district: 4 years

Occupation: Emergency Management Terrorism Preparedness Planner

Family: Two sons; Roman, 9, attends W. Reily Brown Elementary as part of the Spanish Immersion Program and Jackson, 11, attends Star Hill Elementary.

Experience in education: I have extensive military experience in which I was a Small Group Instructor. In addition, I worked at the NCO Academy (Henry Caro Non Commissioned Officer Academy at Fort Benning, Georgia). I was a Division Operations Officer at Fort Meade, Maryland that allowed me to work in Planning and Intelligence.

Leadership: My leadership experience has been primarily military. However, I believe that this is easily translatable to the civilian world. My military career has afforded me the opportunity to lead by example, which directly correlates to my platform of accountability. It is imperative that we hold ourselves, parents, school leaders, students, and our elected officials accountable in all the work that they perform or unfortunately, fail to perform.