Appoquinimink school board candidates answered questions about transgender bathrooms, equity and inclusion, goals for the board and more Wednesday night.
The district’s school board hosted a question-and-answer session Wednesday night to allow families in the district to get to know candidates.
Two of the four attended: Tim Johns, a pastor, and Ray Petkevis, a realtor. The other two candidates, Madeline Locke, a former IT professional and realtor, and Tashiba Graham did not participate.
Shawn Rohe, who filed March 1 to run, withdrew from the race Monday.
Appo appears to be the first district in the state to hold a forum for school board candidate in the May 9 election.
First State Action Fund, an advocacy group that to change education by empowering Delawareans, plans a series of forums. See the schedule below.
Appo School Board President Michelle Wall and board member Richard Forsten led the questioning, which focused on the candidate’s background, previous participation in the district, opinions on hot-button issues and goals for the school board.
Here’s what the two had to say:
A graduate of the University of Louisville and a Middletown resident, Johns is a pastor at Heavens Gate Ministries in Newark.
He thinks success as a board member relies on having a familiarity of what teachers go through and the needs of students and their families.
When asked what books made an impression on him as a youth, he said “Curious George.”
“At heart I’m a dreamer, and an adventurer, and you could accomplish anything by thinking and putting effort into what you believe,” he said. “That has been a mainstay of my development as a child and even as a young adult.”
What he loves most about Appo is the family and close-knit relationships formed within it.
He said “not all people are good people,” and that as a Black man he’s experienced some uncomfortable and negative interactions with parents.
“It didn’t make me feel any negativity to the district overall, but that’s just the way it goes with life,” he said.
Johns said he’s a firm believer that people have to become the change they want to see.
“Everybody is responsible for being the example, and I think it begins with us as individuals,” he said. “On the board I would just be my authentic self, be who I am supposed to be and that will speak for itself, that will influence the masses… authenticity is the key.”
In the aftermath of several school incidents involving guns and physical altercations this year, Johns said he wants to focus on making schools safer.
“We need to have more collaboration with the local police and the school district and the schools,” he said. “If we do that, there are things that the police know that the teachers don’t know and there’s things that teachers know that the school doesn’t know.”
With collaboration, he said, the district can come up with a comprehensive plan to prevent incidents and better handle potential dangers.
He pointed out that a lot of the safety challenges arise because of the district’s continued growth.
“I serve as the chaplain of the Smyrna Prison, and we were coming up with a concept to interview some inmates to get video out there to high schools to show kids what could happen if you go the wrong way,” he said.
Johns believes in equity over equality, and that every child’s needs should be met.
Appo needs to be flexible to understand that everybody learns at different paces and provide solutions for each level that the child is on, he said.
Another goal of his is to diversify the teaching staff.
“Representation matters, and the students need to be able to see themselves in the teachers,” he said. “It enforces a belief system in a student that they can become what they see.”
He was also asked about House Bill 198, the bill that would implement Black history curriculums.
“I agree with teaching African American history, if you want to use that term, but I wish that we would transition into making American history because that’s what it actually is,” he said. “It’s American history, and the whole story needs to be taught, not half of it.”
He said sexual orientation and gender identity is a family matter and discussing them should start in the household, not the classroom.
Although he didn’t give a clear answer on how he would handle the issue of which bathroom transgender students would be allowed into, he said the state law decides that, not a board member.
Petkevis works for Keller Williams Realty. He’s a graduate of Arcadia University and lives in Middletown.
He agrees with Johns that individual school board members must follow the laws put in place in the state that pertain to transgender bathrooms.
“We shouldn’t be bucking the trend,” he said.
A priority of his is seeing fewer substitute teachers in classrooms.
“It seems like there’s a shortage of qualified candidates to begin with, so the first thing would be to have qualified candidates that are in a position to be hired,” he said.
It’s important that Appo celebrates the diversity of the people that make up the district, he said.
“That’s what the foundation of this country is,” he said.
As a second-generation American, Petkevis said his family name was changed in order for Americans to have an easier time spelling.
“My family history was changed… because equity and inclusion was not there,” he said. “The job and role of an administration is to celebrate our differences, while at the same time making sure that collectively we move forward to a better future.”
Keeping schools safe starts in the hallways and bathrooms, where many negative interactions occur, he said.
“It’s really a matter of keeping your ear to the ground and understanding that a tree just doesn’t bear fruit overnight,” he said. “It’s based on a seed that was planted long ago.”
Petkevis thinks his success as a school board member will relate to a sense of what it feels like to have parents come to him with very personal concerns, or hearing what teachers go through everyday in the classroom.
Having that empathetic connection will help him be able to determine the right guidance to give to the other members of the board, he said.
Petkevis also sees the growth and diversity of the district as an opportunity, not a burden.
“The size, the newness and the diversity of the district are the three biggest things that we need to celebrate,” he said, “and, at the same time, keep an eye on to make sure that we’re maintaining them in a proper manner.”
One book that influenced him in his early adulthood was Jean Craighead George’s “My Side of the Mountain.”
The book is about a young boy who went off into the woods to live in solitude in a carved-out tree.
“I lived on a farm as the last five children, and I was the youngest by far and I lived alone on a 20-acre property with my two parents who were at that time senior citizens,” he said. “So that really spoke to me.”
To watch the full Q+A session, click here.
First State Action Fund events
Here’s the schedule:
- Christina School District – Tuesday, April 25 at p.m.
- Red Clay Consolidated School District – Thursday, April 27 at 6 p.m.
- Milford School District – Wednesday, May 3 at 6 p.m.
- Appoquinimink School District – Wednesday, May 3 at 7 p.m.
- Caesar Rodney School District – Tuesday, May 4 at 6 p.m.
- Seaford School District – Thursday, May 4 at 7:15 p.m.
Raised in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Jarek earned a B.A. in journalism and a B.A. in political science from Temple University in 2021. After running CNN’s Michael Smerconish’s YouTube channel, Jarek became a reporter for the Bucks County Herald before joining Delaware LIVE News.
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