Four Anne Arundel County school board members are seeking reelection this spring while three others are not, meaning there will be a few new faces on the board after the November election.
Nineteen candidates have filed to run for the seven elected seats on the Board of Education in the purple county, where Democrats control the top offices.
Board members seeking a new term are President Robert Silkworth, Joanna Bache Tobin, Dana Schallheim and Gloria Dent. Incumbents Corine Frank, Melissa Ellis and Michelle Corkadel did not file for re-election by the Feb. 9 deadline.
An eighth board seat is designated for a student member. A virtual information night for high school juniors interested in becoming the student member was held on Feb. 7.
School boards are more divided than ever, with conservatives nationwide seeking to get school districts to remove books about sexual orientation and gender from curriculums and challenging what they view as liberal instruction about Black history and other topics.
Last July, the school board voted 4-3 to reject a proposal to restrict flags that could be displayed on school property — a measure that critics contended was written to ban symbols such as the rainbow pride flag.
The new school board will need to address redistricting in the southern half of the county as well as the ongoing task of ensuring competitive compensation for AACPS employees, according to current board member Joanna Bache Tobin.
“Board of Education positions are critically important because in addition to governance, those who serve are liaisons between communities and schools,” said Bob Mosier, the chief communications officer for the school system.
Here is a look at how the board races are shaping up:
District 1: Gloria Dent, an Army veteran, businesswoman and community organizer, was appointed in 2021 to serve out the term of the late Candace C.W. Antwine. She filed days before the deadline for a new term.
“After long thinking about my effectiveness as a board member, I will be running again to represent District 1,” said Dent, of Severn, before filing.
Three other candidates are also vying to represent the district, which includes Brooklyn Park and Hanover: Sarah Lacey, Ciera Harlee and Hunter J. Voss.
“I’m very invested in our school system and I want us to make progress,” said Lacey, a former County Council member and the mother of children who attended county schools. The Jessup resident said her work as an attorney, engineer and county council member make her “uniquely able to contribute to the work of the school board.”
Harlee, of Brooklyn, is a teacher and parent of two county high school students. “A quality education for all children is the result of a strong partnership between families and schools,” Harlee said.
Voss, a lifelong resident of the northern part of the county, thinks the board can benefit from his experience as an economist. “I am running for school board to empower parents to reclaim their schools and do right by their children,” the Linthicum resident. “The family is the most powerful unit of governance the world has seen,”
District 2: Robert Silkworth of Millersville has filed for reelection in the district that includes Glen Burnie and Severn. A graduate of Brooklyn Park High School, Silkworth taught in the county schools for 49 years before winning election to the board in 2020. Silkworth, who was elected president by his colleagues in December, is unopposed.
“I am running for the KIDS. I believe, just as Dr. Bedell believes, that we are a good school system. We can and we will become a great school system,” Silkworth told The Baltimore Banner in an email, referring to Schools Superintendent Mark Bedell. “I always talk about the Power of Relationships! I believe in open communication and collaboration. I have worked very hard since my election to make a difference for our KIDS and for our teachers and staff. I will continue to do so.”
District 3: Corine Frank did not file for reelection in District 3, which includes Pasadena and Riviera Beach. Frank, who at one time served as executive director of the Maryland Republican Party, had backed the controversial flag policy.
Four other candidates, all from Pasadena, have hopped into the race for the open seat.
“We need the right mom for the job,” said Jamie Hurman-Cougnet, who serves on the Citizens Advisory Committee.
She noted that she has been active in county schools for a decade. “AACPS must rebuild trust with parents, students, and the community at large,” she said. “From every Board of Education member to each classroom teacher, trust is paramount for effectively educating our children.”
Another candidate, Erica McFarland, is a mother of two Chesapeake High School students in addition to two graduates.
McFarland said she is excited about the future of AACPS under Bedell’s leadership and would love to work with him to make the district a place where all can learn, grow and succeed.
“I love people — our amazing educators, our hardworking support staff, our families and our students,” she said. “I am thoughtful in listening to concerns, engaging in conversation and in collaboratively coming up with creative and effective solutions.”
Chuck Yocum is a county schools employee and the father of a Northeast High School junior and two graduates. Yocum cited his experience as “a classroom teacher who moved into administration at Central Office” and went on to hold various positions in operations and instruction. “I see the system from the 35,000-foot level, not just as an outsider looking in,” Yocum said.
Julia Laws of Pasadena filed to run Feb. 9 and couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
District 4: Three candidates are vying for the seat of board member Melissa Ellis, who is not seeking reelection.
They include Sarah McDermott, an Air Force veteran and the mother of two Arundel Middle School students. She currently serves as assistant commissioner for occupational and professional licensing at the Maryland Department of Labor, according to her Facebook page.
“I proudly worked as a substitute teacher for AACPS schools — specifically Manor View Elementary and MacArthur Middle Schools,” wrote McDermott, of Odenton. “It was during this time that I began to notice the dire need to support educators, students, and their families.
Stephanie Mutchler began volunteering in AACPS when her first child started school in 2005.
“I want to be a voice for students, staff, and parents,” the Odenton resident. “All students need to have the same resources available to be successful, all staff needs to feel supported and heard, and all parents need to know how to support their students — this includes knowing how to advocate and who to advocate to.”
Juan Carlos Villao touted his more than a decade of experience as a teacher in Maryland; he currently serves as assistant principal at the International High School at Largo. The Laurel resident wants to see the board emphasize English language development and instructional services to AACPS students who are incarcerated, and to establish an alternative education program for at-risk students.
District 5: Dana Schallheim, who was elected in 2018 to represent a district that includes Arnold and Severna Park, faces two challengers.
“I decided to run again for a myriad of reasons including … protecting our students’ ability to learn and our teachers’ ability to teach in a welcoming, inclusive, censorship-free environment and ensuring that the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future is implemented with fidelity,” Schallheim, of Arnold, said. “With every seat up for reelection this year, it’s important to retain members with a voting record of supporting all students, teachers, and staff who also have a wealth of historical knowledge of how the Board and school system work. Now is not the time to open the door to extremist candidates who are more interested in banning books and rewriting curriculum under the guise of ‘getting back to basics.’”
LaToya Nkongolo is an AACPS mom and adjunct professor at Anne Arundel Community College, as well as member of the city of Annapolis’ Naptown Anti-Dope Drug Prevention MoveMeant.
“Many members of the community encouraged me to run for the Board of Education based on my experience as a mental health professional, community advocate and educator,” the Severna Park resident said. “Additionally, I have witnessed firsthand the concerning decline in the academic, social, and emotional well-being of our children, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic. The persistent decrease in student performance and school safety has created a sense of dissatisfaction within the community and I could no longer sit on the sidelines and watch our schools decline even further.”
Nkongolo, who ran unsuccessfully for state delegate in 2022, was arrested Jan. 28 and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, driving while impaired by alcohol and other traffic-related charges. She did not respond to an email and phone call from The Baltimore Banner.
Tareque O. Farruk of Annapolis filed to run shortly before the deadline and couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
District 6: Joanna Bache Tobin, who recently completed two years as school board president, said she is seeking a second four-year term representing District 6 to continue the progress that has been made. Tobin’s website touts her “over 20 years of experience in education governance and oversight at the K-12 level and teaching at the college and continuing education level.”
“[I want to] have the continuity on the board to continue to support the good work that I think Dr. Bedell is doing as our superintendent,” the Annapolis resident said. “And I also have always had a particular interest in and concern for special education and I want to make sure that we continue to do some work to improve special education outcomes and improve all the opportunity gaps in our system.”
Tobin, who has postgraduate degrees from St. John’s University and Georgetown University, is also pleased that other incumbents are running again.
“We all vote very much with the best interests of our students in our minds,” said Tobin, whose district includes Annapolis and Crownsville. “We all care deeply about our students and the school system. And we shall see who else is elected and if we are all reelected or not.”
Edilene Barros of Annapolis filed to run on Feb. 9, the filing deadline. Barros couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
District 7: Two candidates are seeking to succeed incumbent Michelle Corkadel, who did not file for reelection in District 7, which includes Crofton and Lothian. She told the Capital Gazette in January that she wanted to spend more time with her family.
Jeremy York, an Edgewater resident and Marine Corps veteran, is stressing his journey from early childhood hardship, including undiagnosed learning disabilities and barely graduating from high school, to his earning an MBA and becoming a strategist for an education technology company.
“Driven by a lifelong journey of overcoming personal and educational challenges, my campaign is dedicated to fostering an inclusive, innovative, and equitable educational environment in our community,” York’s website said.
York will face Dawn Pulliam, a late entrant into the race. According to her Facebook page, the Crofton resident is a senior program manager with the Defense Civilian Training Corps.