School Board members on Monday heard introductions and took public comment on 15 candidates seeking to fill the vacant Leesburg District seat. The selection process is expected to continue Tuesday evening when the board was scheduled to ask questions of the applicants.
The vacancy was created with the Nov. 2 resignation of Beth Barts. The person appointed by the board to replace her will serve until a special election is held in November. The winner of that election will complete Barts’ term, expiring at the end of 2023.
The diverse field of candidates ranges from non-parent IT professionals to a Sheriff’s Office deputy.
During Monday night’s session, candidates gave five-minute introductory statements.
Tom Marshall represented the Leesburg District on the School Board from 2008 to 2011, and again from 2016 to 2019. He told the board that he is the most qualified candidate.
“I am the most logical one to fill the seat during the one-year appointment,” he said, although he didn’t say whether he would seek election to the seat in 2022.
Teacher Lauren Shernoff had a great deal of support from public commenters prior to giving her introduction. She has been a teacher for 14 years, and currently serves as a pathways teacher in Loudoun County Public Schools. She said students do best when school ties to the community are strong.
“My range of experience with diverse learners helped me to see the value in supporting individual student needs of every student deserves to be represented. Every decision we make will impact them,” she said.
Candidate Frank Spampinato told the board that public service is a way of life for him. He is a Marine Corps veteran and served in the CIA.
“I continue to work hard on my listening and empathy skills as I believe those might be my most valuable skills that I bring to the table,” Spampinato said.
Army veteran and risk management and security professional Colin Doniger said he would like to see parents put in the driver’s seat for the school district. He said he would support hosting quarterly town hall meetings to connect parents and community members with the board.
Sheriff’s Office Deputy Michael Rivera made a splash on Fox News in November when he said announced plans to seek appointment to the vacant seat. Rivera described himself as a proud American, and said he is a “firm believer of facts and data and will support the teaching of all accurate history, both positive and negative.”
Systems engineer Stephen Cypher graduated from Loudoun County High School in 2017. He said children were the hardest-hit demographic during the pandemic, and that students, faculty and staff need resources available to them.
Andy Jabbour drew upon his background in defense, and pointed to the importance of school security in light of the shooting at Oxford High School in Detroit last week. He said that the community should know about security threats.
“I love this community. But I feel like something is not working in our school system,” he said. He also suggested revisiting the school masking policy, as it has not been reviewed since it was implemented over the summer. He said he was not interested in being elected to the seat after serving in an interim capacity.
Andrew Fernandes is a father of two students in the school division. He is a Cub Scout leader, youth sports coach and project manager.
“Working with kids every day, I understand about solutions. … We talk about teamwork, the things you do when you win, and the things you do when you lose,” he said.
He also said his work with the Odyssey of the Mind program has taught him that there is a solution to every problem.
Todd Cimino-Johnson said education saved his life. He grew up in poverty and found refuge in school. He touted his corporate accounting experience, understanding of law, and sense of fiscal responsibility.
He pointed to statistics specific to the Leesburg District showing that nearly a third of students are economically disadvantaged.
He said he would be a “uniter, a listener and a civic-minded leader who cares passionately about the needs of all students.”
Erika Ogedegbe is a 20-year resident of Leesburg and a parent of three LCPS students. She is the associate vice provost of Student Systems, Services, and analytics at George Washington University.
“My priorities would include teaching and learning, including early literacy, recruitment, retention and growth of LCPS teachers and staff, academic outcomes and support for the broad range of LCPS offerings including the early literacy programs, special education, the English learner program, and vocational, technical and STEM programs at the Academies of Loudoun,” she said.
She said it was important that efforts and initiatives to improve schools benefit all students.
Rebecca Clark served on the school board for the American School of Brasilia, where she lived with her family. She served on the governance and transition committees.
She worked for two years as a teacher at a low-income school prior to becoming a mother.
René Camp said she feels like children are being set up for failure. She said that in the Constitution, parents have a fundamental right to their childrens’ education. She critiqued the School Board’s previous practice of keeping parents out of the building during its public comment sessions when people address the board.
“I’m hoping that as a School Board, we start listening to each other. … We are America we are unlike any country in the world. We have freedom,” she said.
Julia Sisson is a CPA who campaigned for the At-Large seat in the 2019 election. She said that while she ran as a Republican, school issues should be non-partisan.
“Right now, this board is not working together as a team, and everyone can see it,” she said.
It is not yet clear when a representative will be appointed to fill the vacancy. The appointee’s will begin in office on Dec. 31.