Teacher diversity focus of candidate forum

Cape school board hopefuls share views
Cape Henlopen school board candidates discuss issues during a forum April 28 hosted by the Sunshine Circle Club. Pictured (l-r) are Bob Bennett, Terri Carey and Juan Saez. BY MELISSA STEELE
May 2, 2014

Cape Henlopen school board candidates squared off at a candidate forum where they largely agreed that Cape's faculty should be more diverse.

Candidates Bob Bennett, Terri Carey and Juan Saez participated in the April 28 forum hosted by the Sunshine Circle Club. Candidates Meyer Persow and Alison Myers did not participate.

About a dozen residents attended the West Rehoboth Community Center forum in which questions largely focused on improving diversity among teaching ranks and the district’s hiring practices. Bernice Edwards, president of the Sunshine Circle Club, moderated the event.

Bennett has lived in the area for 10 years and said he understands the value of spending time with children. He and his wife have three children who have kept them active in the local sports scene.

“I plan on being around for a long time and doing what's right for the kids,” he said.

Carey is a lifelong resident of Milton, and she and her husband also have three children. She describes herself as a sports mom who has seen the downside of placing emphasis on sports over academics. Through her work with the Public Defender's Office, she said, she has seen many former athletes in legal trouble.

“It's hard to see how they did good in sports, and now they're getting arrested,” she said.

Saez, also a father of three and who, with is wife, is also raising a niece and two nephews, said he is concerned about the inequality between the Milton-area schools and those closer to the resort area. Whether it is older, rusting playground equipment at H.O. Brittingham compared to a state-of-the-art playset at Shields, or the difference in money raised by individual school parent groups, he said there should be balance districtwide.

“I'm bringing equality back to Cape Henlopen,” he said.

Edwards opened the questioning by asking candidates how they would diversify the district teaching staff.

“We need to hire more African-American teachers,” said Saez, a Cape High grad who said he has watched the number of minority teachers in the district dwindle since he was in school. “Now you can go through and maybe have one or two African-American teachers by the time you graduate.”

Carey said the district should focus more on hiring qualified teachers, and less on nepotism. “There’s a lot of people hired because of who they know,” she said.

Bennett said he the district should actively recruit minority or bilingual teachers. He also suggested communities such as West Rehoboth should encourage and support students living within the communities to attend college. With financial support, students could finish college and return to their home and teach, he said.

The three candidates who attended the forum agreed more minority and bilingual teachers would benefit the district and the district should work harder to recruit them.

Board President Spencer Brittingham also attended the forum and said he has pushed for more minority hires. Of about 240 teachers, he said, the district has eight African-American teachers and two Hispanic teachers. “Cape has worked on this since I’ve been here,” he said.

Edwards said the district needs to do better.

Besides hiring practices, the candidates also discussed new education standards. All three candidates said they were unsure whether Common Core Standards would improve education.

“We need to stop teaching to the test,” Bennett said. “If you have kids who excel, let them excel.”

Carey said she questions the new standards because many teachers have come out against the standards.

Saez said he believes students who are struggling under the current system will have a harder time with the new program.

“For the kids already behind, when you introduce Common Core they’re just going to dig a deeper hole,” he said.

A second candidates forum will be held 7:30 to 9 p.m. Monday, May 5, at the Cape Henlopen High School Theatre. The event is sponsored by the Cape Henlopen High School Parent Group; candidates will be asked several questions.

Cape's school board election will be held 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 13, at Shields Elementary, Mariner Middle School and Cape Henlopen High School. Residents 18 years old or older with identification are eligible to vote.