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Chester County Press

Avon Grove selects Wood to fill school board vacancy

10/04/2016 01:03PM ● By Steven Hoffman

The Avon Grove School Board selected Bill Wood to fill the vacancy on the board during a special meeting on Sept. 29.

Wood will now serve as a Region III representative on the board for the duration of the unexpired term through Dec. 4, 2017. Region III includes London Grove Township, Avondale Borough, and Voting District 2 of West Grove Borough.

The school board interviewed three candidates—Wood, Lisa Lightner, and Edward Hatchigian, Jr.—who had expressed interest in filling the vacancy, and it quickly became apparent that it would be a daunting task for the eight members of the school board to choose among the three highly qualified candidates. Each person had experience in, and deep commitment to, public education.

The school board members took turns asking six questions of the candidates in an effort to learn about the qualifications of each person, what role they saw for the school board, and what challenges they thought the district would be facing in the next few years.

Wood, a teaching artist and storyteller who regularly works in schools, explained that he had an interest in serving on the school board, in part, because he comes from a family of educators. He recalled that his mother worked for a school district and served for more than two decades on a school board.

Wood said that he had been considering the possibility of running for a seat on the Avon Grove School Board in the next election, and expressed admiration for how Pattie Lyons served the district so well during her more than 18 years as a school director. Lyons passed away in September.

Hatchigian, Jr., who spent 37 years in education, talked about his diverse background and experiences. He started out teaching brick-laying. In 1979, he became an administrator with a school, and he spent the rest of his career in leadership positions. He has been a resident of London Grove Township for the last 15 years.

“I feel like I'm a product of education. I've been involved with education all my life,” Hatchigian said. “My strength is dealing with people. I'm a people-person.”

Lightner, a resident of Avondale since 1999, said that after learning about the IEP process that families of special needs students go through about ten years ago, she started on a journey as a special education advocate and lobbyist.

“I wanted to help special education,” she said. “I soon realized that you can't be a lobbyist for special education without being a lobbyist for public education, too.”

Lightner said that she has established herself as a go-to person in the community for help with special education issues.

“I've been at compliance meetings all over the county,” she said. “I also have policy knowledge about special education.”

She said that the biggest challenge facing the school district is the fact that society is moving so fast.

“The kids at Penn London and Avon Grove Intermediate School...the jobs we're preparing them for haven't even been invented yet,” she said.

Once the board completed the interviews, the real work began.

“This is going to be a very difficult decision,” school board president Bonnie Wolff said.

“I think we have three excellent candidates,” added vice president Brian Gaerity.

In fact, during the ensuing discussion, each member of the board would talk about the difficult choice they were facing as each candidate had unique strengths and experiences to offer the school board.

Gaerity said that Lightner's background in special education would be an asset to the school board, particularly because none of the current members had that particular area of expertise.

Board member Patrick Walker said that he favored Wood because of the thoroughness of some of his answers, particularly when he was talking about the role of the school board and some of the issues facing the school district.

Board member Charles Beatty pointed to Hatchigian's diverse experiences in education, and said that he would be an asset to the board.

As the discussion continued, it was clear that a majority of the board did not favor one candidate over the other two.

“I could make an argument for all three of these candidates,” Gaerity admitted.

Board member Edward Farina did, in fact, make an argument for all three—and admitted that he wasn't certain yet how he was going to vote.

Board member Jeff Billig observed that, with three qualified candidates, “We're not going to make a bad decision here tonight.”

On the first two rounds of voting, none of the candidates secured the necessary five votes. After some more discussion and another round of voting, the board narrowed the choice down to Wood and Lightner. On the next round, Wood received five votes. He was promptly sworn into office by District Judge Matthew Seavey, and welcomed to the school board by the other members.

Wolff encouraged all the candidates to stay involved with Avon Grove activities.

While Wood will serve out the remainder of the unexpired term, voters in Avon Grove's Region III will have the duty of selecting who holds the seat for a full four-year term starting in December of 2017.

“I would encourage you all to run in the spring,” Billig said.

During the interview with the school board members, Wood talked about some of the biggest challenges facing the school district at this time.

“There are many financial challenges that face any school district,” Wood said. “Facilities are also going to present a huge challenge in the future.”

Another challenge, he said, will be teaching students how to use technology and make the most out of the technology that is available to them.

He expressed optimism about the quality of education that students receive in Avon Grove.

“I'm very excited about where the school district is moving going forward,” Wood said.