GROVE CITY – At least one new person will be joining the Grove City school board next year.
Four incumbents and three newcomers are on the ballot for this year’s general election, which will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 5.
There are five, four-year seats up for grabs.
The incumbents are Constance Nichols, Michael S. O’Donovan, Roberta M. Hensel, and Armando Sciullo. They are being challenged by Ryan Thomas, Lee McCracken, and Douglas B. Gerwick.
Dr. Nichols, who lives in Pine Township, is the current board president and was appointed to the school board in October 2017 to fill a vacancy. She crossfiled on the Democrat and Republican tickets.
She and her husband Steven have three children in the district, and she teaches literacy and educational leadership at Grove City College, where she chairs the education department.
She says she cares about the students and wants to continue helping them thrive.
“It’s an incredibly important civic responsibility,” Nichols said of serving on the board.
Her expertise in education has lent itself to her board duties. She has helped with contract negotiations; recent agreements are saving the district about $500,000 a year because the employees are using a different healthcare consortium.
Nichols said she’s also helped improve school safety measures, which includes the hiring of school police officers.
“I feel really very good about that,” she said.
The district’s academic records continue to improve. A recent report by the Pittsburgh Business Times shows that the district has jumped up 106 places on the list of 500 districts in the state, she said.
School is not just about test scores; the district has a variety of extra-curricular activities, said Nichols, who helped with an agreement between the high school and Harrisburg University. The high school is the only one in the county offering college courses in the high school itself, she said.
Her biggest challenge is improving board culture, and getting more community members involved with things like finance and facilities. Nichols would like to add more community advisory groups.
Nichols belongs to several organizations related to education, and she is a board member of the Grove City Area United Way, Hope Center for Arts and Technology, and Synergy Community Foundation.
She is a graduate of North Allegheny High School, and earned her undergraduate degree at GCC, master’s degree at Duquesne University, and doctorate degree from the University of Pittsburgh.
Dr. O’Donovan, a Democrat who lives in Pine Township, was appointed to the board in December 2017 to fill a vacancy. He and his wife Diane have two students in district schools.
He has worked as a school psychologist in Long Island, N.Y., and New Jersey, and now works locally for the Wilmington Area School District.
He believes that his personal and professional experiences benefit the students, district and community.
“Serving on the school board has been a continued opportunity to grow both personally and professionally,” said O’Donovan, who is also an adjunct professor at Westminster College.
As a board member, he has been learning a lot from others, and he is glad to be part of group that is continuing the pride and excellence of the district.
He worked on the teachers’ union contract that saved healthcare costs; helped with rewriting goals for the contracts for the assistant superintendent and principals; and has served as chair of the educational services committee, which helped restructure the high school schedule.
O’Donovan is part of the district’s comprehensive planning committee, and he feels that his job as a psychologist has given him the skills needed to examine a vast array of information and make informed decisions.
He wants to build a culture of trust between the board and community, laying the groundwork for mutual respect. Those with differing opinions and views can have civil discourse without personal attacks or slander, he said.
“I will work to deliver the stewardship that provides the high level of respect and dignity that our community deserves,” he said.
O’Donovan also wants to work on unfunded mandates from the state, and improve college and career readiness opportunities.
He is from the Bellevue area of Pittsburgh, and has a bachelor of arts degree from Westminster, and master’s and doctorate degrees in psychology from St John’s University.
Hensel, a Democrat who is a lifelong resident of Springfield Township, has served on the board for the past eight years, including two years as board president.
She and her husband Gordon and their two sons are all Grove City High School graduates, and she has a master’s degree in reading education from Slippery Rock University.
Hensel retired in 2009 from Grove City Area School District, where she taught for 35 years.
She was part of the district’s 2040 project, and is proud of the strides that the district is making toward providing students with the most updated education opportunities possible.
“It is vital that we provide our students with the skills necessary to compete for jobs, not only locally, but across the nation and around the world,” she said.
Hensel is a life member of Leesburg ECO Presbyterian Church, and she belongs to several service organizations and the Delta Kappa Gamma women’s honorary sorority.
McCracken, who crossfiled, is a lifelong resident of Grove City. He and his wife Michele have three grown children. He’s a GCHS graduate, and has undergraduate and master’s degrees in accounting from GCC.
“I want Grove City to be one of the best schools in the state from all perspectives,” he said of his decision to run for school board.
He believes that his leadership and financial skills can be used to bring together all members of the board to move in a positive direction, set appropriate goals for the district, and hold administrators accountable for achieving those goals.
McCracken has worked as president of Premier Power Solutions since 2005. The company is an energy brokerage and consulting firm headquartered in Grove City. It serves commercial, institutional, and governmental customers in all deregulated states.
From 2000 to 2005, he was the chief financial officer and vice president of corporate development for Strategic Energy, a $1.5 billion supplier of electricity to commercial, institutional, and governmental customers in all deregulated states.
McCracken has also worked as CFO of a local family business, and as certified public accountant with McGill, Power, Bell and Associates, and Carbis Walker and Associates.
One of the district’s biggest challenges is working to improve educational offerings while doing so at the least responsible cost, he said.
Gerwick, a Republican who lives in Pine Township, has two children with wife Michelle. Their oldest son attends GCC, and the youngest son is a GCHS student.
He wants to help restore civility and accountability to the board, citing stories about “bullying behavior,” some of which he has witnessed and found embarrassing.
“Directors should be able to disagree without shouting and name calling,” he said.
Accountability to taxpayers needs to be improved. Gerwick questioned the board’s decision earlier this year to buy $300 rocking chairs for the addition at Hillview Elementary School.
“The current board majority needs to acknowledge that many of our residents are on fixed incomes,” he said.
District records should be available to the public via Right-to-Know without delay, said Gerwick, who also takes issue with the block scheduling that recently started at the high school.
The Emlenton native moved to the area in 2012, and he’s a graduate of Allegheny-Clarion Valley High School, and Clarion University, where he earned a bachelor of arts degree in history.
While at Clarion, he served as a student senator and president of the Political Economy Club, and he worked in residence life as an orientation leader and resident assistant.
He earned a Juris Doctor degree from Duquesne University School of Law, where he received the Paul J. Gutnick Academic Scholarship. He’s a member of the Pennsylvania Bar Association.
Gerwick is certified in labor arbitration and labor mediation from the Cornell University Scheinman Institute on Conflict Resolution.
He served for 18 years as a magisterial district judge in Venango County. During that time, he developed and implemented a cost-effective budget for the court, and served as the prison grievance judge, state redistricting committee, and the county safety committee.
He also developed alternative sentencing programs for underage alcohol violations and truancy, and has worked as a private practice attorney and as a real estate agent for Howard Hanna and Northwood Realty.
Gerwick served for three years as a board member for Allegheny-Clarion Valley schools in Foxburg, where he was chair of the instructional services committee, substitute director for the career center and intermediate unit boards, and involved with hiring a superintendent and other administrators.
His career, schooling, and time as a school director, parent and member of the community would serve him well on the board, he said.
He can help other members better understand legal issues; ask tough questions; treat everyone with respect; and help with conflicts and negotiations – while taking the concerns of the students and community members into consideration.
“I believe in doing what is right, not what is easiest,” he said.
Gerwick and his family belong to the Church of the Beloved Disciple. He was also a member of the band boosters and helped with boys’ soccer boosters, and currently serves as treasurer for boys’ tennis boosters.
Thomas and Dr. Sciullo could not be reached for comment.
Thomas, who crossfiled, lives in Grove City, works for Thomas Construction, and volunteers at church, according to Allied News files.
He’s a GCHS graduate and has a bachelor’s degree in entrepreneurship from GCC.
He has said that the district needs to improve communication between the administration, school board and the community.
Sciullo, a Republican who lives in Pine Township, has served on the board since 2016.
He previously told Allied News that he wants to continue to support the district’s administration, which he believes is improving educational standards.
Sciullo, who is from the Pittsburgh area, works as a surgeon at Grove City Medical Center. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh, and a doctorate degree from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.
The district covers the borough of Grove City and the townships of Liberty, Pine, Springfield, and Wolf Creek.