The Phoenix Reporter and Item (

8 running for 4 Phoenixville School Board seats

By Evan Brandt,, @PottstownNews on Twitter

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Eight candidates are seeking four seats on the Phoenixville Area School Board on Nov. 7. Two of them are incumbents.

Appearing on the Democratic ballot line will be Lori Broker, Christopher Caltagirone, Blake Emmanuel and Jeesely Soto.

Renee Pfender and Daniel Cushing, both incumbents, are on the Republican line, along with Michael Eggleston and Ellen Marie Bahnsen.

Only five of the candidates responded to Digital First Media’s candidate questionnaire.

In her candidate response, Broker wrote she decided to run because “I have kids in the system and I recognize the opportunities this district has to join the ranks of the best. Our socio-economic diversity, our ethnic diversity, is our strength. We can become a shining model of what can be achieved, by children of all backgrounds and circumstances, by quality public education,” wrote Broker. “Our public schools bond our community and lay the groundwork for children to develop civic virtues as well. As Jefferson recognized 250 years ago, public education is indispensable to a robust and thriving democracy.”

Broker, 46, is a “federal attorney of 20-plus years with wide-ranging knowledge that will help insure our costs stay low and performance high,” she wrote.

“For example, insuring vendor/builder contracts are competitively bid and free of cronyism that inflates costs, and written to allocate risk of cost overruns to contractor not taxpayer; insuring we are compliant with state and federal law reducing our exposure and costly lawsuits; reviewing the Pa. Education Code to identify state monies to which we are entitled, or grants for which we are eligible, but that we have not pursued -- to defray expense of state unfunded mandates; take advantage of new flexibility in E.S.S.A. to update our curriculum to integrate S.T.E.M. from earliest grades.

If elected, Broker wrote her top priorities are “tapping grant money, cutting costs, improving quality. I want PASD on the vanguard of the S.T.E.A.M. movement. I want all our kids, whatever challenges they confront, to receive the individualized instruction necessary to nurture their innate talents and passions, and to be armed for success in the 21st Century economy.”

In her candidate response, Emmanuel, 35, wrote that she decided to run because of “concern for the direction of public education and the desire to ensure that all students have access to a meaningful education that will lead them to a path of success.”

Emmanuel is “currently serving on two board of directors, and currently working as a special education advocate in public education.

If elected, she wrote that her top priority is “to ensure that all students have a meaningful path towards whatever future is appropriate for them. Whether it is through college, tech/trade school, or vocational training our students need to be provided an education that will ensure their success no matter what they chose to do.”

In her candidate response, Soto, 38, wrote “I have attended school board meetings the last few years as a parent and member of the community. I decided to run because I want to ensure that our public education is protected. I am inspired by my son who has been a voice for students over the last two years by advocating for environmental causes as well as transportation concerns. As parents we teach our children to be passionate and vocal about the issues that matter the most to them. I will be that voice for our students, our teachers, and our community.”

An “accounting professional,” for a local property management company, Soto is also a board member and director of fundraising for the Peace Advocacy Network as well as a volunteer at several local non-profits in the area including Alianzas de Phoenixville and the Phoenixville Community Health Foundation.

Soto wrote that “our students are relying more on computers to complete their school work. We need to assess that all children have access to technology. Not all children have equipment or broadband in their home. In school if a child needs transportation or lunch, it’s provided. If access to technology is required by the curriculum, we must find solutions to help those students without. PASD is one of the fastest growing school districts in our area. Even with the addition of the Phoenixville Area Early Learning Center and Manavon Elementary schools, overcrowding is still a concern. We need to ensure decisions being made are fiscally responsible. The needs of our students need to be put first by providing the tools necessary for our teachers to be successful.”

In his response, Caltagirone, 47, wrote that “I am running for school board because I am a strong proponent of public education and believe we must do everything we can to make sure our limited financial resources are being put to good use. We must ensure that educational activities come first and that teachers have the tools they need to help students succeed,” Caltagirone wrote.

“I am also dedicated to promoting safe, secure, and constructive environments for students. We must be more proactive in confronting bullying and other exclusionary situations that put students at risk, and I believe the board has an important role to play in engaging our community with respect to these issues,” he wrote.

Caltagirone works in market research, and has a master’s degree.

“I studied various aspects of public policy, including educational policy, as a PhD student at The Ohio State University. I have worked as both a teaching assistant and adjunct professor, teaching a class in research methodology,” Caltagirone wrote. “I have spent more than a decade conducting market research and data analysis.”

“The most important goal is to ensure that every student has a safe, supportive instructional environment that provides a clear path to success, promotes civic engagement and improves their opportunities for future development,” Caltagirone wrote.

In his response, Cushing, 54, wrote “When I first ran for school board eight years ago it was because I thought I could bring a thoughtful and calm approach to the strategic management and governance of the school district. I think I have done that over the last eight years and continue to think that I can provide that approach.”

A scientist with a doctorate, Cushing wrote “the continued growth in the number of students attending our district schools requires thoughtful and forward-thinking strategies. The facility dimension of the strategy has been a dominant area that has garnered significant attention over the past eight years. Now that the facilities dimension is nearing a plateau the district can move forward even more aggressively with the curriculum and programs dimension.”

In his response, Eggleston wrote “my decision to run for school board is based on a core value that was instilled in me early in life by my parents — You should give back to your community when, how, and if you can. The future of the Phoenixville community is in our students. Now is my time to give back and I am fully invested in our community’s future.”

An executive strategy consultant who holds a bachelor of science degree, Eggleston has never held elected office but “I have been a leader for the last 3 years on the PASD Community Budget Advisory Committee.”

If elected, Egglestone wrote his priority will be focus on the district’s strategic plan.

“The district has established a strategic plan that contains the following critical areas of improvement: 1.) Allocate Resources to Foster Excellence for All Students, 2.) Promote Employee, Growth and Effectiveness, 3.) Provide High Quality Instruction, 4.) Encourage Effective, Consistent Communication and Collaboration, and 5.) Implement a Consistent/Reflective Use of Data to Drive Change. These are important objectives that form an integrated program aimed at the district of the future, while operating in a funding constrained situation. Core to this future is the overall curriculum that is aimed at preparing our students for the next steps in their academic, vocational, and professional lives. This will mean combining traditional educational approaches with real life project based learning that further develops team and critical thinking skills at all levels within the district.” The other candidates submitted a response to the questionnaire.

Election Day is Nov. 7.