6 running for Gov. Mifflin School Board seats
The race for the Gov. Mifflin School Board will see six candidates vying for four seats.
Three incumbents and three newcomers will appear on the November ballot.
Incumbents Caryn Friedlander and Michele Hill O’Brien are running as Democrats. Newcomers Annette C. Baker and Cody Tyler Youse are running as Republicans.
Incumbent James D. Ulrich and newcomer Christina Worley will appear on the ballot as both Democrats and Republicans after cross-filing in the primary election and winning nominations from both parties.
School board members serve four-year terms.
We asked the candidates to respond to two questions:
Question 1: Why do you believe you are the right person for this position?
Question 2: What are the most important issues facing the school district right now, and how do you plan to address them?
Annette C. Baker, 54, Brecknock Township
Background: She is a 25-year resident of the district and a homeschool educator for over 20 years.
She is a former research assistant, assistant librarian and self-published author. She received a bachelor’s degree in environmental science and ecology from SUNY-Plattsburgh; a graduate certificate in public administration from Liberty University; and is currently enrolled at Liberty University pursuing a master’s degree in public administration.
Response 1: I know firsthand the value of education. Both of my parents wanted to attend college but could not, and I was the first person in my immediate family to graduate from college.
I want all students to have the opportunities to excel in the career they desire. When they graduate from Gov. Mifflin, I want them to graduate with the skills to enter the workforce, higher education, or start their own business.
To that end, I will use my previous work experience and education to help promote new and innovative options for students.
Response 2: Property taxes and community inclusiveness are some of the most pressing issues facing the district.
Students are struggling to find their way in school, particularly right now. We need to have better support systems to help with the emotional and mental struggles facing our students. Providing more resources and help for them and their families is crucial.
Addressing the needs of special education students is also an area of concern for many parents struggling to provide educational opportunities for their children.
Offering more opportunities for students to experience STEM-related careers and engaging local businesses to help with post-high school training are two areas where we can improve accessibility.
Caryn Friedlander, 46, Cumru Township
Background: She earned a bachelor of science degree from Towson University. Since college, she has owned and operated Classic Harley-Davidson with her family.
She and her husband, Alan, have two daughters in Gov. Mifflin High School and live in Cumru Township. Her spare time is devoted to her family and community. She said she enjoys volunteering and fundraising for various youth and community groups.
She have served in several leadership positions in her community, including serving on the Gov. Mifflin Board since 2015. She has chaired or vice-chaired multiple committees, including personnel and finance. She represents the district on the joint operating committee of the Berks Career and Technology Center. There, she chairs the program/personnel committee and is a member of the negotiating committee.
Response 1: A school board needs individuals who possess a range of personal, professional and volunteer experience. They should be citizens who understand the board functions as a “team of 10” and that no member holds any individual authority.
I am the only candidate who is an active parent of two high school students. I have been actively volunteering with the PTO at both the elementary and secondary level as well as extracurricular activities for more than a decade.
I am also the only candidate with more than 20 years of entrepreneurial experience. I have firsthand experience with budgeting, finance and human resources. I understand the challenges of recruiting and retaining qualified employees while working within a budget.
Leveraging my knowledge as an active parent plus my experience operating a successful business gives me an advantage in serving my community. For these reasons, I believe I am the most qualified candidate.
Response 2: While there are hot button topics buzzing in the news and online, one topic has been and continues to take precedence: providing a stellar education experience with available resources. That is the challenge the administration, board and district must rise to every day. It can happen only when we set high expectations for students, teachers, and the community and provide the appropriate tools.
It takes teamwork among all the parties to ensure that the next generation is prepared. I will continue to collaborate with my board colleagues to make reasonable, commonsense plans, evaluate performance, and seek solutions that serve educators and community members — all in the pursuit of educational excellence.
I will leverage my experience as an engaged parent and local business owner to help maintain and promote fair school policies, set meaningful standards, measure results, stay competitive, and provide the community with the excellent educational experience it deserves.
Christina Worley, 67, Cumru Township
Background: She has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Bloomsburg University; accounts receivable supervisory experience; is a former real estate associate; is a retired Gov. Mifflin guest teacher; was actively involved in both the parent teacher organization and music association until her child’s graduation, holding leadership roles in parent teacher organization; coordinated the building of the first handicapped accessible playground in Berks County at Cumru Elementary School; coordinated the first music artist in residence with the Berks JazzFest; and served as the parent teacher organization school board liaison.
Response 1: I have lived in this community for 27 years. When the school board becomes more focused on federal and state initiatives, it can lose sight of what is actually needed by the local community. It is important to trust school administration; however, it is equally important to question whether or not a directive is in the best interest of our children and the taxpayers who are footing the bill. Trust but verify is my position.
Response 2: Parental rights, equity-focused programs, bullying and school taxes are important issues. Evaluate what is being considered or what has already been implemented. Is it working for the community? Work with both school administration and the community to achieve common ground that is overall beneficial to the community.
Cody Tyler Youse, 27, Cumru Township
Background: He was born in Mohnton, raised in Shillington and currently resides in Cumru Township. He has lived in Gov. Mifflin his entire life, graduating in 2013 with honors and then pursuing a teaching degree in social studies at Millersville University, where he graduated magna cum laude in 2017. Upon graduation, he found substituting teaching jobs and spent the next two school years as a dedicated substitute at Gov. Mifflin in daily and long-term positions.
Since 2019, he has taken on multiple roles as a daily substitute and long-term substitute in other districts, including a long-term substitute position in special education during the pandemic, and a long-term substitute for a position in physical education in spring 2021.
He and his wife settled in their first home in June, got married in July and are now looking forward to making their community the best place possible to start their family.
Response 1: I am a certified social studies teacher with experience in multiple school districts through internships, student teaching, substitute teaching and contracted positions. I have seen countless strategies for running a school, and I have seen what works best for our kids and what doesn’t. I believe with my unique perspective, we can take the best of the ideas I have acquired from other school districts and incorporate them into Mifflin to make it the top tier school district in Berks County.
As a 2013 graduate of Gov. Mifflin, I have a vested interest in helping my alma mater by being a force for good within my own community. I want to see this school thrive and provide excellent educational experiences for future generations. I am not a parent yet, but I want Gov. Mifflin to be the best school possible for my future children, and everyone else’s children.
Response 2: Our community’s most important issue is finding a balance between providing an excellent education for our children and including the community in the educational experience at Mifflin. The members of the school board need to bear in mind that the opinions and input of taxpayers and parents matter. By responsibly managing a budget, spending within our means, and putting our kids’ education first, we believe we can effectively help turn Gov. Mifflin into the best school district in Berks County where everyone will want to move to send their kids to school.
Parental rights is a top priority. In the wake of the pandemic, the rights of parents to keep their children’s medical decisions private are being stifled. Annette Baker, Christina Worley and I believe it is in the best interest of parents to make medical decisions for their child instead of school districts or state government mandating those decisions.
James D. Ulrich, 79, Cumru Township
Background: He was born and raised in the Gov. Mifflin community and graduated from Gov. Mifflin High School. He received a bachelor of science degree from Rutgers University and obtained his masters equivalency taking graduate credits at several universities.
His career in education continued for 38 years as a middle school science teacher in the Daniel Boone School District. After retiring from the classroom, he developed and implemented a tutoring program in the middle school for students struggling in the mainstream curriculum.
Outside the classroom, he coached baseball, softball, wrestling and youth soccer. He owned and operated a successful seasonal business in the community for 30 years. He has served on the Gov. Mifflin School Board for 28 years and as president for 18 years. He has three children who graduated from Gov. Mifflin and three grandchildren who presently attend elementary or secondary Gov. Mifflin schools.
Response 1: I am running for reelection to continue to use my extensive knowledge and experience in education to serve the citizens of the Gov. Mifflin community. As a retired teacher and taxpayer with a vested interest in the quality of education, I can appreciate various points of view from members of the community. Additionally, having grandchildren in several schools and grade levels provides me with additional insight into various curricula, school programs and activities.
My passion for serving on the board of directors is providing a quality education for each and every student at a reasonable cost. I firmly believe that politics should not have a place in public education. I am not involved with the local political groups and have no interest in pushing their politically charged topics. These political agendas undermine a school district’s ability to address pertinent issues related to the education of students. I will work to keep politics from influencing our school board policies.
Response 2: The Gov. Mifflin School District, like many districts, is facing a variety of challenges including teacher shortages, renovation and construction projects, continuous rising special education costs, unfunded mandates from the state and federal governments, and the unprecedented times of the current pandemic. However, the paramount issue remains the ability to provide a quality education at a reasonable cost.
School boards must continue to advocate to our state representatives to allocate the necessary funding to support the mandates that the Legislature imposes upon local school districts. These unfunded mandates coupled with an outdated funding formula create a significant burden on the local taxpayers.
Gov. Mifflin voters express their belief in the importance of educating our young people, but they also express their concern about taxes. As a school board member, it is my responsibility to make sure that every dollar is spent in a fiscally responsible manner, while maintaining our high standards of education. I will continue to advocate for transparency to the administration and will fully support the yearly Budget Town Hall meetings to explain revenue and expenses.
Michele Hill O’Brien, 47, Cumru Township
Background: She is a school counselor, professional educator and serves on the Reading School of Health Sciences Advisory Board. She holds National Certified Counselor and National Certified School Counselors certifications; has a doctorate of education degree in children and youth studies; has a master degree in education in counseling; and has a bachelor’s degree in history with an American studies minor and secondary social studies certification. She said she is a proud graduate of Gov. Mifflin.
Response 1: I have always looked up to the school board, the supporters of education. I started as a board member to give back to the community in which I was reared, the community that provided me growth and insight.
I’m driven to enhance what is available for future generations. With my firsthand experience in the educational field, I aim to encourage our teachers and support programs that facilitate student learning and growth, to continue to have Gov. Mifflin be an outstanding community.
Response 2: Serving the community that I was reared in has always been one of the highest goals and achievements of my life. My focus will continue to be working in the best interest of Gov. Mifflin students, staff, administration and community, to support and provide a fiscally responsible education, rooted in best practices and well-researched curriculum.
I want to ensure that students are provided a well-rounded education; that teachers and staff are encouraged, supported, and provided the necessary resources; that the technology demands and drive are met with society’s needs; and that we are keeping pace with and exceeding what we are able to provide, in order to ensure the best for our future and global community, while keeping fiduciary concerns and limits at the forefront as well.