The latest installment of our series of interviews with school director candidates across Pennsylvania brings us to the Methacton School District.
Sheila Smith is running for school director in the Methacton School District, located in Montgomery County. She is a registered Republican and currently works as a strategist and change management and organization effectiveness leader. She has twenty years of experience in Fortune 100 companies.
Why are you running for the school board?
“I am running for school board because I am deeply vested in the community and our schools. I want our children to receive the best education so they can grow and thrive to succeed in life. Our children and community deserve a school board that will unite, ask tough questions, prioritize, address the district’s challenges, provide full transparency, engage in two-way dialogue, and treat all with respect and dignity.”
What are the most important issues facing your district?
“The district’s drastic drop in statewide rankings is the most important issue. According to School Digger, Methacton’s ranking has plummeted. In 2022, Methacton School District’s ranking was 87, a 37-point decline from 2021. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Methacton elementary schools saw proficiency decline by more than 25 percentage points in the math PSSAs. The Future Ready PA Index reported, “Methacton Does Not Meet State Assessment Measures for Language Arts and English Literature and Math/Algebra 1.” The $126.2 million 2023–24 budget adopted in June raised local property taxes again for the eighth consecutive year by 3.42 percent, despite a $2.2 million budget surplus for this fiscal year and declining enrollment. The district’s total capacity is 6,307, but as of May 1, 2023, current enrollment is 4,589. Methacton has seen a ten percent student drop, the worst among 21 school districts in Montgomery County over the last decade.
“Additionally, we need to work on fostering trust among all the stakeholders in Methacton. Trust is the foundation of effective communication, collaboration, and problem-solving, and it’s essential for creating a positive learning environment for our students. I understand that trust can only be built through transparency, accountability, and mutual respect. As a board member, I will prioritize open communication that instills confidence between parents, students, educators, and the school board.”
What is your professional background/experience?
“I am a change management and organization effectiveness leader who provides strategic guidance and insights to leaders at all levels of the organization to foster innovation and agility, enabling rapid response and adoption to business issues and opportunities with exceptional execution and leadership. I drive value creation by shaping and executing change management strategies that build internal capabilities, transparency, and accountability to fuel engagement, innovation, competitiveness, and growth. I bring over 25 years of consulting experience specializing in cultural transformation, alternative business models, large-scale global strategic initiatives, business planning, diversity and inclusion, employee well-being, strategy, portfolio management, change management, and operational effectiveness.”
What skills would you bring to the board?
“I know firsthand the value of parent partnership in student outcomes. I have been a district parent for the past thirteen years. It’s important that board members listen and partner with parents, students, and educators to develop solutions to challenges facing the district. In addition to being a concerned parent and homeowner, I have developed a lifetime of skills in strategic planning, collaboration, financial management, and community building as a strategist and change leader with extensive district and community involvement, including the Methacton Home and School, Girl Scouts, and National Charity League.”
Have you run for political office previously? Have you been politically active?
“I am currently a minority inspector for my polling location. I became politically active in March 2020, when the government forced our children out of the classroom. There are children who are legally entitled to special education services through the public school system and were not able to meaningfully access those supports across a Zoom link; others could not access services because they didn’t have a reliable home Wi-Fi connection. There were students who suffered terribly due to the social isolation and learning loss induced by as much as a year and a half of remote learning. These decisions have lasting negative effects.”
Are you running with other candidates?
“I am currently running for Methacton school board director along with three other residents concerned about the district’s falling performance, increasing taxes, and emphasis on divisive cultural issues. The four Methacton EXCEL candidates are Deborah McGinley, Jim Beam, John Mack, and me.
“Methacton EXCEL will bring unity to our community. We are not politicians. We are parents, grandparents, business owners, and community and student advocates driven by a shared passion to provide magical learning experiences for all our children. We have expertise and experience in finance, strategy, adult education, and human resources. We do not believe our students’ education and well-being should be viewed through a political lens. Nonpartisanship contributes to a strong system of public education. Currently, our district is facing the most challenging of circumstances, including inflationary conditions, learning loss, and student safety. Methacton EXCEL will prioritize and focus on supporting all children and guiding our district through these challenges rather than engaging in partisan arguments. Learn more on our website.”
What is the most important role of the school board, in your opinion?
“The school board has a dual role: to represent the concerns of the citizens, taxpayers, and parents to the school administrators, and to represent the needs of the students and school district to the citizens, taxpayers, and parents of the community. The board’s most important role is to implement, develop, and review policies that specifically impact student learning.”
We contacted the Democratic and Republican committees in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Lancaster, Lehigh, and Montgomery counties and asked them to share the questions with their school director candidates. Broad + Liberty will post the responses throughout the summer to assist voters in learning about the candidates running in their district. The series is open to any school director on the ballot in November. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Broad + Liberty is a nonprofit media endeavor dedicated to sharing voices and stories that are shut out of other media outlets. @BroadAndLiberty