Donna Brightman, Wayne Ridenour, Al Martin and Pieter Bickford are the BEST choices for Washington County BOE

By Ryan Miner 

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The 2016 Washington County Board of Education race should become the marquee race to watch and keep tabs on during this political cycle. The 2014 Washington County Board of Education cycle was fraught with high drama, backroom deals and meetings with BOE slates run amuck.

Nasty accusations – not education – dominated the last campaign cycle. I should know; I had a front-row seat, as a candidate. Unfortunately, I believe the same cabal who waged their disgusting attacks during the last campaign cycle will again wreak havoc on this election cycle and attempt to distort the focus away from education. I may be wrong, but I remain pessimistic.

After my November 2014 Board of Education defeat, I began covering in depth the proceedings of the Washington County Board of Education on my blog, Of course, not everybody (the teachers’ union, namely) agrees with my education commentary, but I believe I have a keen and informed opinion on the education system in Washington County, and I profoundly understand the current board, including the people who endeavor to be reelected to it or are seeking election for the first time.

This year, there are four clear choices who Washington County voters should consider supporting in the Washington County Board of Education race:

Donna Brightman, Wayne Ridenour, Al Martin and Pieter Bickford.

Brightman, the current president of the Washington County Board of Education, has demonstrated her sound grasp of education policy since first being appointed in 2007 by the governor to fill an open seat on the board. Logical, pragmatic, always thoughtful and undeniably intelligent, Brightman’s leadership in defining the direction of the Washington County Board of Education has been put to the test over and over again – with much success and universal praise.

Invariably, Brightman’s noticeable goal is to place the best interests of Washington County students front and center – absent politics. Brightman’s leadership extends well beyond the borders of Washington County. She has proven time and again her effectiveness in shepherding key pieces of education legislation in Annapolis to serve the interests of Washington County Public Schools.

Her role with MABE (Maryland Association of Boards of Education) further cements her commitment to harvesting the best possible education system – not only in Washington County but throughout the entire state. Brightman, if reelected this year to the Washington County Board of Education, is slated to become the next president of MABE. Brightman is universally respected among her MABE colleagues and is known for being one of the hardest-working Board of Education members in the state of Maryland.

Brightman has been a stalwart defender of advocating for education decisions to be made at the local level in Washington County as much as possible. We do not like Washington, D.C. mingling in the affairs of our education system; we dislike mandates imposed on education by our state. Donna Brightman has fought – over and over again – to keep the state of Maryland and federal government from overreaching into Washington County Public Schools’ affairs.

Brightman has run a tight ship as board president. She has little patience for pettiness, and despite the obvious pushback from the obstructionist three-person wing of the seven-member board, Brightman manages to run an above-board operation with the focus intently on what matters most: the students of Washington County Public Schools.

Donna Brightman is a leader, an education advocate and a roundly respected member of the Washington County community. Her accomplishments as both board member and president of the Washington County Board of Education are endless. She undoubtedly has earned the opportunity to ask to be reelected by the voters of Washington County.

Brightman deserves another term, without question.

Wayne Ridenour has been a leader on the Washington County Board of Education since being elected over a decade ago. Ridenour, also a former board president, is, like Brightman, routinely influential in supporting the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts, advocating for the advancement of a boutique model in education and standing tall for adapting to a 21st-century education model by embracing technology in classrooms as a supplement to helping teachers creatively teach.

Open minded, fundamentally decent and honest to the core, Ridenour’s entire life has been committed to the success of Washington County Public Schools students.

Mr. Ridenour, otherwise known as “Coach” by many of his former students, is an ubiquitously beloved former Washington County Public Schools teacher, coach, and mentor; my father, Bryan, still raves about “Coach Wayne.” Ridenour is that one teacher you will never forget for having a lasting impact on your life.

Wayne Ridenour has represented Washington County Public Schools with a defining passion. He unequivocally deserves to be reelected for another term.

Al Martin is a distinguished member of the Washington County community who humbly lives by the mantra of service above self. Martin, the longtime director of finance for the City of Hagerstown, will offer the Washington County Board of Education a wealth of budgetary and financial experience and expertise. Prudent, wise and focused, Al Martin will use his financial experience to analyze the nearly $300 million-dollar budget – the largest budget among the governmental bodies in Washington County.

Al Martin has served Washington County on a number of boards and organizations, lending his many years of service and expertise to better his community. His passion lies with ensuring the needs of all Washington County Public Schools – students, teachers, and employees – are met. If anybody actually deserves the endorsement of the Washington County Teachers’ Association – for the right reasons – it would be Al Martin.

Al Martin’s service to his community should alone set him heads and shoulders about the pack. Washington County should elect Al Martin to fill Dr. Justin Hartings’ seat on the Washington County Board of Education.

Born out of a family of educators, Pieter Bickford understands the working plight of Washington County Public Schools teachers. Bickford is universally beloved in the Washington County community; he has given much of his free time to volunteering his talents to better serve Washington County.

Bickford is fair, objective and even-keeled across the board. He’s been not only a supporter of the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts, he’s a driving force in bringing positivity to downtown Hagerstown by way of the arts. Mr. Bickford understands the big picture: meeting the demands of the 21st-century. Washington County needs big thinkers. Pieter Bickford is one of them.

Having personally witnessed Bickford’s indefatigable work ethic while interning under his supervision and direction at WHAG-TV, I can personally attest that he will surely apply his passion for education as he did for journalism.

Bickford is one of the best choices among the candidates to structurally change the current makeup of the Board of Education by refocusing the mission of the board on students and fixing the achievement gap. Bickford is not interested in politics; instead, he’s interested in providing students and teachers the resources they need to be successful.

I emphatically support Pieter Bickford’s candidacy for the Washington County Board of Education.

I do not know Joseph Chandler or Linda Murray, so I decline to comment on their candidacies. However, I would proceed with caution when considering Murray – a disciple of the militant wing of the Washington County Teachers’ Association, and someone who will almost surely align with the Harshman, Williams, and Stouffer cabal, if elected.

As for Stan Stouffer and Melissa Williams: both candidates share a lack of vision for Washington County Public Schools, and I believe if elected, they both would take the Board of Education in a direction opposite of progress.

After nearly four years on the Board of Education, Melissa Williams has no tangible accomplishment to her name. Instead of putting the interests of students before her obvious political interests, Melissa Williams is the Board’s ringleader for advancing both the politics of the extreme elements of now two inextricably linked special interest groups in Washington County: the Tea Party and the teachers’ union.

It will be no surprise when both the Tea Party and the Washington County Teachers’ Association will release with fanfare their endorsement of Williams – and Stouffer.

Both Williams and Stouffer manifestly align with the obstructionist and outright hostile wing of the current Board of Education, dominated by its leaders, Karen Harshman and Michael Guessford.

Both Williams and Stouffer are firmly committed to ousting Washington County’s indomitably talented superintendent, Dr. Clayton Wilcox, from his current position in place of someone who will fall in line with their stale agenda.

Wilcox, however, is universally praised by staff, the teaching body and around the state – and country – for his forward-thinking approach to education. Clayton Wilcox is truly the best of the best. If Stouffer and Williams are elected and reelected, respectively, Wilcox’s tenure with Washington County Public Schools could come to an abrupt close.

During early voting and on April 26, please choose Donna Brightman, Wayne Ridenour, Al Martin and Pieter Bickford for the Washington County Board of Education.

This cycle, voters have a choice: Progress over obstructionism; kids over politics; and leadership over incompetence.

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