Five candidates are running for an Edmond Public Schools Board of Education seat that has been held by the incumbent for the past two decades.
Ashley Duffey, Courtney Hobgood, Bobby Kern, Indrit Vucaj and Cheryl Williams will all be on the Feb. 8 primary ballot for District 2, which lies on the west side of the city. Each of the five candidates is hoping to replace incumbent Kathleen Duncan, who is not seeking reelection.
Duncan, a retired teacher, school counselor and attorney, was last elected in 2017 with about 62.58 percent of the vote and 1,184 ballots cast. When last running for reelection, Duncan said STEM and a digital conversion program for students to use hand-held computer devices were some of her priorities.
This year’s EPS board election cycle comes at a time of contention between parents and the school district. Recent school board meetings have been met with protests and comments from parents concerned about critical race theory, a college-level academic framework that is not taught in the district, mask requirements and the district’s quarantine policy.
School board members received backlash from parents after an August vote to to give Superintendent Angela Grunewald the authority to make changes to district policies during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In September, a group of parents filed a lawsuit against the district, alleging that quarantine policies violated their children’s constitutional rights. In December, an Oklahoma County District Court judge granted a temporary injunction against Edmond Public Schools, enjoining the district from enforcing COVID-19 protocols for unvaccinated students.
Following public comment at the board’s November meeting, Grunewald released a statement refuting claims that the district teaches critical race theory, that school board members were being paid with Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds and that fourth-grade students were being taught about serial killer Ted Bundy.
During the Feb. 8 election, Edmond Public Schools voters will also be asked to consider a pair of bond proposals totaling about $120 million.The first proposal is for $117 million to improve or acquire school sites. The second would raise $3 million for transportation improvements.
If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote in EPS District 2, a run-off will be held April 5. For this cheat sheet, the following candidate profiles are presented in alphabetical order and were drawn from publicly available information.
On Jan. 17, three of the District 2 candidates — Hobgood, Kern and Vucaj — participated in a Facebook forum hosted by the Edmond Democratic Women organization.
Profession/Background: According to her Facebook page, Duffey attended Missouri State University from 2004 to 2011 and graduated form the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in 2012. She currently works as a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner.
Last year, Duffey started a petition to return Edmond Public Schools to a five-day schedule from the A/B schedule the district was using because of the pandemic. She has been endorsed by Natalie Bruno, a marketing executive who is running for governor this year as a Libertarian.
Platform: If elected, Duffey’s website says she will immediately work to improve communication, transparency and accountability. Issues of importance for Duffey include:
- withdrawing from the National School Boards Association;
- making vaccines and masks a parental choice;
- avoiding trendy education movements;
- reducing the use of electronic devices at all ages, particularly for elementary students;
- improving the atmosphere and morale post-COVID;
- supporting teachers;
- understanding why teachers are leaving Edmond Public Schools;
- addressing the school nursing shortage.
Profession/Background: Hobgood has three elementary-aged children in the Edmond Public Schools district. She has been involved in the Parent Teacher Organization at Washington Irving Elementary School and has served on a principal selection committee for the district.
Hobgood has been endorsed by the editorial board of The Edmond Way.
Platform: A post on Hobgood’s campaign Facebook page states that she believes in advocating for all students, teachers and parents. It points to teacher and staff exhaustion as one of the foremost issues for the district. Hobgood’s page says she supports pursuing a low student-teacher ratio. She also wants to ensure that Edmond Public Schools receives the funding, technology and resources needed to develop students into future community, state and national leaders. Hobgood posted on her campaign Facebook page that she supports the upcoming bond proposals.
Profession/Background: Kern holds a doctorate in human development and family sciences from Oklahoma State University and is currently an assistant professor in family sciences at Oklahoma Christian University.
Kern serves as board policy chairman for the Oklahoma Council on Family Relations, which focuses on “policy-oriented, applied, and basic research on families can help to identify the aspects of public policy, societal and familial conditions that warrant action to protect families and individuals,” according to its website. Kern is also a board member for UShine, a nonprofit focused on mental health awareness and support. He previously served as a board member for the Down Syndrome Association of Central Oklahoma, with a term as president from 2017 to 2020.
Kern has two children in the Edmond Public Schools district, one of whom has an intellectual-developmental disability, which Kern said on Facebook, “has put our family squarely in the middle of special education in Edmond Public Schools.”
Platform: One of Kern’s priorities is inclusion for both general and special education students through enhanced teacher recruitment and continuing education for all teachers, administrators and staff in the areas of inclusion, equality and diversity. Kern also suggests using the district’s existing parent university — which features workshops held throughout the year to keep parents informed on timely topics — to discuss Individualized Education Plan meetings, rights to services and cultural diversity.
Other priorities for Kern include a focus on whole-being health and wellness for students, as well as career and college preparation.
Profession/Background: Vucaj is an educator who holds a doctorate from Oklahoma State University.
Vucaj immigrated to the U.S. from Albania when he was a teenager and has taught in Enid Public Schools, worked in administration at Oklahoma City Public Schools and is currently an administrator for the Metro Technology Center. Vucaj is also listed as one of two managing members of a consulting company based in McKinney, Texas.
Platform: The guiding principles of Vucaj’s campaign are advocacy and transparency, according to his website. Vucaj’s platform is based on what he says are four pillars that are key to a child’s success in education: establishing and supporting high-quality early childhood development programs, taking a comprehensive approach to student health and wellness, distributing school resources in a way that ensures access and equity, and investing strong college and career preparation for students. His campaign website offers a detailed breakdown of these four “pillars.”
Vucaj has said he believes the curriculum for special education, ESL and Title I students is “watered down and often overlooked,” and that more should be done to bring these students in line with students in general education classes.
In a Facebook video, he was critical of efforts to remove certain books from school libraries, arguing that removing books does not stop kids from acquiring information from other, less reliable sources.
Profession/Background: Williams has lived in Edmond since 1988. She has two sons who graduated from Edmond Public Schools and three grandchildren who currently attend school in the district. She is an active volunteer in the district.
Williams holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the College of the Ozarks. She has experience as a business systems analyst and has worked for a bond underwriting firm. From 2011 to 2015, Williams served as the director of finance for Commissioner of Labor Mark Costello.
Williams’ campaign website states that she is actively involved with the Oklahoma Republican Party, for which she previously served as vice chairwoman. He has also served in various other leadership positions for the organization and for the Oklahoma County GOP.
In 2021, Williams appeared before the Edmond City Council to oppose the designation of June as Pride Month. Also in 2021, Williams called for members of the Edmond Public Schools Board of Education to resign over the inclusion of the memoir The Glass Castle on a high school reading list in the district.
According to her campaign website, Williams has been endorsed by School Boards 4 Kids, the Oklahoma Second Amendment Association, Oklahomans for Health and Parental Rights and Sen. Jake Merrick (R-Yukon).
Platform: According to her website, Williams aims to improve communication between the community, parents and the school district and to rebuild confidence that Edmond schools are teaching “approved age-appropriate curriculum” while providing a safe environment where students can learn.
Her website also states that retention of good teachers must become a focus of the district and that parents and grandparents need to be welcomed back into the classroom as resources.
The website also states, “We must get back to the basics of education that does not undermine the values of our families or this community.”
Campaign finance reports for school board candidates were provided by Edmond Public Schools Board Clerk Judy Pendergraft, with the exception of candidates Kern and Vucaj.
Pendergraft told NonDoc that Kern’s campaign had received and expended less than $1,000, making him exempt from report filing.
Pendergraft said she has not received any finance reports from Vucaj. She said his campaign may have also raised and expended less than $1,000, but that Vucaj has not indicated this to her.
(Update: This article was updated at 3:38 p.m. Monday, Feb. 7, to include candidate campaign finance reports.)