This is the full transcript of the ExPRESSion’s interview with School Board member Erin Grosh. It has been edited for clarity, though we have strived to maintain the integrity of Mrs. Grosh’s comments.
Nathaniel McCloud: So what can you tell us about yourself? How long have you lived in the area? How have you gotten to know Elizabethtown?
Mrs. Grosh: I grew up in Elizabethtown and graduated from E-town schools. I moved away after graduation for many years and sort of lived all over, different places in the country. But, about three years ago me and my husband had a chance to decide where we wanted to settle for good. We chose Elizabethtown.
Nathaniel McCloud: So what is your background and what point of view will you come to the school board with?
Mrs. Grosh: I have a background in environmental education. So I myself have taught in a number of different educational settings. I taught at an environmental center just outside Philadelphia and I taught in a charter school in Philadelphia and I taught in a Montessori school in North Carolina. So sort of everything, but in the public schools. All those experiences helped secure my belief in public education. So when I saw that there was an opportunity here to serve the public schools in a different way, it felt like a good fit for what I had to offer.”
Nathan Willison: What motivated you to run for school board? Was there an issue you wanted to get involved in?
Mrs. Grosh: A lot of my motivation was that I believe very strongly in the importance of a really well supported public education system. I feel like I’m watching all sorts of different entities chip away that and I want to do my part in preserving what we have. I have kids in the schools so it is important to me personally, but even just ideologically it’s something that we really need to be here. So we have to have people that are willing to speak up for it.
Nathan Willison: What was your campaign strategy? Did you actively campaign?
Mrs. Grosh: Yeah. I did a lot of work. I was running as a Democrat and ran with two other Democrats that I felt were really great options for school board directors. While technically we were all running against each other, we decided that we would actually be much stronger if we worked together. In this campaign, and particularly in this area because we knew going in that running as Democrats was going to be an uphill battle. Democrats are outnumbered about four to one and our voter turnout is not fantastic. We had, I think five meet-and-greets where we would publicize, mostly on facebook, which seemed like the most affordable and accessible way to advertise our presence in the community and word of mouth. So we would advertise that these events are coming up and we would change the time of day the day of the week - whether it was a weekday or a weekend and we would meet in a public place and just say, “We’re going to be here for these couple of hours, come out, come and see us, we’re going to talk about whatever you’re interested in. We want to make ourselves accessible to the community. We also spent the entire fair week at a stand where I spent at least eighteen hours that week talking to people that were walking by the fair stand and all the Democratic candidates were there throughout the week. We made sure that somebody was there every single night. All three of us had dedicated Facebook pages where we outlined the issues that we thought were important and where we stood on them. And then Andrew Asoldo was not able to make the (October 26th public forum) due to a work conflict but Kelley and I also went to the forum.
Nathaniel McCloud: Is there any particular reason you think your campaign was successful?
Mrs. Grosh: I was cross-filed. I had successfully cross filed and if you look at the campaign numbers our voters voted along party lines. So yeah, that was a little of a disappointing outcome after all of the work we had put in. The candidates I was running with would have been great servants for our community. But, I’m also looking forward to working with the board that’s in place. I’ve been to their board meetings the last ten months. Even with all the pressures that are being put upon public education I feel very strongly that our board that will be there has the right interests in mind to preserve what’s going on in our schools.
Nathan Willison: Now that you are elected to the school board, do you have any goals for your term?
Mrs. Grosh: I don’t feel like I came in with any goals in mind other than making sure that we have people on the board who have the right interest of our school in mind. Although I will say that one of the things that I do find distressing is the potential cuts to some of our programs that our current board has talked about: cuts to art and music and athletics. Those are programs that are very near and dear to my heart. I think they are very important for students to find their place in our schools. So I do hope to be somebody who can speak up against broad cuts to those programs. I can’t say that they won’t be cut. I don’t have next year's budget in front of me. But I also sort of hope that if we do have to start cutting programs, that we can do it in a very thoughtful way and take as much of the sting out of it as possible.
Nathaniel McCloud: One of the issues that is pushing the district in the direction of making cuts is tax reform and the state pushing property tax reform. In the election there was a non-binding referendum that passed proposing the elimination of property taxes. How do you feel about the proposed elimination?
Mrs. Grosh: I think it’s a really disappointing proposal, particularly from someone who has been watching what has been happening to our school budget. The superintendent and the school board have been clear to the community what that referendum actually means. It would be a loss of income to our public schools. There’s still a ways to go to have that referendum move forward to the next step, but it’s really a disappointing proposal. I’m not sure why our voters would trust to send their money to Harrisburg rather than keep it in the community when our legislators in Harrisburg have not been particularly fiscally responsible.
Nathan Willison: How will you engage the community going forward?
Mrs. Grosh: That’s something I’ve been thinking about, because I have this school board Facebook page but I also don’t think it’s appropriate for just one member of the school board to have an open facebook page while the other ones do not. So I do intend to take that down and have been thinking about how to talk to the people that have joined that page about that. I am really interested in how to communicate better and it’s one of the complaints I’ve heard from people because they don’t really know or understand what’s going on with the school board and think we need to do better with visibility. I think maybe some of that would be to have a dedicated school board page instead of a personal page because social media is huge in our community. I’d certainly be open to other people’s suggestions of what visibility would look like to them. I’d love to see more people involved in the process I think that if more people come out and met everyone that was running we would have had a more representative election that really highlighted the best candidates.
Nathan Willison: Menno Riggleman was another candidate that was recently elected. At the October 26th forum he made comments stating that he was concerned that the school was teaching about different lifestyles. Do you agree with his statement and if not how will you work other school board member that you have ideological differences with?
Mrs. Grosh: I don’t agree with those statements at all. I think they were inappropriate from someone who was running for school board director. I think one of the things that really hit home for me is that a public school needs to be ready and willing to accept every single student that walks through those doors and I was very disappointed to hear that he had made statements that felt very exclusive to some of our student population. I am prepared to work with somebody that has ideological differences with me. I grew up in Elizabethtown and I’ve always been left leaning in my political ideologies and it’s a very conservative community. We have this division in my own family and I feel very comfortable talking about it because I think we can have different ideological beliefs and still have a really dignified conversation about it. I understand that those are his personal beliefs and I hope that he’s coming to the school board with an open heart to represent all the children in our school.
Nathaniel McCloud: What is your opinion of the school board’s responsibility to determine curriculum?
Mrs. Grosh: I really hope that the school board would continue to guide our schools in a way where we create open and welcoming curriculum. My response to Mr. Riggleman on the night of the forum was that we have thirteen different languages that are spoken in our school district that help to highlight the broad spectrum of people and cultures that live here. Our school’s mission statement is that we are raising students to live in the global world and I would hope that our school board would continue to embrace that. We need to broaden our students minds to embrace being able to live in this global world and not look to limit people’s experiences.
This interview is part of a series of interviews the ExPRESSion is conducting with the recently elected school board members.