Candidates focused on growth in Walton school board race

WVISD logo
A decal of the Walton-Verona Independent School District logo sits on the front door of the Early Childhood Center. Photo by Kaitlin Gebby | LINK nky

Three seats on the Walton-Verona Independent Schools Board of Education are up for grabs, and only one candidate in the field of seven is an incumbent. 

In Kentucky, school board members are elected to serve four-year terms. Elections occur every two years, and the number of school board members up for reelection alternates between two and three board members. The seats on the ballot this year last appeared in 2018, when Heather Stewart, Kyle Art, and Stacey Thornberry were elected. 

Heather Stewart, the one and only incumbent, is seeking a third term on the board. She first ran and won in 2014, and has family ties to the school district. A native of Walton and a former student of Walton-Verona schools, she is now a parent of a current student attending Walton-Verona High School. Stewart said her mother also drove a school bus for more than 20 years for the district, so she and her family are “invested in this community.” 

“I’ve lived here my entire life, and this district means a lot to me and my family,” she said. 

Stewart said she focuses on “fiscal responsibility, transparency, working to balance needs vs. resources and partnering with fellow board members to make sure we’re best using our resources.” 

Incumbent board member Heather Stewart | Photo provided Walton-Verona Independent School District

She added that equitable opportunities for students are also high on her list, in addition to supporting teachers and staff. 

As southern Boone County expands in population, Stewart said she aims to support that growth without sacrificing the quality of education within the district, and without burdening taxpayers. 

The school district is in the middle of a decision to fund and plan for a $22 million intermediate school to house fourth and fifth grade students. The board is due to hold a special meeting this week to make a final decision on which construction company is awarded the contract. 

In a previous vote, Stewart voted 2-1 because she was unable to preview the bid documents before the meeting, explaining she rushed straight from work to the board meeting on Oct. 27. The 2-1 vote is null, as a majority of the board is required to be present and vote on contracts of this size. 

Related:  Party Source is celebrating its 30th anniversary with a hard seltzer collaboration

“If reelected I will continue to be an advocate for you and the children of this district. I will continue to be honest and transparent on issues. I won’t be afraid to ask the tough questions and stand up for what’s right,” Stewart said. 

Aubrey Ryan is also vying for a seat on the board, though she is already standing in for former board member Stacey Thornberry. 

Earlier this year, Thornberry resigned. After a series of interviews, the remaining school board members could not come to a consensus, so the choice went to the Kentucky Education Commissioner Jason Glass. He appointed Ryan, who is the interim member for now. She was appointed Oct. 18, and her first board meeting was held Oct. 27. 

If elected, she will serve four years. If not, the elected replacement for Thornberry’s seat will be sworn in in January. 

Ryan is a native of Northern Kentucky. She grew up in Fort Thomas and moved to Walton in 2012. In 2008, she graduated from Northern Kentucky University with a bachelor’s degree in secondary English education. She also has a master’s degree in educational leadership from NKU and a second master’s degree in school counseling from the University of the Cumberlands. 

She currently serves as a school counselor at Tichenor Middle School in the Erlanger-Elsmere school district. Like other candidates, she has personal ties to the school district. Ryan said her daughter started preschool in the Walton-Verona school district this year. 

“I am running for school board because I feel I have an understanding of the issues that are facing our students today,” she said. “I believe I can advocate for students and families and keep the best interest of students at the forefront of our decisions.” 

Aubrey Ryan, candidate for Walton-Verona Independent school board. Photo provided | Aubrey Ryan

Given her experience as a teacher and counselor, she said she knows what it’s like to implement the decisions made by those in power, and she feels that perspective will work to her advantage. 

Like Stewart, Ryan is worried about growing pains in the district. 

Related:  The pain of the empty chair: Republican candidate Kelly Craft delivers speech in Erlanger

“Currently, there are two mobile classrooms being used at the elementary school. We will have to continue to be creative, as we are experiencing this issue in real-time, with each new student who enrolls in the district,” she said. 

Stephanie McClure is a mother of four. Born and raised in Walton, she said she has enjoyed volunteering within the district for the last nine years. Now, she wants to take her experience to the school board. 

Between helping with fall festivals and field days, as well as filling in inside the cafeteria, McClure said she has come to know the teachers and staff, as well as their struggles. 

“I’ve seen firsthand over the last couple of years the new challenges our teachers face due to covid loss of learning, a growing district pushing class sizes to the limits, and a feeling of being overworked and underpaid,” McClure said. “These issues along with many others are what have motivated me to run for school board.” 

Her children are in first through eighth grade, so she said she has 12 more years of involvement with the school district as a parent. 

“I am very invested in the future success of our district and I’m extremely excited for the opportunity to serve our students, staff, and community,” she said. 

Allen Volz is the father of three Walton-Verona High School graduates, and his youngest child is a junior at the high school now. He said he and his wife, Lisa, moved to the district in 2004. 

Volz also grew up in the region. He graduated from Lloyd High School in Erlanger in 1981, and earned his degrees in industrial technology and business from Eastern Kentucky University. He said he has 35 years of experience in “management, sales and design of audio-visual technology for multiple companies.” 

Volz is involved as a youth sports coach as well as a creative team member for Florence Baptist Church. 

He also currently serves on the Walton Verona High School Site-Based Decision-Making Board, a council of administrators, teachers, and local parents that “strives towards the state’s goals for producing proficient students. The Council works to create an overall direction for the school that improves academic student achievement,” according to the district webpage. 

Related:  Senate bill to make local elections partisan won’t pass this session

“As an SBDM member, I gained experience in making policy improvements, hiring teachers and a high school principal. With my understanding of the school system and my leadership experience I will bring a new perspective on school improvement to the board,” he said. 

He said he is focused on academic achievement, and making the most of the district’s tax revenues. He pointed out that Walton-Verona charges some of the highest taxes in the area, “and should provide an exceptional education” as a result. 

“In recent years misaligned priorities have led to declining test scores and increased discipline issues. Refocusing our efforts on student success, ensuring each student is college or career ready upon graduation, is imperative,” he said. “Planning for future growth, including a new school building in the district, is also an important challenge the board will face.” 

A parent of four and also a member of the Site-Based Decision-Making Board is Adrienne Pronk. She is a full-time parent with a background in healthcare and three children in the school system. 

Adrienne Pronk, a candidate for Walton-Verona Independent school board. Photo provided | Adrienne Pronk

Pronk said she has enjoyed opportunities to volunteer within the school system, on field trips and for special events. She said she also volunteers for her church. 

Like other candidates in the field, she is most concerned with the growing student population. She said she wants to foster “community engagement and involvement” in meetings “to allow open discussion about issues [and] concerns while in turn, the board can offer its growth assessment process.” 

Pronk added that she wants to prioritize “team collaboration by building trust, promote community engagement by building connections, and to offer my energy and time toward continuing the excellence in educational opportunities that Walton-Verona provides.” 

Other candidates on the ballot include Craig Collinsworth, James Dixon and Aaron Smith. Neither Collinsworth nor Dixon returned requests for information about their campaign. Smith told LINK nky he is planning to withdraw from the race.