BERRYVILLE — Five of the six people vying for the Russell District seat on the Clarke County School Board introduced themselves to the public during a hearing Monday night.

Kenneth Coney, Camilla Dechent, Andrew MacDonald, Kimberlee Stiles and Courtney Wiite briefly explained what they consider to be their qualifications to hold the seat and why they want to be appointed to it. 

Another hopeful, Leigh Carley, didn't attend the hearing.

All six already underwent private interviews with the board.

Coney, of Crums Church Road, has lived in Clarke County for 26 years. His application shows he has over 20 years of experience in federal law enforcement, plus another decade as a contracted federal investigator and researcher.

He believes he has "a good understanding of the government process," he wrote in the application. His experience along that line includes developing operational policies; routinely meeting with prosecutors, judges and senior elected and appointed officials; testifying in hearings and inquiries; and dealing with billing and purchasing matters, the document shows.

As a member and former president of the Battletown Homeowners Association, Coney collaborated with Berryville officials on community issues, oversaw property improvements and prepared annual budgets, the application shows.

The applications indicates he doesn't have children or grandchildren who've attended the Clarke schools.

Coney told the board he wants to represent the Russell District simply because he wants to help improve the quality of education.

"I have no hidden agenda," he said.

Dechent, of Clifton Road, is the owner of Relevant Consultants LLC and a managing partner in 81 Outfitters LLC in Winchester. She has an extensive background in human resources, payroll, accounting and similar business matters, her résumé shows.

She has lived in the county for six months. As the parent of a toddler, "I'm excited about the opportunity to proactively invest in her future by utilizing my time and professional talents to enhance her future education and the education of all Clarke County children," she wrote in her application.

"I love children, I love youth," Dechent told the board. "I want to support them in every way possible."

She recalled undergoing struggles while growing up and feeling there were no resources available to support her or others in the same situation.

"I know what it means to navigate an unstable adolescence and the powerful role that schools can play in supporting children," her application states.

Having overcome her struggles, she attributes her success "in large part to the emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills I chose to develop," she wrote.

She believes that experience, along with her financial, entrepreneurial and HR skills, can help improve the schools and make them more effective, she added.

MacDonald, of Earhart Lane, is a retired Army lieutenant colonel who has lived in the county for two years. During his 26 years in the military, he earned a bachelor's degree and two master's degrees. He has since earned a law degree, too.

"I've never stopped going to school," he wrote in his application.

He has seven children, ages 8-35, some of whom attend Clarke schools.

"Education is everything," MacDonald told the board. "You can't do anything without education. We owe it to our children to give them the best education possible."

He recalled that he and his family decided to move to the county, in part, "because of the quality of the public education system." Now, he wants to contribute to the schools and help improve them, he added.

As the mother of four children and an educator for 19 years, Stiles maintains she's able to view school issues from the perspectives of both a parent and a teacher.

Stiles, of Dairy Lane, is a fourth-grade teacher with Frederick County Public Schools. Her past experience includes stints as an instructional assistant, teacher and gifted student specialist with the Clarke schools.

The COVID-19 pandemic has put social, emotional and academic strains on students as they adjusted their ways of learning, according to Stiles, a Clarke resident for 14 years.

For educators, "it is going to continue to be challenging as we try to get back to normal" in the schools, she wrote in her application. "I think it's important for varied voices to be heard as we try to navigate a path forward."

In the process, she said, "we need to strive for excellence beyond where we were" before the pandemic, she told the board.

Wiite, of Longmarsh Road, has lived in the county for 7½ years and has children attending its schools. She has been a stay-at-home mom since 2007. Previously, she worked in various types of businesses, her résumé shows.

Additionally, she has been involved in local youth athletic leagues.

As a parent, "I want what is best" for students, parents and teachers, Wiita told the board. "I would respectfully do everything I can" to uphold the quality of the county schools.

Carley, of Old Charles Town Road, has lived in the county for 17 years and has children in its schools, her application shows. She is a social worker in Loudoun County specializing in mental health intensive care coordination.

Her résumé indicates she has prior experience as an in-school counselor.

She wrote in her application that she believes her experiences in helping students improve their mental health, as well as in team-building and networking to meet the needs of individuals and families, will benefit the school board.

— Contact Mickey Powell at mpowell@winchesterstar.com

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