Student prep, transparency goals of newly elected Fort Smith Public School board members

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 943 views 

Making certain students are prepared for the future, being good stewards of taxpayer dollars and promoting transparency in the district are the main goals for the three new board members elected Tuesday (May 24) to the Fort Smith Public Schools Board of Education.

Davin Chitwood, Sandy Dixon, Phil Whiteaker and three incumbents were elected to the school board during the annual school election. Whiteaker beat incumbent Troy Ecklehoff for the Zone 1 seat with 54.855% of the vote.

“First, let me thank my opponent for his time spent serving our community. His heart and best intentions for this district were never in question, and credit is due to Troy Eckelhoff,” Whiteaker said.

He said he hopes to bring a perspective that serves the people in the district first.

“Our teachers, students, staff, and administration deserve our best. From our educators to our custodians, the people we employ are the backbone of our district, and they deserve our support,” he said.

Whiteaker said while on the board, he hopes to work to ensure all students are prepared for “life and the real world after the 12th grade.”

“Fort Smith School District has great things in store for our community,” Whitaker said.

He said he believes it is the responsibility of the school board to be good stewards of the district’s money and to spend dollars wisely and “circulate our funds locally, as much as possible.”

Dixon, who defeated Brittney Hall with 55.98% of the votes in the Zone 2 race, said that she wants to be a strong voice for all the parents and children in the school district.

“I truly promise district oversight and transparency to the Fort Smith citizens,” Dixon said.

The owner of Turn Key Construction in Fort Smith, has been critical of school district administration in the past and in March notified the district her construction company would no longer bid for school projects.

“I will support all local businesses while I’m on the board,” Dixon said.

Chitwood received 57.96% of the votes cast for the At-Large 2 race against Taylor Fretheim Chase. He said he was thankful to be on the FSPS school board and excited to work with the other members of the board.

“When we talk about accomplishments, I want to use that word when we have met a need for our students, teachers, families, and overall school district,” Chitwood said. “There are lots of needs in the district that vary between students, teachers, families, and the district, and in my position on the board, I hope to meet as many needs as possible during this time.”

He said transparency and curriculum are both major topics that have been voiced as a need that will be addressed in the upcoming year and he is excited to work with the board to address those needs.

“I also am excited to capitalize on the good things we are doing already and add to them, such as the diverse educational opportunities we have available in Fort Smith,” Chitwood said.

Board member Dalton Person, who was first elected to the board in 2020, defeated Tara Mendoza by a wide margin to remain on the board in the Zone 5 seat. Board member Dee Blackwell, also first elected to the board in 2020, narrowly held on to retain the Zone 3 seat. Board member Matt Blaylock, elected to the board in 2021, was re-elected to the At-Large Zone 1 seat. Board member Talicia Richardson was unopposed in her bid to retain the Zone 4 seat.

The FSPS board voted in the fall to hold elections in May for all seven board seats following remapped zones based on the 2020 census. The school board approved a new zone map with five single-membered and two at-large positions for school board representatives based on the 2020 census data. Each of the new zones has approximately 18,200 residents.

The district will install new board members at a called board meeting June 20. According to Superintendent Dr. Terry Morawski, that will be the only business conducted at the June 20 board meeting. At that time the board will elect officers and determine each seat’s term length. Not all of the seven seats will be for the same term length. Though all seats will eventually have a five-year term, as opposed to the three-year terms they had before, a straw vote will be held inJune after the election results are certified to determine the length of each seat’s term (one, three or five years) in order for elections of the positions to be staggered.