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Six vie for four seats on the Hancock County School Board

May 12, 2008
Voters will fill four of the five seats on the Hancock County Board of Education at the May 13 West Virginia primary election.

There are two candidates from each of the county’s three districts, Grant, Butler, and Clay, and no more than two board members can be from any one district.

The only seat on the board not up for vote is held by John Manypenny, from the Grant district, meaning that if the two Grant district candidates are among the top four in votes, only one will get a seat.

Since two of the board’s members running for election, Jerry Durante and Patsy Brancazio, were appointed to finish unexpired terms, the top two vote-getters will join the board for four-year terms and the next two will receive two-year terms.

Brancazio, Butler district, is a life-long Weirton resident who previously served on the board from 1980 to 1992, also serving as board president. Brancazio was then appointed to the board in December of 2007.

During his previous time on the board, Brancazio said they oversaw the closing of some of the county’s schools due to a decrease in enrollment and sold bonds for renovations to all the schools. The John D. Rockefeller IV Career Center also came into existence during his time on the board.

Brancazio said the most important issue currently facing the board is keeping the system solvent. “You work together and you see what’s best for the system ... The main thing right now is to get things back out of the red side of the register,” he said.

Brancazio retired from Weirton Steel in 1997, after 25 years of employment there. He also worked at Pittsburgh International Airport and co-managed an independent retirement community with his wife. Brancazio currently works in customer relations at Greco Hertnick Funeral Home.

He is a graduate of Madonna High School and attended the University of Steubenville and West Virginia Northern Community College. He is also a member of St. Joseph the Worker Church.

Brancazio and his wife of 43 years, Marie, have four daughters and five grandchildren.

Durante, Grant district, is a New Cumberland resident who served on the board from 1974 to 1986. He was appointed to the board in 2006.

Durante said that during his previous time on the board, he spearheaded an eye and dental program for the county’s teachers, the first such program in the state. Durante said they also undertook a $20 million building program for Weir Middle School and the John D. Rockefeller IV Career Center, as well as renovations to the high schools, and “a number of changes in curriculum.” Durante also served as board president for eight years.

Durante said one of his goals for the board is “to keep pace with the changes that are occurring almost on a daily basis” with 21st century education initiatives. “It’s just a new way of trying to educate our children,” he said.

Durante said he also wants to balance the budget “without cutting any educational or extra-curricular services for our children,” which he acknowledged there is no easy solution for with the county’s decrease in tax revenue and declining enrollment.

Durante worked as a teacher at Oak Glen High School for eight years and then worked as a manager of safety and security at Weirton Steel, retiring after 29 years. Durante also served as transportation director for Hancock County’s schools for five years.

Durante is a graduate of Madonna High School. Durante is a member of the National School Boards Association, as well as several advisory boards for the county.

Durante has two children, Damian and LaDonna Smith, and five grandchildren.

Priscilla “Penny” Dotson, Butler district, is a life-long Weirton resident who worked in the Hancock County school system for 26 years, including 19 years as a secretary for the board.

Dotson said she has worked with the schools’ budgets, including special education and Medicare. “It’s going to be a lot of decision making as far as where to spend the money,” Dotson said of working on the board.

Dotson said she has worked with everyone in the school system, from students up to administrators. “You know their wants, their needs, their goals,” she said, adding she feels the board “could use a new perspective.”

Dotson said that if elected, her goals are to help balance the budget and “to help the people who have a problem.”

“That’s my main goal, to be a help with students, parents, and principals,” Dotson said, adding they sometimes need someone to back them up.

Dotson is a graduate of Madonna High School and is a member of the Sacred Heart of Mary Church and its Divine Mercy group, as well as a member of the West Virginia Association of Retired School Employees.

Dotson has been married to her husband Larry for 42 years. The couple have two children, Jeff and Julie, and three grandchildren, Ryan, William, and Alanna.

Mary Alice Jones, Grant district, is a life-long New Cumberland resident who served on the board from 1998 to 2002.

Jones said that accomplishments during her time on the board include hiring an in-county superintendent and technical coordinator, as well as obtaining School Building Authority funds for the new middle school and renovations at other buildings.

Jones worked in the Hancock County school system system as a secretary for 27 years, which she said entailed working in virtually every building in the county, and became a substitute secretary after serving on the board.

“This gives me a broad knowledge of all aspects of the school system ... I really feel that anyone on the board should have a knowledge of the system,” Jones said, adding she has dealt with insurance, job postings and bids, pay scales, grievances, and numerous other duties.

Jones said that her first priority would be the education of students, as well as fostering a better understanding between the board and the public.

“I never refused a phone call,” as a board member, Jones said.

With the economy in its current state, Jones said, “There’s definitely going to be some tough decisions, and I want to weigh them before making a decision of any kind.”

Jones is a member of the Democratic Womens Club and of the Free Methodist Church in New Cumberland.

Jones and her husband of 49 years, William, have two daughters and three grandchildren.

Christina Fair, Clay district, has served on the board since 2000.

Fair has six years of experience on the Board of Regional Education Service Agency VI and six years of management experience, including responsibility for a professional staff of 80 and a several million dollar budget that included salaries, equipment, and supplies. Fair is a 1999 graduate of the West Virginia Developmental Disabilities Planning Council’s “Partners in Policymaking” program.

Fair said her priorities for the board include balancing the county schools’ budget and initiating a facilities plan that is acceptable to the community and to the West Virginia School Building Authority.

“I’m very much interested in increasing our communication with the public ... I’m hoping we can get them more involved,” Fair said, adding that with important budget decisions coming up, public input will especially be needed.

Fair is a former Air Force captain and is currently a staff nurse anesthetist at Trinity Health System in Steubenville. Fair is a graduate of the Shadyside Hospital School of Nursing and the Shadyside Hospital School of Nurse Anesthesia, as well as holding a Bachelor’s of Science degree in nursing from LaRoche College. Fair will graduate this summer from the Franciscan University of Steubenville with a Master of Science degree in nursing education.

Fair is co-founder and treasurer of the Hancock County Chapter of the Autism Society of America, parent representative to the Board of the Autism Training Center at Marshall University, a member of the Hancock-Brooke Life Opportunities for the Disabled, a consumer representative to the Hancock-Brooke Family Resource Network, a member of the Weirton Heights School PTA, and a member of the Hancock County Medical Reserve Core and the Trinity Lutheran Church in Weirton.

Fair and her husband of 30 years, John, have two children, Rose and David, and one grandson.

Laura Greathouse, Clay district, has been a New Cumberland resident for 50 years, and taught in Hancock County schools for 37 years, including 17 years as an aide.

Greathouse said that as teacher, “Parents could talk to me and know that I was really listening and trying to bring a resolution to whatever was bothering them.”

As a board member, Greathouse said her priority would be “to try to make things better for the children.”

Greathouse is a member of Trinity United Methodist Church, where she is secretary of the women’s organization, treasurer for the Hancock County Museum Commission, recording secretary for the Ohio Valley Museum Consortium, and a member of the West Virginia Retired Teachers Association.

Article Photos

Patsy Brancazio



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