Jack Russell and Nicholas Smither

Eight candidates are in the running for three available seats on the Center Grove Community School Corp. School Board.

All the seats in this race are at-large, so all voters in the school district will be asked to select three of the eight candidates to serve on Center Grove’s school board.

Because of the volume of candidates, coverage of this school board race was split into four parts, each featuring two candidates. This story is the final part.

Incumbents Scott Alexander and Jack Russell, who have been on the school board since 2010, are running for reelection. They are challenged by Doug Bohall, Bill Collins, Bruce Guiliani, Gary Robinson, Derek Payne and Nicholas Smither.

Current school board member Joe Hubbard’s seat is also up for grabs, but he is not running for reelection because he plans to run for Greenwood mayor next year.

The five-member school board is responsible for setting the school district’s annual budget, approving teacher contracts, hiring and reviewing the superintendent, setting policies and procedures, and making decisions regarding construction projects and any school redistricting that may be necessary.

The Daily Journal emailed questions to each candidate asking about their experience and goals, if elected. Part four features answers from Russell and Smither. With some edits for grammar and length, here’s what they said:

What drew you to run for this office?

Russell: I grew up in the Center Grove community. I was the last of five to attend Center Grove. I felt it was time to use my years of education and bring that knowledge to a school board position.

Smither: The lack of accountability and transparency during COVID.

What qualifications do you have to serve on a school board?

Russell: I have over 40 years of experience in education. My degree is in elementary education. I also subbed for several years at all levels. Those years of subbing gained me knowledge in many areas of education. I serve on a board of directors for Indiana School Board Association. This gains me knowledge as to what is happening with schools and education around the state and nationally. I have attended multiple education conferences which have kept me up to date on educational practices.

Smither: I am a small business owner with many years of experience in leadership roles throughout my life.

What are the most pressing issues facing your school district, if there are any?

Russell: Safety is always an issue. We have made many changes to make the buildings a safe place for the students. We are working on understanding all the new laws concerning students desired status. We are a growing school district so staying ahead of student growth is a challenge.

Smither: Academic records and the transparency of funds being spent.

What are your top three goals, if elected?

Russell: Letting the community know that the board is always open to meet and discuss issues, keeping the tax ratio as level as possible as well as a purposeful budget and making sure the students get a useful education and a lifelong desire of learning.

Smither: First, I would like to look into alternative ways of educating our kids such as developing them with more life skills classes rather than teaching them to take tests. Second, I want to know where all the money is coming from with what and who it is being spent on. Third, I want to look into ways that we can help teachers with professional development and also ways that we can evaluate and hold them accountable for their skills, whether that is reward or sanction.

How would you define social emotional learning? Do you think it has a place in schools?

Russell: Yes, when correctly administered SEL has a place in schools. SEL helps teach life skills that help develop well-rounded students. SEL teaches these skills in a safe and positive environment. SEL helps students achieve academic success.

Smither: SEL in my opinion is teaching our kids how to deal with their emotions throughout the day. I do believe that when taught the right way this is beneficial for our children.

How would you define critical race theory? Do you think critical race theory is being taught in this school district?

Russell: We do not teach CRT at Center Grove. We actually announced at a school board meeting that CRT was not to be taught in our classrooms.

Smither: CRT has absolutely no right to be taught in our schools to our children. In my opinion, this teaches our children that your choices don’t dictate who you are but the race you were born into does.

What else would you like to say to voters?

Russell: It has been my honor and privilege to serve on the school board these past 12 years. We have been successful in keeping ahead of our student growth and providing up-to-date safe buildings. We are constantly working on improving curriculum and preparing students for their challenges when they graduate. I am still energized to keep working for the students, staff, and Center Grove community. I have no problem saying I love this community and I am willing to make the sacrifices that go along with being on the school board. I’m ready to serve another four years.

Smither: If you want to have someone that wants what’s best for your children and the future of our community, then I would be a great choice to vote for in November. I have many ideas about how we can engage our children at school that will teach them life skills they need to be successful. I want to look into having the most qualified staff and helping them develop. I want to look into ways that we can pay our teachers more while, at the same time, holding them accountable so they are performing at their highest ability for themselves and our children. I also am serious about being transparent about the financials of the corporation, money makes the world go around and this can be good and bad. So, I want to make sure that our funds are being used appropriately.

The Russell File

Name: Jack L. Russell

Age: 64

Family: Divorced; one child.

Occupation: Retired educator

Education: Center Grove High School; Purdue University

Political Experience: Center Grove School Board member since 2010.

Memberships: Indiana School Board Association Board of Directors; Center Grove Alumni and Friends.

The Smither File

Name: Nicholas Allen Smither

Age: 35

Family: Wife; six children.

Occupation: Construction, self-employed

Education: Whiteland Community High School; St. Ambrose University; Ball State University

Political Experience: None

Memberships: Sons of Norway