The qualifying period for Jacksonville’s school board races closed Tuesday, with two incumbents and three challengers vying for two seats.
One of two board members up for reelection, Steve Smith, a registered nurse, will face two challengers: former Jacksonville Councilman George Areno, a retiree, and Jacksonville State University graduate student Jason Sumner. A second sitting school board member, Mike Poe, a financial advisor and the board president, will face challenger Jennifer Sims, a retired teacher.
Smith is nearing the end of his first term. Areno announced his candidacy for the race early on in the qualifying period. Sumner, who recently completed a graduate internship in Jacksonville Mayor Johnny Smith's office, qualified Thursday for the Aug. 26 race.
Poe signed up for the race on July 1, and Sims qualified for the race Tuesday.
A political newcomer in Jacksonville, Sumner, 29, is earning a master’s degree in public administration and is a former president of the Jacksonville State University Student Government Association. He works as a communications officer for the university police department.
Sumner said the city school system would benefit from having a middle school — a project sitting board members have sought funding for several years. He also said that he is interested in provide after-school wireless Internet access for all students in grades three through 12. In fall of 2013, school officials issued students in each of those grades tablet computers.
Sumner said he wants to start a program that teaches parents to plan to pay for students' college educations.
Areno, 75, has said that if elected, he would closely track the implementation of Common Core academic standards and that he would share what he learns with parents. In addition, he said, he would work to protect teachers and schools from work evaluations based on student scores.
Areno said he also wants the community to have a middle school but is unsure that it can afford to build one now. The schools have sought funding for the new Kitty Stone Elementary building — which will house students from pre-K through sixth grade — from the city, and Areno said Jacksonville may not be able to afford one more project.
"What's best may be to wait," he said.
Since incumbents Smith, 55, and Poe, 46, were elected to the board four years ago, the system has established a breakfast program, started a pre-K program, initiated a new technology plan that issued tablet computers to students, secured funding to build a new elementary school and made the decision to rebuild the school at a new site.
"I have a good record," Smith said. "I just hope folks give me a chance to finish the mission."
Poe said he is also seeking a second term to continue programs such as the construction of the elementary school, the technology plan and finding a way to pay for a new middle school.
Poe said he would like to identify past and future funding sources and develop a five-year plan to pay for the school.
Poe's challenger, Sims, 63, retired from Anniston City Schools in 2013 after serving in a variety of teaching and administrative roles. She said that she grew up in Jacksonville and that she volunteers with Regional Medical Center's chaplain’s service in her free time.
She said her career as an educator makes her uniquely qualified to serve on the board.
"I've always wanted to be able to give back to the community, and I feel like this is a place where I have some knowledge base," Sims said.
She said she also supports a middle school.