School board candidates share views with voters

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Early voting begins Monday, April 24, in the election for Liberty Hill ISD Board of Trustees.

While three positions are up for election, only two seats drew multiple candidates. In Place 2, incumbent Clay Cole did not draw an opponent.

This month, The Independent invited candidates in Places 1 and 6 to respond to a questionnaire seeking their views on a number of issues. Candidates were also asked to provide background information that might include qualifications or experience relevant to public service.

Their responses to the questionnaire appear unedited on Page 10.

Early voting continues from April 24 through May 2. Liberty Hill voters may cast ballots locally from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, April 28, at Liberty Hill ISD Administration Building, 301 Forrest Street.

Election Day is May 6 and ballots may be cast from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Liberty Hill High School.

Liberty Hill ISD voters may choose to cast ballots in another voting location in Williamson County on Election Day or during the early voting period. To find an alternate voting location, visit www.wilco.org/elections.

Because there was no opposition for Liberty Hill city council positions, there will be no council election. Incumbents Troy Whitehead and Liz Rundzieher will serve another two-year term, and Jon Branigan will serve in the seat currently held by his mother, Elizabeth Branigan. Elizabeth Branigan chose not to seek re-election.

Place 1

Gerald Lorance has spent 25 years in the military where since 2014 he has served as Education and Incentives Supervisor at Texas Army National Guard at Camp Mabry.

He earned a Bachelor of Applied Arts and Science from Louisiana Tech University, Computer Aided Drafting and Design from Louisiana Technical Institute, and is working on a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration from Post University. He also completed coursework in personnel management and fiscal law through the US Army.

Lorance is president of Liberty Hill Youth Football & Cheer, president/founder of Liberty Hill Youth Wrestling Club and is a member of Liberty Hill PTO.

A resident of Liberty Hill for 18 years, Clint Stephenson is a local business owner with more than 20 years experience in business. He earned a Bachelor of Applied Science in Psychology from Texas Christian University.

Stephenson’s professional life has focused on the development and improvement of systems. As a longtime business owner, he says he has benefitted greatly from the community and believes public service is an opportunity to give back.

He and his wife, Amber, started a support group for the deaf that has impacted families in LHISD and throughout central Texas. He is a founder of the Panther Pit Crew, which donates to groups in LHISD.

Place 6

Jamie Etzkorn is an attorney with her own practice in downtown Liberty Hill. In business locally since 2009, she previously worked as an associate estate planning and probate attorney for the Motal Firm in Round Rock.

In 2005, she was an assistant county attorney in the Red River County District and County Attorneys office.

Etzkorn earned a Juris Doctor in 2005 from Texas Wesleyan University School of Law and a Bachelor of Social Work from Texas A&M University at Commerce in 2002.

She is a Board member of Operation Liberty Hill, is a Liberty Hill Education Connection volunteer, and is a Girl Scout Adult Volunteer.

Vickie Peterson is Strategic Federal Programs Manager at Dell EMC in Round Rock. From 2014-2016, she was a business teacher at Liberty Hill High School where she also served as DECA advisor and UIL computer applications coach.

In prior years, she taught fifth and second grades in Leander ISD. She also has previous business experience as owner of a summer youth camp and equine boarding facilities. She also worked for Dell in different management capacities from 1996-2005 and from 2011-2013.

Peterson earned a Bachelor of Science in Applied Learning and Development from the University of Texas.

Joshua Pritchett holds the rank of Major in the US Army, spending the past 17 years in active service.

He is currently stationed at Camp Mabry where he is Battalion Commander 1-133 Field Artillery.

He holds a MA Applied Administration degree from University of the Incarnate Word and a Bachelor’s of Science degree in criminal justice from University of Texas at San Antonio.

He is married to Kristen Pritchett and they have two daughters in Liberty Hill schools.

Pritchett is a member of the National Society of Leadership and Success.

Glen Reid is currently employed by HCR Manorcare as the Director of Rehab for a senior care community in northwest Austin. He is also on the weekend staff for St David’s Georgetown Hospital, and sees home health patients in the Liberty Hill area.

Reid’s educational background includes a BS in Biology from Angelo State, a BS in Occupational Therapy from Texas Tech, and a Masters in Public Administration, also from Texas Tech.

He volunteers at his primary place of employment to take residents to community events such as ball games or church. He is also a parent-volunteer for the Liberty Hill Youth Soccer Association.

Learn more about school board candidates through a Q&A with The Independent

Q: Why do you want to serve on the Board of Trustees?
LORANCE: I want to help insure that LHISD remains one of the top school districts in the state during this critical period of population growth. I want to be a part of an organization that helps teachers, administrators and, most of all, students remain in position to succeed at the highest level.
STEPHENSON: Effective involved parent leadership in a school board is crucial. I feel that with my involvement in the community I can bring “out of the box thinking” to strengthen our school system and improve opportunities for our children’s development. I also feel that I can bring a lot to the board in the way of helping oversee the schools being built and updated in our community to save money effectively so it can be distributed to other areas needed.
ETZKORN: I truly believe that your education is something that no one can ever take away from you.  I want to serve on the Liberty Hill ISD Board of Trustees to ensure that every child including my daughter who attends LHISD receives and will receive the highest educational opportunities available to promote their future selves in whatever path they choose upon graduation from high school.
PETERSON: This may sound really simple, but I care about people and I care about education. These two interests have served as major themes my entire life. I want to contribute to an environment where every child can grow to reach their full academic potential through a positive educational experience, and where every community member is proud to claim Liberty Hill ISD as their school of choice, every single day.
PRITCHETT: I would like to serve on the Board of Trustees so I can have the privilege to serve this great community.
REID: One of the biggest factors my wife and I considered when we moved to Liberty Hill from Round Rock was the quality of the school system. I desire to see that quality continue to improve as the Liberty Hill school system grows and adds facilities, staff, programs, etc. Growth in a school district is a good thing as it presents expanded opportunities for all of our children. In order to capitalize on the growth and opportunities, it is vital that the Trustees thoughtfully develop a vision for the future that allows for continued excellence we are accustomed to in the Liberty Hill ISD. My experience and background will be an asset to the Board of Trustees, and I hope to appeal to the voters of Liberty Hill who expect high standards in their school system.

Q: What prompted you to seek elected office this year?
LORANCE: I was prompted to run by parents in the district due to my involvement with the youth in the community and my ability to make the right decisions when there are hard choices in front of me. I believe in a practical approach to decision making, especially when it comes to school finance and being transparent and a good steward of taxpayer money. I understand that sometimes a decision needs to be made in a timely manner and ultimately have the best interest of the faculty and kids in mind.
STEPHENSON: I am at a place in my life that I am able to dedicate the time required for the commitment of being a board member. I am motivated to help the school board move towards the future leadership and development of our children. It starts with ensuring kids have all the resources possible to develop skills and knowledge preparing for our future leaders. “A Better School for a Better Tomorrow…”
ETZKORN: I have served on the Liberty Hill ISD District Educational Improvement Council (DEIC) as well as the Campus Educational Improvement Committee (CEIC) for Liberty Hill Elementary School for the past two years as a business owner in Liberty Hill. My involvement with these committees and other volunteer opportunities that I have had over the past two years inspired me to take a more active role in my daughter’s educational future as well as all the children in LHISD.  Also, I have been exposed and raised in the public educational system since I was born. My mother is another reason that I decided to seek a seat on the Board of Trustees. My mother has served the same public school district for 41 years and counting. I have observed her further her career from a teacher to middle school principal to administrator to now the superintendent of that district. I know first hand the struggles and triumphs that come along with being a public school district employee. Making sure that we at LHISD have the best support system and trainings in place for all employees of LHISD is vital to our children so that they have the best possible academic foundation.
PETERSON: I have always had a passion for serving in my community, whether volunteering at Operation Liberty Hill, serving as a Vacation Bible Study group leader, tutoring students, or sponsoring youth mission trips. Running for School Board Trustee felt like a natural next step to serve in an educational leadership capacity given my interests and background. Social responsibility is an important duty we all share as we strive to make our world a better place.
PRITCHETT: Although new to the community, I believe that serving on the school board provides an ideal opportunity to serve, and help shape the lives of youth in the area.
REID: This is an exciting time to be living in Liberty Hill, and I am proud to be a part of this community. There is growth and development everywhere you look.  I have considered seeking a position on the Board for a quite some time. Now that my family and I have had several years to get acquainted with and fall in love with this town, it is time to turn that consideration into action. I have put heartfelt thought into running, and I have talked to many people in our great community to get their thoughts and feedback. It feels like the right time to seek this position.

Q: What type of background, experience or special interest do you have that you believe would make you effective as a board member?
LORANCE: I have over 25 years of military experience, making decisions and being held accountable for them on a daily basis. I am board president and a coach of the local youth football and cheer organization as well as the founder and president of the local youth wrestling club. I was a member of, and chaired, the 2016 committee for the last school bond, which is paving the way for improvement at multiple LHISD campuses. I am constantly around kids and parents of all ages, conversing on many issues that affect multiple generations.
STEPHENSON: I have been a successful business owner for over 20 years in the construction industry. My leadership and communication skills with architects, engineers and builders have built relationships to be successful. I feel that with these trustworthy leadership qualities I can help build partnerships in our community. Additionally, I co-founded a local district support group, The Panther Pit Crew that works in helping kids and faculty in all programs from academics, arts, and athletics to be the best they can be.
ETZKORN: As I stated in the questions above, I have served on the DEIC of LHISD and the CEIC for Liberty Hill Elementary for the past two years assisting with improvement plans both for the district as well as LHES. I volunteer as a reading mentor twice a week at LHES thru the Education Connection program. I personally grew up in a household of a public education employee.  I have been an adult volunteer with Girl Scouts of Central Texas since 2008 serving as a Troop Leader and Co-Service Unit Director. My undergraduate degree is a Bachelor’s in Social Work. I have served as an attorney ad litem for children placed in the foster system which means I represent them on their education journey attending all school conferences including ARD (Admission, Review, and Dismissal) meetings. Lastly, I currently serve as a board member and secretary of the Board of Directors of Operation Liberty Hill.
PETERSON: As a parent and former teacher, I am focused on taking the right actions to offer each student the opportunity to achieve their full academic potential. As community members we all share in the responsibility of helping pave the path for our youth. I consider this responsibility one of the most critical roles we can serve.
My experience includes 6 years of teaching at the elementary grades (2nd and 5th) in Leander ISD and 2 years of experience teaching Business classes at Liberty Hill High School. Working at LHHS provided a first-hand view of being a part of the amazing LHISD team.
I also have 13+ years of corporate experience in the IT industry, holding positions in sales, project management, change management and leadership. This combination offers me the ability to see from the view of an excited young learner to that of a business leader making decisions for the well-being of the overall organization.
PRITCHETT: Throughout my 17 years of active service in the Army, I have been blessed with the opportunity to lead others in a variety of environments. During this time I was also afforded the opportunity to serve on several types of committees that addressed administrative, budgetary, marketing, and facility management challenges facing the organization.
REID: I am an Occupational Therapist with a Master’s degree in Public Administration. I have worked in various levels of management in a variety of health care settings. In all of these settings, I have been responsible for budgeting, staffing, procurement of equipment and meeting performance metrics while providing the highest quality of care. These activities are performed within the standards set by both state and federal regulations and the complexities of the health care insurance industry. The skills I use day to day in a highly regulated work environment are the same skills I would bring to a Board of Trustees position. That type of experience will be a valuable asset for a board member as we consider the decisions that will have an impact on our school system for many years to come.

Q: How long have you lived in the Liberty Hill school district, and do you have children who attend school here?
LORANCE: My family and I have been in the LHISD for two years but, I was raised in a very similar school district and have lived in similar situations leading up to making our permanent home in Liberty Hill. We have four students in three of the LHISD schools.
STEPHENSON: I have lived here for approximately 18 years. My wife Amber and I have 2 children that attend our schools and member of Fellowship Church.
ETZKORN: My family and I have lived in the boundaries of LHISD since the Fall 2013. We have one child that attends LHISD.  I have owned a business in LHISD since October 2010.
PETERSON: My husband, Jason, and our two daughters, Kaitlyn and Courtney, moved to Liberty Hill in 2009. Kaitlyn graduated from LHHS in 2016 and Courtney is currently a junior at LHHS.
PRITCHETT: My family and I moved from Leander to Liberty Hill about a year ago. I have a 16-year old that attends Liberty Hill High School, and my six-year old will be attending 1st grade at Liberty Hill Elementary next year.
REID: My family moved to Liberty Hill in 2012 and have loved being a part of this community since we arrived. I am proud of my wife, Katie, who has served as Bill Burden PTO Vice President for three years. We have two amazing daughters in LHISD, Lauren (6th grade) and Ella (2nd grade). I am involved in our daughters’ education and have a vested interest in the future of the Liberty Hill education system.We are a fully committed Panther family!

Q: What do you believe Liberty Hill ISD is doing best? What areas do you believe need improvement? 
LORANCE: I believe that Liberty Hill ISD is doing its best to satisfy the needs of its teachers by hiring the right people for the team, and keeping the teacher-student ratio at a reasonable one in order to maximize the learning environment our kids need and what our parents desire. I don’t think we are there yet and want the district to remain competitive when it comes to comparable teacher salaries, bringing in and keeping the most talented and capable faculty possible.
STEPHENSON: Our schools system is one of the best academically in the state. This is what we do best. We need to improve in employee retention to maintain high quality teachers and staff.
ETZKORN: I believe LHISD is doing a great job of developing and maintaining an outstanding reputation for education in the Central Texas area and statewide. I believe that LHISD is a school district that attracts quality educators for our children.
One area that I see that needs improvement in some situations and at some campuses is campus morale and campus cohesiveness. A strong school district and a solid educational foundation begin with employees that love and enjoy their job. The employees’ enthusiasm for education spreads to all who come in contact with them. Another area that I see that needs improvement is the special education programs of LHISD. I would love to see more resources devoted to these children and their learning.
PETERSON: I feel LHISD is doing many things right. It is easy to see and feel the Panther pride with our students, teachers and coaches through their commitment and long standing achievements in UIL academic and athletic programs. Additionally, the mentor program between our high school and elementary children is building compassion and social responsibility into the hearts of our students. We also demonstrate fiscal responsibility in our growth planning with the recent decision to keep 5th and 6th grades at the Intermediate School, maintaining equity between schools and therefore delaying the need for a bond election for the near term.
However, many facets are critical for a positive educational experience. At minimum, this includes providing safe schools, offering the right academic programs and support services for all students, and equipping our educators with relevant resources and professional development opportunities. With the growth we have experienced, and will continue to face, these basic facets are being pressured and we must keep asking ourselves if there is a better way to solve each challenge differently than we are today.
PRITCHETT: It is hard to point out a single area where the ISD is doing best. If I had to choose a single one it would be the reason we moved to Liberty Hill. That would be the school district’s reputation of high academic standards and delivering a first class education to its students. I have found that the academic programs to be of the highest caliber.
REID: I believe kids in the Liberty Hill school system receive a high quality, well-rounded educational experience. Core academics are solid. There is ample opportunity to participate in a wide variety of extracurricular activities that are also of high quality. It is important to me that we continue to focus on these areas as our school district grows. My personal experiences with the school system have primarily been at The Hill, Bill Burden, and Intermediate, and I believe all of the teachers and staff at each of those schools are doing an excellent job educating our children. I believe our teachers and resources have been stretched in the elementary grades these past two years, and I will work to alleviate the over-crowding to ensure the educators and students have the most favorable atmosphere for teaching and learning. I’ve always thought that there is nothing more beneficial to support a child’s education than a first-rate library and reading resource program.  I would like to see more resources for our libraries/book room at all of the campuses.

Q: How do you feel about the following legislative proposals?
– Making public funds available to families who want to send their children to private or religious schools.

LORANCE: I think that public funds should be used for just that, public school systems. I don’t think that public funds should be made available to private or religious school families, as that is their choice to forgo the public school system. There is a voucher system already in place in some states to assist in the offsetting of tuition costs for parents who qualify and who want their kids to attend certain schools for religious or higher education preparatory reasons.
STEPHENSON: These are tough questions that even our lawmakers in Austin are struggling with. I see pros and cons. I respect the idea of providing choices to parents, however the state must figure a way to hold private schools accountable, which is very unclear.
ETZKORN: I do not support the current bill that is being proposed to enable a school choice or voucher program for public schools. I do not believe public tax dollars should be siphoned away from public schools and educational programs to private or religious schools. Public school districts already struggle to balance and maintain quality ratings with the state funds they are given now.  Taking money away from these districts in my opinion will be the beginning of the end for public school districts. Of course, I believe that all parents have a choice where to send their child or children to school.  However, I do not believe public tax dollars should follow that child or children to a private or religious school.
PETERSON: One thing that I have learned as a parent, teacher, and leader in change management, making the right decision for the most important challenges is not a simple process. This issue is complex and each decision made creates a domino effect in other areas that must be evaluated in an ongoing manner. You have to weigh every possible side and consider every potential ripple effect before determining what you believe is the best answer. There are changes that our public school systems should consider, but I do not believe removing any resource or funding from them is the right answer.
State Rep. Gary VanDeaver stated it very well in the Austin American-Statesman, April 16, 2017 article (p. A11) ‘Legislature In-Depth: ‘Private School Vouchers’. “I believe that anything that pulls anything from the public school system rather than improving it, is not good policy.”
PRITCHETT: Although it may have some flaws, I believe that the Texas Public School system is a very solid institution that works hard to ensure that they focus on student achievement and success. A fiduciary responsibility for taxpayer money exist within the government, implementing this program would greatly inhibit their ability to fully capitalize on their resources.
REID: I am strongly opposed to the use of public funds for private or religious schools. In a community like Liberty Hill, life revolves around the public school as all children deserve an opportunity to quality education. And what better feeling than to see your friends and neighbors in the Alamodome cheering for the Lady Panthers at the state tournament! Vouchers, school choice, or whatever its being called this session, take taxpayer money away from the public schools ultimately punishing the hard working educators and all of our children. I fully support tax revenue being used to fund public education. I have nothing against anyone who wants to send their child to a private school, just don’t pay for it with my tax money.

– A state accountability system that grades school performance with letter grades A-F.
LORANCE: While I am not totally opposed to the grading system, I want to fully understand how it is being applied and how many variables are accounted for in the ratings. With better understanding, the district can then identify deficiencies and bring them to the attention of the state to take corrective action where possible.
STEPHENSON: I strongly support an accountability system for tracking performance across the state. The key is a system that is easy to understand, accurate, and provides value. Liberty Hill ISD board approved a resolution calling on the Legislature to repeal the newly-implemented rating system for public schools along with hundreds of other districts, because the new system initially has not achieved what lawmakers intended for it to achieve. It will be interesting to see if legislators make changes to the A-F system before the official roll out set for August 2018.
ETZKORN: It is my understanding that when the Texas Legislators created the A-F accountability system the main purpose was to give local control back to the local school districts. I support the state accountability system that grades school performance of a child with a letter grade rather than a number grade. I believe the letter grade system will take pressure off both the students and the teachers and allow more time for quality education that can be measured and conveyed to the students and parents in a more meaningful way. The letter grading system is already being used in post-secondary schools. For example, at the law school I attended, our first year was with number grades. In my second and third year, the law school moved to a letter grading system.
PETERSON: I believe an accountability system is necessary. However, the rating system is not perfect and it requires continued communication between the schools and the state to better understand how each of the 5 Domains are measured. It is also important to communicate the accountability measurements to our students, parents and community. For example, Domain IV is driven heavily by student absenteeism rates. Communicating the importance of attending school each and every day helps drive more awareness. Our ultimate goal is to make LHISD a destination district. The more we can educate ourselves on the performance system we are measured by, the better we can prepare our leaders, our staff and our students to excel.
PRITCHETT: I believe that an accountability system for all public service organizations are key to keeping the organization and the ones they serve healthy. The proposed letter grading system would be a good method of assessing the performance of schools as long as it clearly delineates and communicates the required metrics to achieve the required standards.
REID: I believe there is merit to having a system to track and measure school performance; however, I DO NOT support the proposed A-F grading system.  From what I’ve read about the A-F system, it falls far short of providing a clear objective measure of a schools’ overall performance. I also agree with the analysis of most of those who work in public education that it is an intentionally biased rating tool that relies heavily on performance metrics that can skew the ratings lower in those schools that serve a higher percentage of economically disadvantaged students.

Q: If elected, what will be your top priority?
LORANCE: If elected, my priority will be to improve communication among our faculty, students and parents. I have been involved with other school districts and see that as a chief concern when it does not exist. Effective communication is a two way process which improves not only how send messages but, how we receive and react to them as well.
STEPHENSON: I would like to maintain and increase community involvement with the various campuses of our district, and help the district with saving money during the construction process so that we have more funds available to teachers and students.
ETZKORN: If I am elected, my top priority will be to ensure that every child receives the best education fitted to that individual child while LHISD grows and flourishes along with the developments in our community.
PETERSON: I am focused on taking the right actions to offer each student the opportunity to achieve their full academic potential. This includes keeping our schools safe and offering the right academic programs and support services for all students. My top priority is to make Liberty Hill ISD the safest and highest performing school district in the state of Texas.
PRITCHETT: I believe that one of the most important responsibilities we have as adults is to ensure that the next generation receives a top-notch education that prepares them for life on their own as contributing Texans. This includes ensuring that the schools are educating children on the skills necessary for them to think critically, and independently for themselves and ultimately allowing the students to grow to their full potential.
REID: My top priority is staying ahead of the growth curve and safeguarding plans for future facilities, programs, and support networks we need to keep the educational experience at the level of excellence we are used to in the Liberty Hill school system. As the district grows, I would like to ensure that we continue to develop and to expand offerings in STEM classes, as well as offerings for dual credit classes to give our graduates who pursue a college education the best chance for success.

Q: In your view, what is the biggest challenge facing the school district in the coming years?
LORANCE: I believe that continued growth will be a challenge that if not managed well, could create an issue with a lack of both quality and quantity of the education our students deserve.
STEPHENSON: Retaining highly qualified teachers. We need to identify and reward strong teachers and we need to expand our professional development offerings, pay/perks/stipends, so all teachers can improve their performance in the classroom.
ETZKORN: The biggest challenge facing LHISD that I see in our near future and coming years is the growth inside the LHISD boundaries.
PETERSON: I think our biggest challenge is planning for our continued growth and ensuring we keep communication open throughout this growth. My family and I have lived here for 8 years and we love calling Liberty Hill “home”.
We are grateful that Liberty Hill continues to offer a small town feeling even through our current expansion. A growing community can benefit from additional resources, different talents and through working in sync with each other. By getting to know those who have grown up here along with those who recently moved here, we can preserve the closeness our town has provided for many years ahead while tackling our biggest challenges together.
PRITCHETT: I think the greatest challenge the school district will face in the future is already here and that is rapid population growth. I believe that Liberty Hill faces the same challenge that other communities in the central Texas region are experiencing. It is becoming difficult to keep up with the required infrastructure and facilities required to maintain the pace with the increase in population.
REID: Demographic projections indicate that Liberty Hill will continue to grow and with that growth will be more students. More students will require expanded or additional facilities in the coming years.  Planning for growth has been my theme throughout most of these questions, and I believe that will continue to be one of our biggest challenges that will require thoughtful and intentional conversation.

Q: How many school board meetings have you attended in the past 12 months?
LORANCE: I have attended seven school board meetings in the last 12 months to observe the continued growth of the district, be aware of the issues being brought forward and monitor the progress of the school bond that I chaired in the spring of 2016 that is responsible for the building of Rancho Sienna Elementary, updating the current FFA facility, constructing a control vestibule at the “Hill” elementary as well as other improvements to schools in LHISD.
STEPHENSON: I have not attended any school board meetings but I am very educated on the past agendas and the current issues our board will be addressing.
ETZKORN: Because of my involvement and work with the DEIC of LHISD and the CEIC of LHES, I did not feel it was necessary for me to attend any school board meetings during the past 12 months.
PETERSON: I have attended two school board meetings in the past 12 months (and plan to attend Monday, April 17th as the 3rd). My purpose for attending is to get informed on the issues our school district and community is currently facing.
PRITCHETT: I have attended two meetings in the past 12 months. I attended these meetings so to become informed on current and potential issues facing the ISD.
REID: Two, one meeting recognized the LHISD UIL winners (which included my daughter), and the other for general observation.

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