Jon Atchue

Jon Atchue

The Gills Creek District seat on the Franklin County School Board will have no incumbent during this year’s election in November. Karen Hiltz has announced she will not seek re-election.

Hiltz said she came to the decision as her husband, Chuck, reaches retirement age, and they consider the next step in their life. Stepping down from the school board will give them more time to travel and visit their home in Florida, she said.

The change also will give Hiltz more time to focus on other work. She is currently writing a book on education that she expects to be finished in the coming months. In the book Hiltz gives different perspectives of the education experience through multiple interviews.

Looking back at her time on the school board, Hiltz said there have been some accomplishments. The board’s decision to implement the New Tech program in 2016 was one that she’s most proud of. Students in the program use a project-based learning model that helps them with critical thinking and problem solving.

Hiltz admitted there have been some disappointments during her time on the board. She said she let her constituents down by not doing more to build a positive relationship with the Franklin County Board of Supervisors.

Supervisors have been known to clash with the school board, especially during annual budget discussions.

“I think there is much work to be done,” Hiltz said of the relationship between the two boards.

One area of contention is the career and technical education project at the high school. The school board and supervisors are at a disagreement on what the project should include and how much it should cost.

Hiltz said she also disagrees with the school board’s current proposal for the career and technical education project. She said the current project is more of a redesign of the entire Franklin County High School campus. “I think the proposal is an overreach for Franklin County,” she said.

This December, Hiltz will be stepping down at the end of her first term after first joining the school board in 2016. So far, only one candidate has announced plans to run for the seat.

Jon Atchue said he had considered running for school board for several months before officially announcing earlier this month. He and his family moved to the area in 2016 and his son, Nathan, currently attends Benjamin Franklin Middle School.

Atchue said he is pleased with the school system and what it has done for his son, but he thinks that more work could be done. “I would like to see our good schools become great schools,” he said.

Much of Atchue’s early career was spent working with students. He was a career counselor for students at Boston College. He later oversaw a cooperative education program at Suffolk University in Boston.

Atchue later moved into the corporate world and spent more than two decades developing workforce readiness programs for companies like McDonalds and RR Donnelley. He said that experience in education and workforce development will be useful skills for a member of the school board.

In the past few weeks Atchue has met with other board members, teachers and Franklin County Public Schools Superintendent Mark Church. He said he wants to find out from them what they think is working and what is not working in the school system. He especially wants to make sure teachers’ concerns are heard. “Let’s help our teachers help our kids,” he said.

The career and technical education project is one area Atchue said he would like to focus on. He said the school board should step back and refine current plans in a way that would help to attract more businesses and families to the area.

Atchue said he would also like to build a stronger friendship between supervisors and the school board. Instead of working together mostly during budget preparations, Atchue would like to see the two boards collaborate throughout the year so supervisors can better understand the goals of the school district.

“I come to this with the view of continuous improvement,” Atchue said. “We can always strive to make things better.”