Clay Today | By Nick Blank | March 30, 2022
CLAY COUNTY – A three-term Clay County School Board incumbent could face three challengers this fall.
Incumbent Janice Kerekes and challengers April Peebles, Chris Kirk and Erin Skipper all have filed candidacy paperwork to run for the District 1 seat.
Kerekes is completing her third term on the board, or 12 years overall. Her district encompasses Fleming Island and parts of Orange Park.
Kerekes said the function of the board is to give students and teachers tools to be successful while respecting parent choice. All of that requires a balanced budget, she said.
“We still have more to do,” Kerekes said. “I’m proud of our track record, like our district’s high ranking, healthy reserves, high test scores and graduation rate.”
Major issues for Kerekes include fiscal responsibility, school safety and providing educational options to students like career and technical education. The county’s rapid growth is complex, she said, with more schools needing to be built, but the influx of tax dollars can also support district goals and programs.
“The more growth and development that comes into the county, the stronger our school district is, and the more companies can recruit people to come,” Kerekes said.
Peebles is a photographer who attended Clay County schools and reared children who did the same. Peebles, a former teacher involved in numerous school-related activities, said elected officials have to balance thinking for themselves and representing the community, which her background has provided her.
Community-minded, she sees running as a way of giving back.
“I view myself as a parent for parents and teacher for teachers if I were on the board,” she said.
She described herself as an advocate for school choice and said she would push for transparency.
“Parent’s rights should come first,” Peebles said. “They are the caretakers.”
Addressing nationwide teacher and bus driver shortages are key issues for Peebles. Employee retention and recruitment are critical as the county grows, she said.
“My concern with the growth is we’re building schools, but we don’t have the teachers to fill them,” Peebles said.
The next candidate is Kirk, a veteran of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. After his retirement, community members told him about the school board seat and he felt it was the right fit.
Kirk has lived in Clay County since 2001, where he was a substitute teacher for 10 years in different subject areas. He coached several sports for eight years.
“I want these kids and this county to do the best they can,” he said.
He called for stability in a volatile time for American schools.
“I want to make us one team going in one direction,” Kirk said. “There’s going to be a lot of hard decisions down the road and tough financial decisions.”
He wanted to target school safety, mental health topics and civics education.
“The most important thing is, the kids are our future,” Kirk said. “We’re trying to get them in the right direction.”
Skipper is a nurse who said she comes from a long line of educators. With two small children, she ran for the seat due to concerns of where the school board was heading, she said.
Parents’ and children’s rights, especially medical freedom, are a major topic for Skipper. She said she would fight for school safety and so the district teaches students how to think rather than what to think.
“Ultimately, the rights we have I want to help keep and the rights we don’t have I want to help us get,” Skipper said.
Skipper said education is evolving and no situation is one size fits all. She wanted the district to encourage success at home.
As for the district’s situation, Skipper said it was difficult for the county to anticipate its growth and the district is trying to keep up.
“I think we need to be spending our money more efficiently, these are taxpayer dollars,” Skipper said.
The primary is on Aug. 23 and the general election is on Nov. 8.