BENTONVILLE -- A current School Board member hopes to retain her seat but faces a challenge from a political newcomer.
Jennifer Faddis was elected to the board in 2020, when she defeated Jim Parsons of Bella Vista. Her opponent this time is another Bella Vista resident, Gail Pianalto.
The Bentonville School Board has seven members. Until this year, each member represented a specific zone of the School District; the board agreed to restructure itself so five positions are based on geographic zones and two are at-large. Residents therefore get to vote for their zone representative and for both of the at-large members when those seats come up for election.
Each of the five zoned seats are up for election this year. Once the board is seated after the November elections, members will draw a term length ranging from one to five years so their terms will be staggered. Board members normally serve five-year terms.
Zone 2 covers Bella Vista west of Bella Vista Way and stretches south to Vaughn Road in southwest Bentonville, incorporating north and west Centerton as well.
School board positions are nonpartisan and unpaid in Arkansas.
The board over the last few years has faithfully served the wishes of the superintendent and administration but has failed to "authentically and transparently" represent their constituents, Pianalto said.
"They have disregarded the concerns of parents and their right to make educational and health-related decisions for their children," Pianalto said.
The board has approved the spending of millions of dollars while asking very few questions regarding those expenditures, she said.
She said she's running because she cares about children and wants them to have the tools to overcome whatever educational challenges they face. She served for five years as a volunteer court-appointed special advocate in Benton County, advocating for young children in the foster care system.
"I have the skills, experience, education and time to be a resource and advocate for parents in the Bentonville School District, many of whom are dedicated teachers and are also busy raising their own families," she said.
If elected, she said she would advocate for a focus on foundational basics, with a goal of raising standardized test scores; would facilitate communication in educational decisions between district leaders, parents and stakeholders; would address key factors in staff job satisfaction that will lead to hiring and retaining excellent teachers; and would support fair and sensible spending.
Faddis said she's running for reelection primarily because she has children in the district and wants the best for them and all kids in the district.
"I know that God has called me to serve in my community, and, because of that calling, I will fight against anything or anyone that might harm our students," Faddis said.
She also wants to keep politics out of the board.
"The School Board should never be about a national political agenda," she said.
Faddis would like to expand the district's Ignite program, which allows high school students extensive time to explore a particular career area. Increasing teacher pay and improving parental involvement are two of her other main goals, she said.
Growth is the district's biggest challenge, she said, adding she's proud of administrators for compiling a 10-year plan -- available on the district's website -- that keeps growth at the forefront of board members' minds.
Faddis said she is also proud to be part of a united board.
"We haven't always agreed on everything, but we have worked together with the same common goal to ensure that our students receive the highest quality education that they deserve. I am also proud that we have voted the past two years to give teacher bonuses, and that we are continuing to work toward compensating our teachers like they deserve."
Bentonville School Board
Residency: Centerton for 18 years
Occupation: Christian counselor for Still Waters Family Counseling
Education: Master’s degree in community counseling, University of Central Arkansas; bachelor’s degree in psychology, Ouachita Baptist University
Political experience: Bentonville School Board, 2020 to present
Residency: Bella Vista for seven years
Occupation: Retired nurse
Education: Master’s degree in leadership and ethics and bachelor’s degree in organizational management, both from John Brown University in Siloam Springs
Political experience: None