School board candidates share thoughts on present, future of district

Joshua Baethge, For the Anna-Melissa Tribune

ANNA - Anna voters will finally get their chance to fill two Anna ISD Board of Trustees seats.

Originally scheduled for May, the school board election was moved to November due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Both races feature an incumbent squaring off against one challenger.

In the Place 5 race, Clark Miller is seeking his second term. He faces Rebecca Saveal.

Clark Miller

Miller, the incumbent, said he has learned a lot in the past three years and is thankful for the training that has helped him quickly grasp how everything runs.

“If you’ve never been on the board, I don’t think it’s ever what you think it is until you get there,” he said.

The district has undergone many changes over the course of his tenure, including a new superintendent and other changes in administration.

He said he’s proud of the district’s many accomplishments during this time, such as completing the high school’s CTE wing and adding programs like wrestling, the Hope Squad peer-support group, and the Thrive mental-health program.

There have also been many challenges, chief among them working through the pandemic.

“This has been the most mentally draining seven months of my life,” he said.

The economic impact of the pandemic forced Miller to close his local mixed martial arts gym. It also wreaked havoc on the local youth sports programs that he helps run.

Overall, he’s satisfied with how the district has pulled through the crisis. While not ideal, he thinks this year has started off well with COVID-19 cases staying relatively low and more children returning to the classroom.

Miller wants to continue on the board in large part because of his own children. He has five of them - the oldest in high school, the youngest not yet old enough for kindergarten.

In the coming years, he sees the district’s biggest challenges as continuing to deal with the funding changes caused by House Bill 3 and dealing with Anna’s rapid growth.

He said the desire to serve motivated him and his wife to find ways to contribute to the community. Miller is involved in various youth sports programs and is the online color commentator for Anna High School football games.

“We love to be involved in the community. Our hearts are in Anna,” he said. “We like to serve and participate anywhere we can.”

Rebecca Saveal

Saveal said that she has been a member of the PTA at four different schools and found out that she was good at it. She was also influenced by her late sister who taught teachers on the college level.

“I know what a good school district looks like,” Saveal said. “I know what the politics are like. I know how you can have proper communication with the groups that disagree. I’ve seen it and I’ve watched it.”

She has a special needs child in the district and said her experience has shown there is not enough advocacy and too much turnaround within the special education program.

If elected, she says she won’t just tackle that issue on the Anna ISD level. She vows to “revamp the entire special ed program from the top down.”

Saveal filed a grievance against Anna ISD last year and accuses officials of “lawyering up” instead of working with her to collaboratively formulate a solution. She has leveled serious allegations against the district accusing multiple people of misconduct and intimidation.

This is not the first time Saveal has considered running for the school board. Two years ago, her ex-boyfriend was talking to a friend about running for the school board. According to Saveal, at one point the friend looked at her and said she should be the one running for the seat.

“He said, ‘She’s got it. She understands. She’s seeing it. She’s reasonable. She’s the person we need back there who can sort of fill in the missing gaps,’” Saveal recalled.

At that moment, she said the idea for running for school board “just clicked.” Unfortunately for her, that idea came too late to get on the ballot. This year, she made sure to register in plenty of time.

Regarding her qualifications, Saveal said she is right for the position because she loves kids and is working toward becoming a pediatrician. She added that she is patient, loves people and education.

Currently, Saveal works in the pharmaceutical industry. Her long-term goal is to one day work side by side with her daughter, who also wants to be a pediatrician.

The Place 7 race features longtime trustee Larissa Thornburg facing off against Joshua Carpenter.

Larissa Thornburg

Thornburg has been in Anna for 23 years and served on the school board for the past 12 years. She said she is proud of the many accomplishments the board has achieved over the course of her tenure.

“We’ve implemented a lot of great programs that are closing the gap on education,” she said. “We’ve completed a great CTE wing, we’re building great facilities, monitoring growth and we were able to reduce taxes last year.”

She hopes to continue on the board because she truly enjoys advocating for kids. She built friendships with members of other schools throughout the state and is regularly exchanging ideas with them. Sometimes this gives her a heads-up on new programs that could potentially benefit Anna students.

Shes said that while not everyone goes to college, her goal is to help all of them be successful in whatever they choose to do, whether that’s a white-collar job, a blue-collar career or joining the military.

Thornburg works in the financial department at Plano ISD. She says that actively working in public school administration gives her an in-depth knowledge of issues all districts face. This allows her to share ideas she has learned with Anna administrators.

Her job also requires her to know all the in and outs of education-related legislation, including House Bill 3, which drastically changed the way districts are funded.

If re-elected, she expects one of her biggest challenges to be helping the district manage growth. She considers it a good thing because it allows the district to offer more programs. However it also requires more facilities, and particular attention must be paid to ensuring that students continue to receive a quality education.

The district must also address some of the education gaps that have been created by COVID-19. She plans to work to improve face-to-face interaction with students that will close that gap. According to her, the district has an impressive group of teachers and staff who are pouring their hearts into doing just that.

“Not only core education is important, the reading, writing and math, but teaching them life skills is important as well,” Thornburg said. “I think our teachers are doing a really good job of meeting our kids at their needs.”

Joshua Carpenter

Carpenter said the kids are the reason he decided to run for the board of trustees. He has seven children. One of them has graduated and the remaining six are in various states of their school careers.

Being involved is important to the Carpenter family. In addition to being a practicing attorney, Carpenter serves as the announcer for the Anna High School marching band during football halftime shows.

He and his wife coach sports, and their children are involved in nearly every school activity.

“We figured I might as well get involved because we obviously have a very vested interest in making sure things in the district are going well.”

According to Carpenter, the biggest challenge Anna ISD faces is managing growth. He wants to make sure the district has the right facilities, teachers and administrators. That includes maintaining and increasing teacher salaries so that the district remains competitive. It’s a challenging task considering that many of projects need to be funded before the district can generate revenue from those future taxpayers.

“It’s kind of this nightmare scenario that many of these smaller North Texas towns are facing,” he said. “We just need to follow the right examples and do what needs to be done to ensure that the kids are being taken care of.”

He sees the goal of Anna as a place where people continue wanting to come to because of its quality schools.

While he commends his opponent's work over the course of her tenure, Carpenter said it’s time for a new voice on the board.

“She’s done a great job and a great service but it’s somebody else’s turn,” he said. “With my kids in the system and everything else going on, I would say it’s time to give me a shot.”