The application period for the open District 4 seat on the Williamson County Schools Board of Education closed on Friday, and the Williamson County Board of Commissioners is working its way through a stack of 10 applications.
After District 4 school board member Brad Fiscus moved out of the state at the end of September, District 4 commissioners Gregg Lawrence and Chad Story were tasked with interviewing applicants and choosing a nominee at the upcoming county commission meeting on Monday, Oct. 11. Other commissioners may also nominate any applicant, and the first to earn a majority vote from the 24-member board will fill the seat until the position is up for election in August of 2022.
Here are the 10 community members living in the county’s fourth district who have applied to become the newest school board member.
Anita Aluotto is the head of tax at a behavioral health company, the vice president of the Nashville chapter of the Tax Executives Institute and mother of two children in WCS.
While she said she's “not as well-versed in the school board matters,” she hopes to represent a “regular mom.”
“I kind of feel … not understanding that is also a good thing,” she said. “It’s just like, ‘Hey, I’m a regular mom, who just knows that the decisions the school board makes impacts the children of the schools, impacts the parents, impacts the teachers. And originally, just going into it, I was like, I would love to be part of that.”
She believes her tax background would help with fiscal management, and she hopes to listen to the concerns of all her constituents.
“I absolutely appreciate and understand the concern of the parents and all of the stuff that’s been going on,” she said. “I think it’s important that our curriculum meets the proper state standards while also ensuring that all of our students feel confident, welcome and safe in our schools.”
Josh Brown is a parent of three children in WCS and is himself a product of the schools as a fourth-generation Williamson Countian. He is also a national vice president at Pfizer.
As a Williamson County native, Brown believes he understands the community and the things that matter to WCS parents.
“Being involved in the community, which I have over the past 25 to 30 years as a resident of the community, gives me an appreciation and understanding for where people in the community are coming from and what the expectations are and just being known as someone who’s willing to listen and to treat everyone fairly,” he said.
He shared that opportunities like becoming part of the school board don’t come along every day, and he would like to “step in, be a part of the conversation, be a part of the solution.”
Elliott Franklin is an information technology and cybersecurity professional who has lived in Williamson County since 2018 with his wife and six kids. His oldest currently studies at Columbia State Community College, his second-oldest is at Page High School and his four youngest children attend a private school in Middle Tennessee.
Franklin formerly lived in Texas, where he served on planning and zoning boards in Bulverde and Cibolo, both cities just north of San Antonio, and also as an alderman on the City Council of Bulverde. In Williamson County, he currently serves on his HOA board.
Franklin said he wanted to take a “crawl, walk, run” approach after moving to a new community and start with school board.
He said he’s the kind of person who can get along with anyone, and he hopes to be a voice of reason as a school board member. He said his job puts him in the position of being an “incident response leader” within companies, and he believes his experience responding to issues in his profession would transfer well to the school board.
“When a company is hacked, it’s like, OK, we’re going to get in a war room. We’re going to take all the politics and the emotion out. We’re going to just write facts down on the white board,” he said, adding that he places a lot of value on listening to others and understanding different viewpoints. “We’re all smart, so let’s just use what we’ve been given to benefit others.”
Franklin said his parents were both educators, and he hopes to give back to the community by serving on the school board.
Aaron Greeno is a senior analyst in finance at Nissan, father of four children in WCS and husband of a Kenrose Elementary second grade teacher. Greeno and his family moved from Southern California five years ago. Having conversed with his wife about the goings on of WCS over the past several years, when his neighbor, Brad Fiscus, announced he was moving, he spoke with Fiscus about applying for the position and said he got his recommendation.
Greeno said while a lot of work has been done as the county has rapidly grown, there is a lot of work ahead as the population is expected to roughly double between now and 2040.
“As I’m looking at the growth ahead and some of the hot topics that we have going on in the current school year, in long-term, we’re looking at some kind of boring stuff in terms of we’re going to need more schools, there are going to be zoning changes, there are going to be staffing constraints — there’s already some of those starting to pop up,” he said, adding that short-term issues include continuing to “manage through COVID” and listening to families’ needs around curriculum.
He said he loves the “students first” motto, believing that everyone can agree on that even if they disagree about how it should manifest. He hopes to talk with constituents face to face and allow them to truly feel heard.
“It seems like we’ve kind of dehumanized our communication a little bit,” he said. “It sounds like people are responding out of a sense of, ‘Nobody’s really listening. I’m yelling into the atmosphere, and nobody’s hearing it.’”
Edina Kishonthy is a licensed marriage and family therapist with a private practice in Brentwood. She grew up in Hungary when the Communist Party had full political control, where she became a published novelist and later went on to study film production and marriage and family therapy. Kishonthy later lived in Los Angeles and moved to Franklin with her family in 2018.
Kishonthy shared in her application for the school board position (she could not immediately be reached for comment) that her family was “happy to see how much better [WCS] schools were than the district” they left in California.
“However, the district’s complete failure to adopt a workable day-to-day educational policy in response to COVID and the low quality of the newly adopted English language arts curriculum forced us to reconsider,” she wrote. “Seeing the rapid decline in the quality of education, we reluctantly pulled our daughter from [WCS] and enrolled her in a private school.”
Kishonthy is a member of the Facebook page of the Moms For Liberty Williamson County chapter.
She said if appointed to the position, she pledges to “work on improving the schools” to make it a place she and her husband would be happy to send their daughter again.
Bridget Parkes is a partner at construction consultant firm Compass Partners with a background in construction law. She has two children, one at Clovercroft Elementary and another who will start at Clovercroft next year. She also serves on her HOA and on the board of Beacon Impact, an advocacy arm of the Beacon Center of Tennessee, which is a nonprofit free-market think tank.
Parkes moved to Williamson County at 5 years old and returned to Franklin with her husband after pursuing a career and schooling in Ohio and Knoxville.
“We love Williamson County and love that our children will grow up here,” she wrote in her application for the school board position.
Parkes could not immediately be reached for comment.
Timothy Malone is an executive for a medical device manufacturing company who is also a Navy veteran, a paramedic and nurse and an assistant Scoutmaster for Boy Scouts Troop 8 in Brentwood. He grew up in Smyrna and currently lives in Williamson County with his wife and three children, who all attend Woodland Middle School.
Malone said he decided to apply for the position after seeing “overreaching” and “broad swipes” by school boards across the U.S.
“Parents and the pediatricians that the parents choose to work with are the best judge of healthcare and the best judge of planned medicine,” Malone said.
As an executive, he is not intimidated by hard conversations and doesn’t “accept the first answer necessarily” but will ask for clarity and will challenge opinions he disagrees with. He said schools should teach history and not “rewrite history,” allowing children to “form their own opinions about what happened.”
“We can’t let the educational system become polarized from a political standpoint. There should be no politics in education,” he said. “We shouldn’t let educators have the authority to indoctrinate children into personal beliefs.”
Malone was recommended for the position by Brian Dixon, who along with his wife, Chara, has been a vocal member of the Williamson County chapter of Moms For Liberty. Malone said he is a member of the Moms For Liberty Facebook page to read conversations but has not attended any of the group’s gatherings, and while he believes members of the group have “valid concerns,” he does not share views as “passionate and hardcore” as some members.
Michael Miller is a data analytics professional who has two children in WCS. He currently serves as the vice president of his HOA and a regular soccer coach at the YMCA. He shared that he believes his data analytics background would help him ask the right questions on the school board and make data-based decisions.
Miller said he wants to begin to engage those who are not involved in the schools and local government and, through his service, put the focus on children, recognizing that not all children have the same needs.
“I do have one child who has special needs,” he said. “Williamson County has excelled, truthfully, in delivering services and providing services to my son, and that is something that we should take great pride as a district and as a community, and … we need to ensure we continue that outreach.”
Miller shared that he was the man who was accosted outside the WCS school board meeting on Aug. 10 in his car, an incident captured on video and viewed over 3 million times nationally.
“Leadership requires a calm demeanor in times of crisis, and I think I showed that,” he said.
Miller is the second applicant to say he has Fiscus’ recommendation.
Pete Stresser is an executive at a pharmaceutical company and 15-year resident of Franklin. He has one daughter at Page Middle and two other daughters who were previously in WCS.
He said he's been keeping an eye out for the best opportunity for him to serve his community and decided to go for the school board position after seeing the challenges the district is facing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. He shared that learning loss and a shortage of bus drivers, teachers and teacher assistants are major concerns for him.
“There’s a whole myriad of challenges that Williamson County is facing that it hasn’t faced in the past,” he said. “I’ve had a long career in helping organizations turn around very challenging issues and becoming very successful, so I think that’s really what focus my attention would take.”
As a company executive, he said he would be able to look at WCS as a whole and exhibit “bold leadership to make difficult decisions,” adding that he would like to look at the factors driving the current issues and seek data-driven solutions.
Stresser said he was recommended for the position by Franklin Ward 1 Alderman Bev Burger.
Seth Yu is an attorney for an international healthcare company with three children in WCS. He also has a background in social work, particularly in civil rights, and hopes to focus on excellence and diversity on the school board.
He said while many people move to the area for the schools, greater excellence should still be a major goal.
“Williamson County is a top-20 county of the country, and our school system is not top 20 yet, and we should keep all the perspective [to] continue to improve the school system,” he said.
He also said, having lived in Williamson County since 2009, he wants to set an example for his children and other Asian American children of “participating in community affairs.” Yu, who is part of a racial unity group at Brentwood Baptist Church, hopes to advocate for greater diversity on the school board and also bring his expertise in social work to the table as WCS navigates work and changes related to diversity.
“It’s not about who’s right, who’s wrong; it’s about what we do now, how we can move on,” he said. “We recognize everyone’s experience and stories are different, but we can still unite at a higher level. Of course, in the church, that’s the level [of] the biblical teaching, but at the school board, we can still unite despite our personal preference and beliefs. We can still unite at the level that we are here for the best interest of the kids.”
He also believes his legal background will aid in these conversations, as he recognizes that different groups have different definitions of “critical race theory,” which he said is contributing to the conflict.