The Nov. 7 election for seats on the Pickerington Local School District Board of Education will be a little out of the ordinary.

That's because the names of only two candidates -- incumbents Vanessa Niekamp and Lori Sanders -- will appear on the ballot in a race for three seats on the five-person board.

Voters also will be able to select from five write-in candidates who are eligible to run in the Nov. 7 election.

But to cast a vote for the write-ins -- Nicholas James Derksen, David Horton, Mark Kenney, Robert Clayton Lopez and Elizabeth Gayle Saunders -- electors must write or type the name or names of those candidates when casting their ballots.

Niekamp and Sanders' names will appear on the ballot because each filed to run for the school board by the Aug. 9 candidate deadline, and they were certified by the Fairfield County Board of Elections.

Derksen, Horton, Kenney, Lopez and Saunders are required to run as write-ins because all entered the race following the deadline.

They petitioned to run after incumbent board member Cathy Olshefski and would-be challengers Jaclyn Rohaly and Pryestt Strickland were disqualified by the board of elections because their candidate filing information fell short of state guidelines.

Each of the seven candidates recently responded to a request, from the ThisWeek Pickerington Times-Sun, for campaign information.

Here are their responses:

Nick Derksen

Address: 524 Stonebridge Blvd., Pickerington, Ohio 43147

Age: 29

Education: Bowling Green State University, bachelor of arts in political science and a master's degree in Public Administration

Occupation: Ohio House of Representatives education policy adviser

Why are you running for office?

I have learned over the recent years that education should not be political, but pragmatic.

A local school board member is elected to serve his/her constituency.

This means listening to the parents, teachers, students, and community no matter how sensitive their issues are.

One must be approachable, sensible, and affable.

I am running for office to revive these common-sense approaches, bring my knowledge of state education policy to the local district, and to provide a fresh perspective and fresh face to our Pickerington Board of Education.

Identify the top 2 issues facing the school board in 2018 and explain how you would deal with them.

The first issue to address is how the district currently handles bullying and discipline.

One of the biggest complaints of these issues I have heard from the community is a low interest to correcting discipline and/or bullying in the classroom.

The initial approach to this issue is to understand the systemic root of how it has escalated to its current point.

If elected, I would convene a round table of teachers from all the schools and ask them: Why is discipline and bullying such a hot button issue?

I would do the exact same meeting, separately, with the Administration.

We have to be able to go beyond what the state requires at a minimum, which are policies adopted in accordance to the Ohio Revised Code.

We must be creative, inventive, and collaborative in efforts to combat these issues.

It is your voice and our ears to make impactful changes.

The second issue we have to address is the state of education in the Pickerington school district.

It is unbelievable the stories I hear from parents who have pulled their children from our schools due to what they say is a lack of willingness to help them (e.g. autism, gifted, dyslexia).

I assure every person reading this that I will schedule one-on-one meetings with each staff member of the Administration to understand why many of the constituency has expressed that their children's needs have been neglected.

There are so many tools in the toolbox that other districts are doing statewide in which Pickerington could implement.

We must remember that no side of our city is any better than the other.

As one person on a board of five, I am willing and available to listen to any issue from parents, teachers, and administrators, and pledge to be transparent to our citizens.

David Horton

Address: 220 Warbler Court, Pickerington, Ohio 43147

Age: 41

Education: Associate degree in applied science in avionics systems technology from the Community College of the Air Force; Bachelor of science degree in computer information systems from DeVry University; CompTIA Security+ certified

Occupation: Retired after 22 years in the Air Force serving primarily as an information system security manager for the Defense Finance and Accounting Service

Why are you running for office?

I am running for office because, as a veteran, I believe I can offer a unique and fresh perspective for the benefit of the students in the Pickerington school district that may not have had a voice in the past. My goal is to give more opportunities for all of our students to excel while also expanding our gifted services. I will work with the parents of our special education students as well as other at risk students to find alternatives that may not have been previously discussed.

Identify the top 2 issues facing the school board in 2018 and explain how you would deal with them:

One issue facing the board next year is how they will address the results of the latest state report card. A few changes I'd like to implement that would raise our ratings in numerous sections are:

* Push the career center option more for students who are not interested in college.

* Expand the Gateway program to allow all 4th through 6th graders that are identified as gifted to attend instead of approximately half that are allowed now.

* Start getting our teachers trained in Orton-Gillingham.

* Screen all students in kindergarten, as well as new students coming into the district, for unknown issues like dyslexia.

* Apply to add a Junior ROTC unit at one if not both of our high schools for those students that may want to go into the military after graduation.

Another issue that the district is facing next year is the renewal of the agreement with the teacher's union that expires at the end of this school year. I have held positions as both a union employee as well as management and have experienced both sides of this spectrum. During any negotiations now and in the future, I would keep an open mind to all parts of the negotiations to advocate for what is best for the students. As this is a negotiating year with the union, it may be easier to incorporate some of the items I mentioned above starting as early as the next school year.

Mark Kenney

Address: 7266 Moonbay Court, Reynoldsburg, Ohio 43068

Age: 47

Education: did not submit.

Occupation: Marketing, licensed minister, nonprofit oversight.

Why are you running for office?

The district has developed a pattern of abuses with voters, taxpayers, parents and kids. Failed levies, far too much testing, Common Core, upswings in lawsuits from upset parents, F's on the district grade card both last year and this year, staff being underpaid and heart wrenching special needs stories are symptoms of what is an undeniable failure of the part of the board.

Others won't even raise these issues. If voters write in Mark Kenney I will both expose the messes and fight aggressively for the return of child privacy and give this district back to "we the people" once again.

Identify the top 2 issues facing the school board in 2018 and

explain how you would deal with them:

While I am passionate about dozens of issues, there is nothing more important than human life itself so heroin and other drugs that prove to be fatal must be at the top of the list.

The hard reality is that the school district cannot solve this issue alone. I want to form a group of Pickerington church leaders to serve in an advisory role to the Board of Education.

Nothing is more impactful in a child's life than their immediate family life at home and our local churches already have existing family based relationships with many of our students, staff, local business owners and others in the community so it just makes sense to give them a seat at the table on this and other important issues.

If we are just talking about 2018 I would say the upcoming renegotiation of the master agreement with the PEA.

There's just not a strong negotiator on the Board of Education so the process needlessly drags out often ending with teachers dressed in black for solidarity as they come to work with no contract and feeling underappreciated.

I am a strong negotiator that can get things done and frankly, no one else running has that skill set or the same commitment to results.

If we are talking about 2018 through 2021, it's our completely dysfunctional relationship with the Ohio Department of Education.

We must create our own set of learning standards, trim back the massive testing while starting to be honest with the parents and voters about all of it.

No more seeing parents as problems. Instead, return to an understanding that the district works for them, not the other way around.

Clay Lopez

Address: 120 Urich Drive, Pickerington, Ohio 43147

Age: 43147

Education: Bachelor of arts degree from West Virginia University, Juris Doctor from Capital University School of Law

Occupation: Attorney

Why are you running for office?

Although I am a transplant to Pickerington, I am proud to call this community my home. I have lived in Pickerington since 2001.

My wife graduated from Pickerington High School (now Pickerington High School Central). My daughter graduated from Pickerington High School Central and now attends West Virginia University, and my son attends Pickerington schools as well.

I loved my service as a board member from 2008-2013 with the Pickerington Local School District to the community that I call home. I hope to serve once again with the support of the families that also call Pickerington their home.

Identify the top 2 issues facing the school board in 2018 and explain how you would deal with them:

As a board member, I believe in being fiscally responsible. After reviewing the most recent five-year forecast produced by Treasurer, Ryan Jenkins, it appears the district has established a strong financial bottom line. It is always important to know what the district is looking at in the short term, but a board member must always look to the future and plan accordingly. My goal would be to work with the treasurer, superintendent and other board members to ensure the financial stability of the district.

With fiscally responsible decision-making, the district will continue to be a leader in education.

Our students and families deserve the best education in Ohio. I will work with teachers, administration and the other members of the Board of Education to ensure students have every opportunity to be successful in college and in the job market.

My goal would be to have a rigorous curriculum that challenges all students, yet allows individual attention so every student is successful in PLSD.

The goal should be to maximize student learning and performance. As a board member, it is of upmost importance to ensure resources are provided so that students can maximize their potential from Kindergarten to 12th grade.

Vanessa Niekamp

Address: 470 E. Columbus St., Pickerington, OH 43147

Age: 47

Education: Business Administration and Jazz Performance from Capital University, and Human Resource Management from Columbus State

Occupation: Banker

Why are you running for office?

Just like every parent, I want the best for my children. I think we have great schools in Pickerington, but I saw room for improvement and wanted to help make that happen.

Identify the top 2 issues facing the school board in 2018 and explain how you would deal with them:

We need to evaluate our current wellness and mental health programs as they relate to drug/alcohol prevention programs; by seeking input from experts in the field, developing an implementation plan including resources, based on findings.

We need to develop a budget that best aligns resources with student achievement goals; by mobilizing key stakeholders, gathering information on academic performance and cost structure, and establishing principles and policies to guide the budget process.

Within this cycle, the district's instructional priorities will provide the guide for decision-making.

Lori Sanders

Address: 12607 Bentley Dr., Pickerington, Ohio 43147

Age: 56

Education: Bachelor of science degree in occupational therapy from Ohio State University

Occupation: Occupational therapist, small business owner

Why are you running for office?

After 20 years on the board, the most frequently asked question is "Why are you still doing this?"

Good question. The answer is because I care about every student here and I know we are doing great things in our schools.

People involve themselves in different service organizations. Schools are mine. I work in it and I serve the community as a board member.

Pickerington has been my home for over 30 years, and I have seen many positive changes in the community. We are doing great things in our schools and I am as excited as ever.

Identify the top 2 issues facing the school board in 2018 and explain how you would deal with them:

Student achievement. As a public service, student success always has to be the top issue for any school district. This includes the academic, social and emotional development of the student.

Fiscal Accountability. We must always be good stewards of the tax dollars that our community is willing to support for education.

Within these parameters we must be efficient in providing all necessary resources for the success of our students.

Our biggest issue will always be to effectively plan for the short term (1-2 years) and long term (3-5 years).

We have made great efforts in the direction of comprehensive planning in all areas of operation, but we still have work to do. Education is constantly changing and we need to be able to rationalize all that we do as a part of the long-term plan for this district.

E. Gayle Saunders

Address: 13367 Calhoun Court N.W., Pickerington, Ohio 43147

Age: 58

Education: Bachelor of arts degree from the University of Louisville.

Occupation: CEO, The Saunders Co.

Why are you running for office?

I'm a proud member of our community and believe a high- performing, top-rated district is critical to the city's growth and reputation.

My long-term vision is for the district to become the premier district in America, recognized nationally for its innovative approach to teaching and learning that best serves all students.

As a mother, wife, homeowner and Pickerington resident, I will use my leadership experience in corporate, K-12 and secondary education, and government affairs to drive policies and practices that support student achievement and success.

Identify the top 2 issues facing the school board in 2018 and explain how you would deal with them:

State-mandated testing remains a challenge for districts across the state. Pickerington's recent report card underscores some challenges we face as a district.

While I believe in accountability and support performance standards, we need more focus on teaching critical thinking and problem-solving skills to our students to assure they progress toward college and career readiness.

We must support our teachers by providing resources, which includes additional staff and intervention support, to meet the ever-changing demands of state-mandated testing and the changing needs of our students.

We need to provide tools to help our teachers manage the additional work that is involved in meeting these demands. I believe it is important to drive solutions to address this issue by:

* Working with and lobbying state policy makers.

* Engaging parents, students, teachers and administrators.

* Reviewing, evaluating and implementing other local, state and national best-in-class programs.

Like other communities across the country, Pickerington is facing a serious issue of increasing drug use by our youth. I believe that school environment and culture can play a role in addressing this issue.

I will advocate for the board to create and implement policies to make ongoing and consistent assessments of the drug-use and drug culture in our schools.

Investing in programs and activities to engage youth in more after-school and community engagement activities is a proven prevention strategy in reducing drug use and delinquency.

I am a strong proponent of collaborating with and involving parents and students, as well as the law enforcement, business and health-care communities to garner additional expertise, resources and insights in addressing this issue.

nellis@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNate