Voters in the Middletown-Odessa-Townsend area will have a choice this spring between two candidates running for Appoquinimink school board in what will be the district’s first head-to-head contest in four years.

Voters in the Middletown-Odessa-Townsend area will have a choice this spring between two candidates running for Appoquinimink school board in what will be the district’s first head-to-head contest in four years.

Challenger Debbie Harrington of Middletown filed her candidacy papers less than a week before the March 7 deadline, setting up a two-person race with incumbent Norm Abrams of Townsend, who filed to run for re-election in mid-February.

A longtime president of the Townsend Elementary School Parent-Teacher Association, Abrams was first elected to the five-member school board in 2009, when he beat out two-term incumbent Ed Czerwinski and three other candidates for the seat, following a failed bid the prior year.

The 49-year-old father of three – including two students in the district now and one graduate – is currently serving as the school board’s president, a one-year post to which he elected by his fellow board members in July.

“I want to make sure the district gets back on to sound financial ground,” the power systems controller for Delmarva Power said of his desire to seek a second, five-year term. “I also want to help to make our sure our schools are the best they can be for my children and all the children in our district.”

Harrington is a retired U.S. Army colonel who moved to Middletown from Virginia in 2007 and previously worked as a chief operating officer for a large church and a retail mall, both in Maryland.

The 57-year-old mother of three – including one current district student and one graduate – is presently working towards her doctorate in organizational leadership from Wilmington University.

“When we first moved here, I attended a lot of school board meetings, but then I took a job that required quite a bit of my time,” she said. “But now I’m going to school and not working, so I have time to do what I’ve always wanted to do, which is to be of service to the community.”

Harrington said she was inspired to run for a school board seat by her daughter, a sophomore at Middletown High School who is blind.

“I want to ensure she gets a good education and has a good chance at life,” she said. “And I think any organization can benefit from change and innovation, which is what I can offer.”

The May 13 election will be the first time two school board candidates have competed directly against each other since 2010, when incumbent Julie Johnson defeated challenger Valerie Jones-Rabb.

Johnson’s victory in 2010 also was the last time an incumbent Appoquinimink school board member won re-election.

Richard Forsten beat out interim board member Billy R. Combs Jr., former board member Ed Czerwinski and fellow challenger Kelly Wright in 2011 to win a seat previously held by Donna Skinner, who resigned earlier that year.

Charlisa Edelin defeated three other candidates in 2012 to win the school board seat previously held by Joanne Christian, who did not seek re-election.

And last year, Wright won a seat by beating out three other candidates, including two-term incumbent Edna Cale.

At the time, Cale credited her loss to the Appoquinimink Education Association’s decision to endorse Wright, whose husband, David, was then serving as the president of the local teachers union.

Wright, who also won endorsements from the unions that represent district paraprofessionals and food services workers, disputed that assertion, arguing that her victory was the result of hard work and a good campaign strategy.

But the unions that represent district employees do have a strong track record when it comes to backing the eventual winners. Three of the last four school board members elected to office have received union endorsements, including Wright, Edelin and Johnson.

“I think our endorsements definitely carry some weight because we’re the ones who work closely with the school board members,” said Vickie Caprinolo, the current president of the AEA, which represents about 650 teachers and professional staff. “We’re looking for school board members who will support our schools, treat educators as professionals, take an active interest in our classrooms and be visible and accessible.”

Caprinolo said both candidates seeking office this year have been invited to attend separate, closed-door interviews with representatives from the teachers, paraprofessionals and food service unions that will take place on Thursday.

Those union officials will then make endorsement recommendations to their respective building representative councils next week, she said.