Tony Sadowski may have been unsuccessful in his campaign to become a Centennial School District board member during the Nov. 2 municipal election, but the Democratic candidate has accomplished his goal nonetheless.
On Dec. 3, a special meeting was held to select a replacement for Jon Panofsky, who recently resigned from his position. Out of the seven individuals who applied and interviewed to fill the vacancy in Region II, which covers Ivyland Borough and Warminster Township, Sadowski received a five-vote majority and was officially sworn in.
Last month, Sadowski lost the race to Republican Mark Gindhart, but he didn’t feel defeated.
“I felt inspired. I felt encouraged. I felt a lot of support from folks in the community,” he said.
The senior producer at WHYY shared that he aspired to join the school board to improve things for not only his own children in the district, but for all students. Coming from a family of volunteers, he’s been involved as a homeroom parent and other roles since his son, now in eighth grade, started at McDonald Elementary.
Sadowski stressed the importance of board members being able to communicate with each other and have an open, honest dialogue rather than a “tribal back and forth.” Sadowski added that loud debates are fine, but on one condition.
“As long as we do it in a respectful, rational, fact-based way. To me, it’s important to bridge that gap … Even if we disagree on the approach, we have to at least have a commonality in what we’re trying to achieve and make sure we have the best interest of our kids,” he said. “Ultimately, it comes down to making sure Centennial is positioned to succeed in the way that we need it and our kids need it to succeed.”
Each potential board member was asked to share why they were interested in serving on the school board; what contributions they could make to the district; how they’re uniquely qualified to be a school board member; and how they would handle opposing viewpoints.
In addition to Sadowski, the individuals who interviewed for the position were Michele Orzehoski, Daniel Aleksa, Andrew Pollock, David McKinney, Michael Wasserleben and Evan Zoog.
Orzehoski is a 20-year resident of Warminster who had three children graduate from Centennial. As an educator in the nursing and healthcare field, she knows how to put patients and families at the center of vital conversations. If chosen to join the school board, she said she would have done the same for students.
Aleksa, a Southampton gym owner, held up a picture of his 6-year-old daughter, a Centennial student, who has twin brothers about to start kindergarten. When asked why he wanted to join the board, he said, “You do it mainly for your children, but the posterity at large and for all the children in the community.” He expressed concern about the “lackluster” educational outcomes he thinks are coming from Centennial, and said he’d take “personal responsibility” for the academic performance of the district.
Pollock previously served on the Centennial school board for 12 years and boasts about 45 years of experience in education. He said that students should be the No. 1 priority and the community should be the second.
McKinney, who has lived in the area since 1986, currently educates in the area of homeland security. As he works with the government at federal, state and local levels, as well as various companies and stakeholders, he knows how to “put aside any personal feelings and follow the law.”
Wasserleben, a graduate of the district and current JV basketball coach at William Tennent, was voted “most involved” during his senior year. If selected as school board director, he would’ve worked to ensure students enjoy their Centennial experience as much as he did.
Zoog, who has three children in the district, echoed previous sentiments that he wants to ensure educational opportunities for all students, not just his own. He credits his years at Centennial with helping him attend a good college. He added that his various leadership positions with the Ivyland Fire Company, including captain and deputy, exposed him to all personalities and walks of life.
Sadowski, Pollock and Aleksa received nominations, with Sadowski coming out victorious. He will fill the remainder of Panofsky’s term through December 2023. Panofsky announced his resignation in November. In a statement on Twitter, his reasons included declining health and the “election of bullies and homophobes.”
Panofsky elaborated on Facebook, where he explained that he felt victimized by board member Mary Alice Brancato, who won reelection on Nov. 2.
“I sat next to her for over a year, and every time the mics were off she would mock me, call me a liar and dispute everything I said. Each time I talked, I was subject to groans and sighs from her,” said Panofsky, who suffers from anxiety and depression. “She has attacked me on Facebook without using my name, and she has (and I recently found this out) instructed others to attack me personally because she sees me as weak due to my mental health issues.”
In response, Brancato said Panofsky’s words are a “disgrace.” She explained, “I didn’t do these things to him. For him to say this, I was very taken aback. He’s the only one I thought could redeem himself by doing right by kids.”
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org