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New members welcomed to school board

Thomas Fitzpatrick and Panashe Mutombo were welcomed to the Harford County Board of Education Monday during their official first meeting.

Fitzpatrick was sworn into his new position as the Havre de Grace representative on the board earlier that afternoon and Panashe is the 2012-13 student representative.

Panashe was sworn in at the beginning of the school board meeting and received a standing ovation from his new colleagues, peers and family in the audience.

The student introduced his grandmother, cousin, brother, uncle, father and aunt to the board.

"They all support me," he said, referring to his relatives as "a few of the driving forces of why I'm here today."

Board President Leonard Wheeler said Fitzpatrick's ceremony that day was "wonderful' and "well attended."

"I'm honored to be here," the new board member said. "I've gotten quite a lot of positive comments from people in my hometown of Havre de Grace anxious for representation here on the board."

Fitzpatrick said he doesn't have a particular agenda at this point as to what he wants to accomplish this school year, but he's "here to learn, to help and to serve."

During the board members' reports, each congratulated and welcomed Fitzpatrick and Panashe to the board.

"It's a pleasure having a full board this year," board member Joseph Hau commented. Wheeler agreed, saying he is "beside myself that we have nine board members here."

Alysson Krchnavy called the two "wonderful additions to this board" and said "an open ear and open eyes" are required to be a member.

The new student rep

Panashe, who is replacing Havre de Grace High School graduate Tony Cofrancesco on the dais, is a rising senior at Patterson Mill High School and has plenty on his plate for his last year of high school.

He's president of the school's Key Club, vice president of the National Honor Society, a freshman mentor, a running back/fullback on the varsity football team and participates in track and field.

"I love volunteering in my community," he said, adding that he'll spend a few hours on a Saturday at a soup kitchen or helping out a food drive. "I like keeping myself busy."

Panashe recently got into kayaking at the suggestion of some friends.

"My friends said on a Saturday there was a kayak class and I said, 'Why not?'" he said. "It's become one of my favorite hobbies."

He hopes to major in political science with the intention of one day serving in the local or federal government.

He has his sights set on getting into Georgetown University and if that doesn't work out possibly George Washington University or Johns Hopkins.

One thing that makes Panashe unique is he is the first student representative on Harford County's Board of Education to have partial voting rights.

Thanks to his predecessor and the work of other student leaders, Panashe will be able to cast a deciding vote on board of education matters, except issues concerning the school budget, school enrollment boundaries, appointing the superintendent, collective bargaining and expulsions.

He will also be included in closed sessions, with the exception of when the board meets about collective bargaining and personnel hearings.

The new Havre de Grace rep

Fitzpatrick, who has lived in the city since the mid-90s, said Tuesday that he's been "active in various civic affairs in Havre de Grace for a long time."

He has served on the board of directors for the Lock House Museum, is a founding member of Main Street Havre de Grace and helped set up the arts and entertainment district.

The new board member will finish out Ronald Browning's term, which will end June 30, 2015. Browning, also of Havre de Grace, stepped down earlier this year.

Fitzpatrick, who represents Riverside as well as Havre de Grace, credits the public for getting him to apply to be a board member.

Several people approached him about the position and City Council President Randy Craig, as well as Councilman David Glenn, made public comments about having someone from the city on the board to help advocate for a new high school in the city.

"There's been a lot of public support and private support," he said, adding that strangers have come up to him in the street congratulating him on the new job.

While in the long run Fitzpatrick intends to work toward a new Havre de Grace High School, for the first few months, he said, "I'm basically going to lay low."

"I need to understand how the board works," he explained. "I need to learn more about the issues that are front and center."

He added that he's going to concentrate on the "learning curve" and "earn his stripes" before persuading to build a new school.

Fitzpatrick's first meeting most likely helped him earn a few of those stripes.

The board members had a "lively debate," as he described it, about a new school system logo.

He found the experience informative, he said, as he was able to "watch group dynamics play out right there in front of you."

As for his fellow board members that he debated with, Fitzpatrick has nothing but nice things to say, adding that "everyone is, so far, pretty friendly, open and up front."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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