2013 Candidate: Brad Hazelwood, Northgate School Board

My name is Brad Hazelwood, and I am running for the four-year position of School Director serving the Northgate School District during the 2013 election year.

Educating our youth is a very important building block for the success of our nation’s future.  We all want our future generations to experience the great prosperity that our country was built upon.  But times are changing: we must learn from history and our past experiences to make decisions that promote sustainability, and take advantage of social and economic opportunities.  We must always remember the schools exist to educate our children, and prepare them to succeed and improve our society for years to come.  It is important to have community and school district leaders with diverse skill sets, as each leader’s unique expertise and experiences ultimately contribute to the success of­­­­­­ the community.

My Background:

I was born and raised in Chippewa Township, Beaver County.  I graduated from Blackhawk High School where I was very active in the community and with extracurricular activities.  As a member of the Blackhawk Drumline and Indoor Percussion Ensemble, I learned the value of hard work, teamwork and competition.  With that competitive experience, I also learned the value of setbacks and defeat—and ultimately learned how to use those emotions as an educational tool.  We were a corps-style band, which taught us structure and discipline while having the opportunity to compete against bands locally and nationally.  Not only did we compete against them, but we also had the opportunity to interact with students from local and national schools.  This is an experience that I feel had a major impact on my development as a person and as a professional.  I was also a member of the Blackhawk JV and Varsity Baseball Team, Jazz Band, Pep-Band (for home basketball games), talent shows, and even a musical my senior year.

I understand the value of engaging students in all types of activities.  These activities help them learn life skills, values and basic education principles.  In addition to my activities with the school district, I was also very active in my community.  I began the scouting program when I was six years old, and earned the Eagle rank at the age of 17.  Looking back, this had a major impact in my early development.  This great program taught leadership, teamwork, life skills, appreciation of our environment and physical education.  I was also active in my local church as part of the worship team (musical) and softball team.  Both of these teams comprised of members of all ages which allowed me to learn how to work together with people of multiple generations, which was important as I began my professional career.

After high school, I attended West Virginia University where I received a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Landscape Architecture, and a minor in Geography (Urban Planning and Regional Development).  Although this demanding major consumed the majority of my time, I also participated in the Steel Drum Band, intramural sports, and the West Virginia Community Design Team where we traveled to remote communities within the state to assist in solving design problems and promote revitalization.  Attending an out-of-state university gave me yet another opportunity to understand geographical differences in society; from the location of the school to the diverse student population.

Another key observation that I made during my years in high school and college is currently a concern for the Northgate School District:  class size.  While at Blackhawk, the largest classes numbered just over 30 students per class, with most being between 25 and 30 students in size.  While class size in college was typically under 30 students (due to specialized courses in my area of study), core courses could be as high as 250 students.  This was not a good learning experience for me, and I struggled to experience true learning in this atmosphere.  Although large class sizes were generally unavoidable at a large university, I found that I was able to do very well in the classes that were led by intelligent, high-caliber professors who were able to connect with students on a dynamic level, whether the class size was 75 or 150 students in size.  These professors were typically personable, and made themselves available to discuss curriculum with students after class and during office hours.

Financial times are tough: we need to all work together as a society to teach our youth.  This means being good parents, neighbors and community members.  Teaching our children respect and good work ethic outside of the classroom will help our educators be efficient and effective during the school day.

During the summers that I attended college, I worked a number of jobs to prepare for my professional career.  For the first two summers, I worked at a professional landscape contracting firm where I continued to learn the value of team work, and was exposed to the construction industry.  I spent the last two summers of my college career as an intern for a local architectural and engineering firm where I met many of my peers that I still work with to this day.

I was offered a position with a civil and environmental engineering firm (where I currently work) a few months before graduating college.  It was comforting to know that I had a job prior to graduating and that all of my hard work throughout my education had paid off.  Unfortunately, with the state of our current economy, many of the region’s students do not experience similar blessings.  The bright side of this is that Pittsburgh is currently one of the top economies and outlooks in the entire country.  With the right leaders and education, our youth will potentially have the greatest employment opportunities in the years to come.

My wife, Natasha Hazelwood, and I moved to Bellevue nine years ago, primarily due to its great location and mature town character.  Bellevue and Avalon are great towns; however, I see great potential to make this community one of the up-and-coming neighborhoods in the county.  This needs to be a team effort with both towns and the school district working together toward a common goal.  We currently do not have any children attending Northgate; however, we do see this in our future and would like to do our part in helping this school district—and our community—prosper.

I am currently a Project Manager for the same company that hired me after graduating from college.  In recent years, our company to experienced difficult times, but the leaders of the firm looked at the economic downturn not as a crippling blow, but an opportunity.  We expanded our services and further-stressed the commitment to understanding our clients’ needs.  Now that the economy is improving in our region, our company is experiencing record-breaking revenue, opened a number of new offices around the country, and hired over 150 employees within the past two years.  We need leaders in this community that see the potential and opportunity of our region and are willing to work together to make it a reality.

I am a licensed landscape architect and manage a diverse list of projects primarily related to site development.  Example projects are corporate office buildings, hotels, school expansions, sports facilities, retail developments, streetscapes, park design, plaza design, campus and site planning.  I am also a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional (LEED AP) through the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), and also assist clients in the development of sustainable buildings and sites.  The LEED system promotes sustainable design solutions for new and existing buildings.  Sustainable design elements include reducing air pollution (inside and out), reducing water use, increasing natural daylighting and ventilation, increasing heating and cooling efficiency, promoting the use of locally produced materials and services, as well as selecting sites that limit negative environmental impacts.  It has been documented that employees, students, and hospital patients perform better and get well faster in “Green” buildings, as compared to standard construction practices.  I believe that incorporating sustainable design principals into buildings and surrounding land can help engage students into the curriculum we are teaching.  They also help provide healthy learning environments for our children which studies have shown improve test scores and learning.  You will also find that many of these sustainable features also have a financial benefit.  If the school district could reduce energy consumption by 20%, that money could then go towards increasing programs or hiring more teachers and assistants.  This also provides the opportunity for students and community members to learn how the school district was able to accomplish energy savings and use the same technologies in their homes.  Sustainable solutions can help provide a better environment for our students, while improving the bottom line of the district.

Other affiliations:

Current Section Chair for the Pennsylvania/Delaware Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA)

Urban Land Institute (ULI) Young Leaders Board Member

Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) Renewable and Alternative Energy Advisory Board Member

What is your Vision for Northgate?      

My vision for Northgate is to develop a sustainable school district with a great connection to its community that understands the needs and desires of its students to prepare them for a successful future.

This can be accomplished by improving the communication within the school district and community, and developing a unifying vision for the future of this school district.  Goals and objectives must be developed so that there is a plan for the future.  It is important for the community to understand that vision, and be able to witness the benefit when these goals are met.  By having this vision and open communication with the community, citizens will begin to understand where they fit into this growing community.  This contribution could be donating time, recourses, or just being a good neighbor and role model.

What do you see as Northgate’s strengths & weaknesses/struggles? 

Strengths:

  • The Northgate School District is located in a great tight-knit community just outside of a large city with a tremendous amount of history and great people.
  • Smaller student population which allows students to become familiar and connect with all students through class interaction and extracurricular activities.
  • A great focus on the arts, which could be considered a niche, as compared to other local schools.
  • Committed teachers and parents.

Weaknesses:

  • Not well-connected with the two towns that comprise the school district.  I feel that this is a huge problem that we as a community need to work on.
    • Open communication will help address this issue.  Working together to develop a plan for the future of the community as a whole which addresses the needs of the each organization and determine the best way to accomplish these goals together.  Issues and decisions will have less of a chance to be perceived as secretive or behind closed doors.
    • Being a small school district which has to provide the same required services as larger districts with a declining tax base.
      • Northgate is not the only school that is facing these challenges:  we need to reach out to local and national school districts that have developed creative solutions to this very same problem.  We need to look for opportunities to minimize building operational costs by analyzing current practices and potentially performing energy audits on existing facilities.  Reducing consumption is one of the easiest ways to increase the bottom line.  Look into opportunities to increase efficiency and share services.  The most important component to eliminating this problem is to work creatively with both towns and develop a plan to attract investment and families to move into this community.  Both Bellevue and Avalon are impacted by this declining tax base; therefore, all parties stand to benefit greatly from an increased tax base.  This is where the importance of vision for Northgate School District comes in: once we increase the tax base, there is a plan established to increase programs (and/or staff) in the best interest of the students.  By following this plan, the community can openly see the benefits of working together towards a common goal.
      • General misconceptions that because we are a smaller school district, we can’t compete with others.
        • The key here is to emphasize the strengths of this school district and look for creative ways to make weaker aspects better.  Again, look to other schools or programs that have developed forward-thinking ideas.  I have found that most places that have done great things like to share their accomplishments with others.  Many times, all you have to do is ask how they were able to do it.

How do you see the council and school board working together in the future?

This is one of the most important issues facing our school district.  I am confident that our administration and great teachers can educate our youth, given that we provide them with support and necessary resources.  With dwindling state and federal funding, we need to work together on being more sustainable, which means working as a community to limit our reliance on outside influences.  Continuing to raise taxes on existing residents does little to help the financial situation, and also pushes potential residents and investment to other communities.  We need to work together to improve our business districts and increase the population that will, in turn, increase tax revenue.  Improved business districts are a great source of increased tax revenue because a significant amount comes from visitors to our communities, and not from our residents.  By keeping taxes steady—or even reducing them—we can increase investment and population of business owners and residents.  There are also funding opportunities and tools available to improve our community that will require support from all groups.

I believe that my personal and professional background can help lead our school district to a sustainable future.  I look at each issue in terms of the whole picture, and how one decision may impact others before offering my opinion.  I understand the value of individual opinions, it is impossible to thoroughly understand all aspects and sides of an issue without open dialog.  I have a great understanding of our developing region and education requirements of the emerging real estate development and energy sectors.  The Pittsburgh region has made a remarkable transformation from the downturn of the steel industry to one of the top economies in the country today.  These emerging sectors require a specific education and skill set that we must understand in order for our children to have the opportunity to secure employment in this region.  I can help facilitate exposure of these employment opportunities to our students so that they can make an informed decision on future education options.

 

 

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