A pair of dads are preparing for city school board race

Two potential candidates for the Harrisonburg School Board have emerged to run in this year’s elections in which three seats are on the ballot. 

Matt Snyder and Tim Howley are in the process of collecting the required 125 signatures from city residents to formally file paperwork to run. Both Snyder and Howley are fathers with children in the city school system.

Two of the three seats on the November general election ballot will be open. Board members Deb Fitzgerald and Tom Domonoske told The Citizen last year that neither would seek reelection. They said they hoped their early announcement would give potential candidates the time to consider running. 

Board member Kaylene Seigle’s seat is also up for re-election, but Seigle did not respond to an interview request about her re-election plans. 

School board elections are non-partisan, which means there will be no primary for candidates. Candidates have until June 18 to file for the November ballot, said Director of Elections Mark Finks. 

Matt Snyder

Matt Snyder poses with his family. Snyder is gathering signatures to run for the Harrisonburg school board. (Photo courtesy of Matt Snyder)

Snyder moved to Harrisonburg seven years ago. His business runs lacrosse tournaments and spends much of his time volunteering with the Backpack Coalition and volunteer coaching for the JMU Women’s Lacrosse team. 

Snyder’s wife is a professor at JMU’s College of Education, and the couple has two children in elementary school in the city. 

Supporting teachers and teacher retention is important, Snyder said. Nationally, 40 percent of school division leaders say their current staff shortages are “severe” to “very severe,” according to the Virginia Department of Education. In Virginia, there were over 3,500 unfilled teaching positions in the 2022-2023 school year. 

Since the pandemic, the Harrisonburg school board has made teacher retention a priority, prioritizing raises for teachers and providing support to teachers to ease their daily burdens.  

“Where we live, we have some really great teachers, and we want to keep them,” Snyder said. “How can we support them, and how can we get really good, quality educators in the area and who will stay in the area.” 

Tim Howley

Tim Howley, surrounded by his family at last fall’s ESPN GameDay event at JMU, is also gathering signatures to run. The Howleys have children in every level of schooling from daycare to high school. (Photo courtesy of Tim Howley)

Howley met his wife Liz while they were both students at JMU in 2000. The couple now have four children in every stage of schooling – one in high school, one in middle school, one in elementary, and one in daycare. 

Howley teaches in health sciences at JMU, volunteers as a baseball coach and just earned his doctorate from UNC Greensboro. Howley is also a two-time cancer survivor, having finished successful treatment for Leukemia and has been declared cancer-free.

Howley has taught and served as a student teacher at several schools in the city and county and says teaching is his passion. 

“I’m a believer in education, I’m a big believer in public education, I’m a product of public education,” Howley said. “It’s the great equalizer. It’s what our society provides for people to give them opportunities for them to learn and create good lives for themselves.” 

Howley says he is “pro-books, pro-teachers and pro-public schools,” and said it would “be a privilege to serve the community and advocate for teachers and students in positive ways.” 

Offering parents’ perspectives

When Fitzgerald made her announcement not to run last year, she told The Citizen that she hoped potential candidates would be parents with children in the city school system. That is something both candidates say they agree with. 

“Well, I’m answering Deb’s call,” Howley told The Citizen with a chuckle.

“Parents need to be involved,” Howley said. “Parents are busy, and we oftentimes don’t think about these roles because we are so busy. I want parental voices on the school board…Parents who like public education, parents who like diversity in our school system.”

Snyder said that having children in the system gives parents a unique perspective. 

“Parents having kids in the school system get to hear a lot and see a lot and see what kinds of changes need to be made or what support is needed,” Snyder said. “I think it gives us a hands-on opportunity to implement any programs or ideas that will help.” 

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