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Youngest Tuscarora board member has his sights set on a political career

December 27, 2011|By ROXANN MILLER | roxann.miller@herald-mail.com
  • Chris Ardinger stands in the hallway at James Buchanan High School in Mercersburg, Pa. The 20-year-old college student recently won a four-year term on the Tuscarora School Board.
By Roxann Miller/Staff Writer

MERCERSBURG, Pa. — When Chris Ardinger was elected to the Tuscarora School Board in November, he not only became the youngest board member in Franklin County, but also one of the youngest in the state.

The obvious question: Why would a 20-year-old college student want to spend his time behind a board table making some tough, and not always popular decisions?

According to Ardinger, it goes back to when he was traversing the halls of James Buchanan High School.

When he entered the high school as a freshman in 2005, the school was beleaguered with a host of problems — water fountains with brown drinking water, bathroom stalls with missing doors and classrooms with 25-degree temperature fluctuations.

He wondered what a kid could do.

When he graduated in 2009, he didn’t want other students to endure that kind of learning environment.

“When I graduated from here, one of the biggest reasons for running was knowing that my little brother (Nick Ardinger) was coming up to the high school in a couple of years,” Ardinger said.

Nick and other students shouldn’t have to endure brown drinking water, Ardinger said. They should have a nice school to attend.

He was bitten by the bug to run for office.

New to the board

Armed with 100 campaign signs, Ardinger canvassed the area, putting his signs everywhere he thought someone would see them.

His strategy worked and on Nov. 8, Ardinger received the second-highest number of votes behind incumbent Daniel Reeder. As a freshman board member, Ardinger knows he’ll be faced with some tough decisions on the board, which governs schools in Mercersburg and surrounding townships.

“I think it will be good to have someone fresh out of school and politically aware,” Tuscarora School District Superintendent Rebecca Erb said.

Erb has given Ardinger plenty of reading material to acclimate him to the board. In addition, he attended a Pennsylvania School Board Association’s orientation meeting for new members.

Chris (Ardinger) has been a willing student when it comes to learning about the board and the workings of the district, Erb said.

“Hopefully, as all good board members, he will learn how to work with a group,” she said. “He’s very loyal to the school district and genuinely wants to see the district move forward.”

Pushing for change

Not only did he want to restore James Buchanan High School to its former glory, but he also wants to improve declining Adequate Yearly Progress scores.

He said Tuscarora’s AYP scores in math and reading lag behind other schools in Franklin County.

“Why just talk about something when I could campaign, explain my plan to the voters and hopefully win a seat on the board?” Ardinger said.

“There’s no reason why our district can’t be exceptional. If you look at the schools in the county, Tuscarora is at the lowest place, and there’s no reason why we can’t be as good as our neighboring districts,” Ardinger said.

With every high school freshman given a laptop as part of the district’s technological initiative, Ardinger said there’s no reason why the AYP scores shouldn’t rise.

“If we’re going to be giving kids laptops, we need to justify performance. Obviously anything takes time to implement. But over the next few years if we see our AYP scores improve, we know we did indeed implement a successful program,” he said.

Future plans

Not only does Ardinger want to make a positive difference at his alma mater, he wants to help the citizens of the commonwealth in the future.

When his four years as a school board member end, he isn’t sure whether he’ll run again or seek another office.

He’s already talked about running for one of the three seats on the Franklin County Commission in the near future.

From an early age, the Mercersburg resident has expressed a desire to pursue a political career.

If there’s one person who knows what Ardinger is facing, it’s state Rep. Todd Rock, R-Franklin.

Rock served on the Waynesboro (Pa.) Area School Board for three years prior to becoming a state legislator.

“I think that (school board) is the best starting place for any elected official. Being on the school board, you think many times it’s not that big of a deal, but it is. Some of the toughest decisions I’ve ever had to make were on the school board,” Rock said.

Rock said there aren’t many people interested in running for public office or even voting.

“At the last election (Nov. 8), less than 20 percent of the people came out to vote,” Rock said. “So, when I meet someone like Chris (Ardinger), I want to encourage him.”

Ardinger is a junior at Shippensburg (Pa.) University majoring in administration. He hopes to parlay his degree into some form of public service in politics or work in the nonprofit sector.

“I have always had a willingness to serve others and want to continue that through public service,” Ardinger said.

He is president of the Tuscarora Education Foundation, originated the Mercersburg Relay for Life in 2009 and chaired the American Cancer Society Duck Derby from 2000-09.

“As a school director, I think my primary responsibility is to look out for the students and to look out for the district as a whole. But, to make sure the students are the key,” Ardinger said. “They need to be getting a good education, but at the same time you can’t forget the taxpayers while still looking at the big picture.”

After taking the oath of office at the Dec. 5 reorganization meeting, Ardinger faced his first tough decision — expelling a student.

“I know I made the right decision,” he said. “But it was hard.”

There will be even more difficult decisions to make, but Ardinger knows he’s up to the task.”

“I will vote my conscience for the students, district and taxpayers,” Ardinger said. “I truly believe in Tuscarora and the great things it has ahead.”

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