Two vie for Suffolk borough board seat

Published 8:51 pm Saturday, October 23, 2010

Michael Debranski has served on the Suffolk Public School’s School Board for the past four years as the Suffolk borough representative. He is being challenged by Deborah Wahlstrom. Both candidates were educators before entering the business sector.

Michael Debranski

Debranski earned his bachelor’s degree from the College of William and Mary, his master’s degree and certificate of advanced studies from Old Dominion University and his doctorate degree from Virginia Tech.

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His two daughters graduated from Lakeland High School.


He recently retired as the owner of a Jostens franchise, for which he still does some work.

Previously, he served as an educator for 34 years. Most of those years were dedicated to Suffolk Public Schools as a teacher, coach, athletic director, department chair, assistant principal and principal. He was a principal for 13 years at Southwestern Intermediate School, Suffolk High School and Lakeland High School. He also worked for seven years as a principal in Virginia Beach City Public Schools.

“I’ve seen Suffolk schools grow in the past four years,” Debranski said. “I think we’ve moved the system along in the past few years, but there’s still a lot of unfinished business. We need to do something about the grading scale and improve academic areas of schooling. We need to make sure we’re providing the basis the students going into college need, as well.”

His current civic activities include being a member of the advisory board for Boys and Girls Club of Southeastern Virginia.

Debranski has been unwavering in his position on the placement of a new school to replace Southwestern and Robertson Elementary schools.

He feels one school should be built between the two communities it will be serving.

“It’s about two things, economics and fairness,” Debranski said. “Putting a school that is centrally located is the most fair situation for both communities, and it is the most economically feasible thing to do.”

Debranski added that operating one building would save approximately $750,000 a year.

“I’d like to see that in areas such as teacher’s salaries,” he said.

When asked how he felt schools did meeting Adequate Yearly Progress benchmarks, he answered that he does not feel the Standards of Learning tests are a good measure of how students are doing for multiple reasons. He added that he is proud of the Standards of Learning results and the work done in the past four years to improve scores in schools.

One of the things Debranski feels is a strength of the system is the organization and leadership within the central office. Having recently met with principals at schools to discuss the grading scale, he added he is impressed with the input and leadership displayed.

But, there is still work to be done in the system, he said.

If re-elected, Debranski wants to work on targeting students in middle school who could be at risk for dropping out of school as part of an initiative to improve high school graduation rates and lower drop-out statistics.

It is a topic he has already brought up in board meetings.

Deborah Wahlstrom

Deborah Wahlstrom received her bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees from Old Dominion University before beginning her 10 years as an educator, followed by a year working for the Virginia Department of Education. For the past 16 years, she has worked at and owns an education consulting business.

She worked for Virginia Beach, Norfolk and Portsmouth schools as a teacher, supervisor, principal and administrator at elementary, middle and high schools.


She has lived in Suffolk with her husband for 11 years.

“I’ve always wanted to run for School Board,” Wahlstrom said. “I’m an educator and that’s a place you can have an impact. I’m really just running to serve my community and do something I’d enjoy very much.”

Wahlstrom’s current civic activities include her work with the Pilot Club.

Her position on the placement of a school to replace Robertson and Southwestern differs from Debranski’s.

She hopes to take a proposal to City Council to get approval to build one new school in Holland and renovate the school in Whaleyville.

“If you look at the 2026 Comprehensive Plan, the city has a philosophy of having neighborhood schools,” Wahlstrom said. “You can’t do that if you take them out of the villages — either village.”

Wahlstrom added she doesn’t feel all the necessary research has been done and she would be concerned about the effects one school would have on travel, large classes and parental involvement.

On the topic of Adequate Yearly Progress, Wahlstrom said there is some work to be done.

“AYP was not a surprise to anybody,” she said. “Everyone has known about that target since 2001. They had until now to have everything in place to help with achievement, but there were a few areas students weren’t performing well.”

Special education and economically disadvantaged students could be targeted for improvements, she said.

“For each group, there are things to look at in the curriculum,” she said.

Wahlstrom praised the schools for how they handled the last year’s budget crunch and said there are still things that need to be tweaked in the curriculum, but that she feels they have a good curriculum in place.

Also, the system has a good benchmark assessment system in place, she said, but there is work to be done.

If elected, she said she would work to improve communication between the staff and administration, work to create more accountability for principals at their own schools, help improve literacy at all grade levels and have the board reassess its goals.

“It was only recently that we added anything graduation-related to the board goals,” she said. “We need to look at basic things and make sure that everything is in place.”