LETTER: Why I’m Voting for Tamsey Ellis

October 28, 2013


We face a choice here in District 1 for who will sit on Northampton County’s first elected school board. Shannon Dunham, a local lawyer, is running against Tamsey Ellis, a retired educator.

Having heard both candidates speak at the public forum at the old middle school a few weeks ago, I have made my choice. While I am sure that the dynamic Ms. Dunham is as smart as they come, and as ambitious, I have serious doubts about her ability to devote the time and energies to the enormous problems our schools face.

She is a full-time lawyer, currently defending the accused female Eastern Shore arsonist in a looming high-profile trial across the bay. She recently asked the judge for an extension, claiming she is not ready, to which the judge replied, essentially, “too bad.”

Then she asked to remove herself from the case. Again, the judge refused to let her off the hook from her obligation.

She herself made an issue at the forum of being the mother of three small children, caring for four dogs, and a full-time career. She also played the “outside the beltway” card, claiming that because she is in the law profession and has never been “in education,” she can see with clearer eyes the problems our schools face.


At one point, alarmingly, she mentioned possible legal penalties against parents who don’t do what they’re supposed to do, to great applause from the audience. I for one do not wish to punish parents — I wish to see their children educated regardless of the failings of the parents. That is the mandate of public education. One cannot cherry-pick for great parents.

Ms. Ellis spoke with passion about her long experience as a boots-on-the-ground teacher and her good works in this community since her return. She gave the sense of wanting to meet the children where they are, not where we would like them to be in a perfect world. She has spent long and deep years working with children of all stripes and in all states of educational readiness.

I have confidence in her abilities to change the course of our school system’s decline. While years in “the trenches” can indeed lead to burnout and tunnel vision in some, I do not see this in Ms. Ellis’ case. She displays a freshness, energy and creativity that we need on the school board. My vote goes to Tamsey Ellis.

Cape Charles

Letters to the Editor are welcome, and a diversity of opinions is encouraged. Send submissions to [email protected].



11 Responses to “LETTER: Why I’m Voting for Tamsey Ellis”

  1. Deborah Bender on October 28th, 2013 9:22 am

    I agree 100%! Tamsey is the person best suited for this position. Thanks Stephanie!

  2. Terri Wandrick on October 31st, 2013 1:52 pm

    I have to agree with you Stephanie. The children need Ms. Ellis.

  3. Shannon Dunham on November 2nd, 2013 11:37 pm

    Stefanie, I wanted to take a few seconds to address your concerns about my ability to devote time to the Northampton County School Board. First, I would not run if I did not believe I could devote the time. It would be disingenuous and harmful to the very children I strive to represent. Your reference to my request for a continuance in a criminal matter I was handling is misplaced at best, as you could not possibly know the inner workings of the case and why I was asking for a continuance. All that appears in the news is not necessarily reality and I believe there is some old saying about what assuming gets you. My mention of using other legal tactics to get parents involved is not meant for parents such as yourself and would certainly only be looked at as a “last resort” type of tactic. My point was that having a lawyer on the board that knew of the existence of such a potential tool could be advantageous. I hope this belays some of your concerns. Thank you for raising these points so I could clarify them for you.

  4. Stefanie Hadden on November 3rd, 2013 9:19 am

    Thank you Ms. Dunham for sparing me a few seconds for your clarifications. I sincerely hope you are truly prepared to give more than that to the thorny, complex issues our school system faces. Having spent innumerable hours both volunteering and observing at Kiptopeke Elementary School in the seven years my three children were there and researching, in depth and minute detail, how public schools function (and don’t function), I would find it more comforting to know, not that you possess legal expertise, but that you had done the same or similar. I have firsthand experience with the brokenness of this system, and the unresponsiveness of the current school board in dealing with it. For whomever is victorious on Tuesday, the road ahead will be arduous and difficult. While my children are no longer bound by the constraints of our school system, I do still care deeply about those who are, and hope, going forward, that we tackle these problems with our full and positive, not punitive, energies.

  5. Bobby Roberts on November 3rd, 2013 1:19 pm

    If Shannon Dunham’s condescending response above is an indication of her professional style, then Tamsey Ellis will remain my choice for the School Board. A newly elected Board needs people who understand this will be a team effort, and success will rely on their ability to listen and learn from each other.

  6. Shannon Dunham on November 3rd, 2013 2:39 pm

    First, let me apologize if my prior comment was taken as condescending. It is difficult to discuss the inner workings of a client’s case and the rhyme and reason behind what strategy I employ in a case without revealing client confidences. My grandfather had passed away during this timeframe and another loss looms on the horizon, which has played into some of these events.

    I was a founding member of Cape Charles Christian School’s board and spent numerous hours assisting the other members in our quest to dream that school from the ground up. NCPS is a wholly different challenge that will take the talents of many people from different walks of life to effectuate a positive change.

    I remember meeting Stefanie at one of our Best Practices meetings. Her children were still at Kiptopeke and she was certainly a very involved parent that most should strive to emulate. As you may or may not know, I am in the schools quite frequently. I am either defending a child accused of a crime or working as a child’s guardian ad Litem in a civil (typically custody) case or sometimes truancy. What I have seen coming through the court system and not being handled by our school system is alarming and should be of great concern to all. The problem is that the public largely does not know of these incidents as they are not reported in the papers because these incidents involve juveniles. I have talked to numerous faculty members both currently and prior to there even being a glimmer of hope for an elected school board.

    I absolutely agree that this new board will log numerous hours tackling policies that are rift with issues and addressing the concerns of teachers, students, and parents. If I am the individual elected from District 1, I look forward to you sharing with me your insights and research. I know they will prove to be invaluable.

  7. Ray Otton on November 3rd, 2013 4:43 pm

    “Let me apologize if my prior comment was taken as condescending.”

    Typical politician’s response. The folks in this country have been subjected to this type of qualified apology too many times to count. We’re tired of it and we’re looking for leaders that admit to mistakes, not excuses. Next time lose the ‘”if” and admit it was a mistake.

  8. Shannon Dunham on November 3rd, 2013 5:56 pm

    Mr. Otton, I am not a politician. I am a mom of three trying to use my expertise to make a difference. I did not apologize for what I said but how it was perceived. I do not retract my earlier statement as it irritates me when people comment on something for which they have no knowledge and thus no basis. Ms. Ellis and I are not running a negative campaign purposefully because we mutually respect each other and have the same core beliefs, and quite frankly either of us taking office is an improvement over what our county has suffered through of late. So I will politely ask you to refrain from the negative.

  9. Ray Otton on November 4th, 2013 1:30 am

    But Ms. Dunham, you are a politician. You are running for an elected office. The part of your statement that we take issue with is the comment referring to what happens when someone makes an assumption. If any part of this discussion has been negative, that’s it. The comment was uncalled for and requires an unqualified apology, which it is now obvious you do not intend to make. One last piece of advice. You should stop now, you’re bleeding votes.

  10. Deborah Bender on November 4th, 2013 7:06 am

    “All that appears in the news is not necessarily reality and I believe there is some old saying about what assuming gets you.”

    I know how this old saying goes. This is a rude comment for Ms. Dunham to have made. Makes a big impression with me. Tamsey still has my vote.

  11. Dick Valack on November 5th, 2013 7:44 am

    Tamsey Ellis has my vote. She has a real passion to educate the children in our community and is a caring professional. She will bring unbridled energy to the board.