Cathell appointed to Indian River School District board

Date Published: 
Feb. 2, 2018

Indian River Board of Education this week selected a Frankford man to fill a vacancy in their ranks. At a special meeting on Jan. 24, Derek Cathell was sworn in to represent IRSD District 5.

Cathell is a detective for the Major Crimes Unit of the Delaware State Police, working out of Troop 4 in Georgetown.

District 5 includes Selbyville, Gumboro and parts of Frankford. The seat was vacated in late November of 2017, after Douglas Hudson moved outside the representative district to a nearby town.

As a 1992 IRSD graduate, Cathell is already surrounded by all things Indian River. His wife is a Sussex Central High School counselor and English-language learner (ELL) coordinator. His children attend John M. Clayton Elementary School and the preschool mentor program at Howard T. Ennis School. His sister-in-law is also a district employee, and his niece and nephew are also students in the district.

“I just think I could make a difference. I know there are some issues in the northern end of the district,” Cathell said, noting rapidly growing enrollment.

Although he’s never specifically served in an education leadership position, Cathell said he wanted to serve his community and feels he brings a “commonsense” approach to the board.

“I’ve been an assistant supervisor in several capacities for Delaware State Police,” he said. He also volunteers with Bayshore Community Church.

“I was born and raised here my entire life. I’ve never lived anywhere else. I love the area,” Cathell said.

When not working, he said he enjoys spending time with his children, working out, visiting the gym and some hunting.

This spring, Cathell will complete his 20th year in law enforcement. After two summer patrols in Bethany Beach, he had attended the police academy and joined the DSP, serving on patrol, in the Governor’s Task Force, in criminal investigations and eventually joining the Major Crimes Unit three years ago, covering sexual assaults, robberies and death investigations.

Hat in the ring

Cathell’s appointment only lasts a few months, until June 30. Then, a public election will fill the rest of Hudson’s original term, through 2019. Board President Charles Bireley said many of the applicants for the temporary appointment in District 5 lived outside of District 5, and even outside the school district itself.

When several people suggested Cathell throw his hat in the ring, he said, he took a chance, and he intends to file for election to the one-year partial term.

After the general election in May, all new board members must attend a lecture on education finances, hosted by the State Board of Education. There is no other mandatory training, although there are optional trainings offered throughout the state.

In his interview, the school board asked Cathell about his background and his understanding of the major issues, such as time commitments, school overcrowding, the budget and more.

“We interviewed five candidates, and I thought he, by far, had the best interview. I’ve known him for a long time, known his family,” Bireley said, joking that it’s hard not to know somebody in this community. “He just answered the questions very well, and the way he handled himself — as far as I was concerned, he was just the best candidate. He had the best interview.”

After the board interviews and some deliberation, the board voted in public session.

Although Cathell had already gone home and changed out of his suit and tie when the vote came in, he drove back to Selbyville and took the oath that night.

Pending email set-up this week, constituents can contact him at

Police on the board

In the board’s vote, via ballot, Cathell received six votes. Although three board members preferred another candidate, they were very complimentary toward Cathell and told the Coastal Point they were looking forward to working with him.

“There was a gentleman that brought experience with him that had to do with maintenance and buildings and grounds and upkeep,” explained Board Member Leogla Wright of her preferred candidate, saying she believed that knowledge would be helpful, “based on how large our district is and how it continues to grow.”

Board Members Heather Statler and James “Jim” Fritz also voted for that candidate.

Fritz said he was not comfortable discussing specific reasons for his pick, since the interviews and discussion occurred in executive session.

The other three candidates had prior education experience, or they were residents interested in giving back to the community, Wright said.

Cathell’s appointment makes him the third white male police officer sitting on the school board at present, out of 10 members. Selbyville Police Chief W. Scott Collins is the other District 5 representative. Rodney Layfield is vice president of the school board, from District 2. He is also commander at DSP Troop 4.

“He commands the whole troop, but I don’t report to him. There’s two supervisors between him and I,” said Cathell, noting that he reports to a sergeant, who reports to a lieutenant, who then reports to the captain. But that did concern some people.

“I … am uncomfortable with any situation where there is a superior and subordinate serving together on the board,” Statler later said. “In my personal opinion, the potential to erode public trust exists simply by perception, and that worries me greatly.”

Candidates can register for election


Candidates have until March 2 to register for the general school board elections, scheduled for May 8.

The positions up for election and their terms are:

• District 2 (northern Millsboro and southern Georgetown), currently held by Layfield. That term ends June 30, 2023.

• District 3 (east and west of Route 113 in south Millsboro and north Dagsboro), currently held by Wright. That term ends June 30, 2023.

• District 5 (Selbyville, Gumboro and parts of Frankford), currently held by Cathell. That term ends June 30, 2019.

Candidates must be 18 or older and a resident of both the state of Delaware and the school district. They must also be residents of the IRSD district represented by the seat they’re running for. By state law, school district employees may not serve on the board. Students are not prohibited from serving, apart from the age requirement.

For more information on the IRSD election, contact the Department of Elections’ Sussex County Office at (302) 856-5367 or at 119 N. Race Street, Georgetown, or go online at