Candidates make their pitch at NAACP forum
By Karissa Minn
SALISBURY - Candidates from several political races spoke briefly at Livingstone College during a political forum Wednesday evening. First to speak at the forum, sponsored jointly by the college and the Salisbury-Rowan chapter of the NAACP, were the eight candidates for the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education. James "Jim" Emerson and Josh Wagner are running for the East seat. Susan Cox and Lynn Marsh are competing for the Southeast seat. Bryce Beard, Chuck Hughes, Constance "Connie" Johnson and Quentin Woodward Jr. are all in the race for the Salisbury seat. An audience member asked the candidates how they would make sure Rowan County's high school graduates are prepared for college and a career. Emerson and Beard both stressed the responsibility of parents to make sure they're raising good students, who can succeed when paired with good teachers. "Two things drive the success of a student, and that's natural ability and desire," Emerson said. "No amount of legislation, no amount of testing, no amount of outside activities is going to change that." Johnson said students come into the schools with inequitable backgrounds. To even things out, she suggested providing courses like social skills, study skills and time management to "educate the whole child." Woodward said teachers should try to identify students who need more help and connect them with resources like one-on-one tutoring. Marsh said the school system needs to focus on early childhood education. "If a child is not reading by third grade, there's a one in six chance they're going to drop out of high school or not be successful," Marsh said. Wagner said he'd like to see more done for students who aren't going to a four-year college, such as preparation for vocational training. Hughes said he's in favor of the common core curriculum, which goes more in-depth with English and mathematics, and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs. The candidates also were asked what they would change, if anything about No Child Left Behind. Beard, Cox, Hughes and Wagner were critical of the federal program. "It focused everything on testing, and it took away from real teaching and learning," Beard said. Wagner, Cox and and Beard said local school boards should have more control over how students are taught and tested. Wagner and Hughes said instruction should account for individual learning differences. Johnson and Woodward both praised the program, while Emerson and Marsh had mixed opinions. "No Child Left Behind, to me, is a dream come true," Johnson said, "because (it) allows all children the opportunity to score at the same rate." She suggested that to help students make that goal, the school system should work with churches and other organizations in the area to provide after-school and summer help. Emerson said he thinks the program needs to have more realistic goals and offer more flexibility for schools that meet some benchmarks but not others. Marsh said the program has changed in the past few years, and it's not as rigid as it used to be. Rowan County Board of Commissioners Democrats Leda Belk and Ralph Walton are going up against Republicans Mike Caskey and Craig Pierce. The candidates were asked what they would do to address divisiveness between the county and the city of Salisbury. Caskey stressed conflict resolution, saying the different boards should be able to meet together and talk to each other without letting personal differences get in the way. "One of the things I'd like to do if I'm elected is, as a board, invite the city over to have lunch and talk," he said. Pierce said Salisbury isn't the only municipality in Rowan, and all of county's communities should be working toward a common goal. He said "strong leadership" is the solution. "This county cannot afford to wait for politically correct people to get together and talk about problems," Pierce said. Belk agreed that the problem goes beyond just Salisbury and Rowan County, all the way to the regional level. She said commissioners have "unplugged" from Salisbury, other municipalities, the school board and the region. "They're isolationists," Belk said. "You cannot convince businesses to come here when you've got that kind of thinking." Walton said distrust between the city and the county is nothing new, and both sides need to make a positive effort to work together. "It should not be a fight, but it is a fight, because we have folks presently on commission who don't want to cooperate," Walton said. An audience member also asked why western Rowan County does not have a library branch. Pierce pointed out that commissioners just approved a new ambulance station in Cleveland to reduce emergency response times there. He said the county has to prioritize, and while a library is important, it doesn't save lives. Belk said she thinks a library does save lives by helping children learn and "hold their head up high." She said the board should have listened to the public and kept a voter-approved tax increase, which would have left money for needs like this. Caskey and Walton both said they'd like to see a library near Cleveland, but the county may not have the money. They suggested making it a future goal and working with the local community to get something small started until the money is available. Also attending the forum were N.C. Rep. Harry Warren and challenger Bill Battermann, who are both running for the 77th district in the state House. Gene McLaurin attended, but his opponent in the 25th state Senate district, Gene McIntyre, did not. Read more about their comments in Friday's Salisbury Post.