Variety of choices in four candidates seeking Salisbury seat on school boarrd

  • Posted: Saturday, October 13, 2012 12:01 a.m.
    UPDATED: Saturday, October 13, 2012 10:52 p.m.

By Sarah Campbell
scampbell@salisburypost.com
Voters will have a variety of choices when electing the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education member for the Salisbury seat next month. Incumbent Bryce Beard, Chuck Hughes, Connie Johnson and Quentin Woodward Jr. are competing for the spot. All four candidate agree the school system should continue seeking ways to decrease the district's dropout rates. Each pointed out that vocational courses could lead students to a career interest that will help keep them engaged in school. Hughes said since college isn't for everyone, it's important to give students a career path to follow. "If students don't see themselves going to college, they aren't interested in courses that are going to prepare them for college," he said. "But most of them would welcome a trade." Beard said he wants more options for students who want to take vocational courses. "I'd like to see the classroom opened up a bit so that teachers are more like facilitators, with students working to solve problems," he said. "That way they can learn things that will translate into the real world." Johnson said she'd like the district to guide at-risk students to establish real, vocational-targeted goals. "A lot of why students give up is because no one is lighting a fire," she said. "They need a good plan and to know that it's possible, that somebody believes in them." Woodward said the schools system already has a number of good initiatives in place such as the night school program that began as a pilot at Carson and West Rowan and has expanded. He said he'd like to see more focus on catching students at a young age. "I think we need more preventative methods," he said. "I think that early intervention and counseling are good to figure out the reason they are struggling and find ways to keep them in school." Hughes agrees early intervention is important. "We need a policy set up to identify students who are at risk of not graduating by fifth or sixth grade," he said. "We can bring parents in and look at issues outside of school such as poverty, neglect and indifference that might be affecting students." Parental involvement The candidates have different ideas about how to get parents more involved in their children's education. Johnson said she thinks the district should look for ways to entice parents to come to meetings and events. "I think we have incentives right here in the county that we can offer parents to participate more in the education of their children," she said. "Most people need an incentive, a goal to strive for. That's just human nature." Johnson said incentives could include something like a scholarship to Rowan-Cabarrus Community College to help parents better themselves. "I know it sounds far-fetched," she said. "But that would benefit parents greatly because life doesn't end after high school graduation. Many of them are still interested in growing and doing better each day." Woodward agrees that it's important to find ways to appeal to parents by offering incentives such as door prizes and making events more fun with things like games. "We need to make it more welcoming to make parents feel comfortable," he said. Woodward said the district's new Parents Matter initiative is a step in the right direction. The first workshop included a speaker who talked about the importance of positive parenting. Future events will touch on a variety of topics. "Thee sessions will help meet a key challenge by improving parenting skills," he said. "I would like to see the hours made more flexible so more parents can attend." Beard said he's not sure what more the school system can do to get parents involved, but he feels in the partnership between home, school and community, the home is the weakest link. "I don't know that I have an answer to that," he said. "Parents need to do a better job of parenting and instill in their children a sense of ambition to learn as much as they can while they're in the classroom." Hughes said he doesn't necessarily feel increasing parental involvement is a function of the school board. Teacher input All four candidates agree that teachers should be able to provide input when the district is creating or revising policies, but they have different opinions about the amount of feedback they believe is necessary. Woodward said he was happy to see the recently adopted district improvement plan disseminated to all employees via email following a request from a current board member. "I think they are vital resources, and we should take advantage of their knowledge," he said. Hughes said teachers have a right to express their opinions, and the school board should listen. "We need teachers' input. They are the frontline soldier," he said. Johnson has a unique idea to gather feedback. She'd like to see two seats added to the school board, one for a teacher and another for a parent. She said those people could be a sounding board for teachers and parents throughout the district who feel disconnected from board members and administrators. "I'm a former teacher. I know teachers keep a lot of things from the principal, from the superintendent," she said. "I feel there should certainly be reports given from teachers to the board on a consistent basis." Beard said the district currently uses committees that include teacher representatives when creating policies. He said those teachers should be communicating with other teachers at their schools to ensure their input is being heard. Transparency Both Beard and Woodward feel the school system is doing an adequate job of being transparent. "Everything that anybody wants to know is posted on our website ... if not, they can call a board member," Beard said. "The website is very comprehensive." Woodward said the school system is doing an outstanding job being open to the public. "The website has a wealth of information about the school system, including policies, procedure and updates on upcoming events," he said. Woodward also pointed to Superintendent Dr. Judy Grissom's "Friday notes," which are posted on the district website each week, as another example of openness. But Hughes and Johnson feel the school system can and should do better. "Transparency is an absolute," Hughes said. "I think any form of government, whether it be local or federal, should be completely transparent. "We are servants of the people, and we should never do anything we don't want them to know about." Johnson said she believes a lack of transparency is one of the main sources of the district's problems. "I think the school system is fearful of allowing people to know what is truly taking place," she said. "But if we don't face problems and keep putting a red ribbon around them and only focusing on achievements, then we can't solve them. "I believe transparency is the only answer." Tackling the budget Beard said the best way to handle budgeting is by listening to school administrators such as the finance officer and superintendent. "They're the ones who are educated and qualified to understand the relevance and value of the programs we have in place," he said. "When we have to let employees go, then we do it in a way that will not affect our classrooms. But we have to depend on the staff to give us input because we're not in the classroom every day." Woodward said he believes more deliberation and brainstorming should be done when working on the budget. Hughes said the board should be more fiscally conservative and avoid borrowing money. "If I see something I want and it costs $2 and I have a dollar in my pocket, I'm not going to go borrow another dollar to pay for it," he said. "I believe we need to ask questions about how would it benefit the students and system and if can we afford it." Johnson said she'd like to tap into more community resources by ramping up the district's fundraising efforts. "I'm a little frustrated that the only option for addressing financial issues is to cut things," she said. "If you have someone who is a skilled fundraiser, there is a way to galvanize and raise millions of dollars." Work with commissioners All four candidates believe the school system should have a better relationship with the Rowan County Board of Commissioners. "We have some common goals," Hughes said. "I would be very open to frequent meetings. "I don't want to abdicate our responsibility as a school board, but we sure need to be discussing issues." Woodward is also in favor of informal meetings between the two groups. "Both sides need to come together to discuss areas of mutual concern and create a better understanding of each others' roles and responsibilities," he said. "I would try to establish a cooperative working relationship." Beard agrees informal meetings would help create an open dialogue. "We need to listen to what they want to know and find out what their opinions are. Then we can work diligently toward compromise if necessary," he said. "But we have to find solutions both boards can agree on." Johnson said the two boards can work together to help grow the system, which in turn would attract industry to the county, creating a better economy. Charter school expansion Hughes and Beard have starkly different views about whether they'd like to promote the expansion of charter schools in Rowan County. "I am a big fan of charter schools," Hughes said. "They seem to focus more on teaching and less on government regulations, so I would like to see more of them. "It doesn't replace the public school system, and it was never designed to." Beard said he doesn't like that charter schools aren't held to the same standards as traditional public schools and don't have to accept every student. "What ends up happening is they cherry pick students from the system," he said. "Our school system works better when you have a cross-section of the population." Beard said funding charter schools takes dollars away from traditional public schools because the money follows the student. "If the child does poorly and wants to come back to public school, we don't get that money back," he said. Johnson and Woodward agree that charter schools serve a purpose, but they aren't necessarily proponents of bringing them to Rowan County. "I believe charter schools are important because they allow schools to target specific areas that people desperately need in their child's education," Johnson said. "But I firmly believe that we can provide all children with the proper education. We just have to be more competitive." Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683. Twitter: twitter.com/posteducation Facebook: facebook.com/Sarah.SalisburyPost

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