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School board candidates voice opinions at Livingstone forum

In order to educate its students about the importance of voting and the functions of the school board, Livingstone College hosted a forum for the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education candidates.
A panel formed of Livingstone professors asked the candidates questions, giving them each time to answer. Several students also posed questions to the candidates.
All Rowan-Salisbury Board candidates except W.F. Owens participated.
Questions covered a wide variety of topics, including communication with the community, test scores and improvements, Knox Middle School and teacher pay.
The candidates were asked how they intended to keep the public aware of what’s going on in the school system.
All of the challenging candidates mentioned they would like to see the school board’s meetings streamed, posted online or broadcast over public access television.
Travis Allen, who is running for the west seat, said he felt meetings are scheduled during working hours or change at the last minute far too often.
“One great benefit would be to put them online,” he said.
“We need to be a visible face in the community and be available to answer questions,” said Lawrence Helms. “We need to use the current technology we have to get the word out.”
Helms is running for the south seat.
L.A. Overcash, who is running for re-election for the south seat, agreed, adding that he didn’t see why it shouldn’t be uploaded online.
“The lack of attempts to make the public aware of what’s going, seems shady,” Dean Hunter, who is running for the south seat said. “The appearance is there.”
Phil Hardin said the audio of each school board meeting used to be put online when he was the district’s technology director. Hardin is running for the north seat.
Jean Kennedy, who is running unopposed for the special area seat, said she is open to talking to anyone who reaches out to her.
“If you invite me, I will come,” she said.
Dr. Richard Miller said he makes an effort to go to events he’s not specifically invited to such as athletic events and civic groups in order to talk to community members.
“Some of the best input I get is at the ballgames,” he said.
“I’m one of the greatest missionaries for public education in our community,” Kay Wright Norman said, adding that not a day goes by when she doesn’t strike up conversations to talk about the school system and its needs.
The candidates also addressed the district’s low test scores and their plans to improve them.
“The results come from the lack of literacy. Our new strategic plan focuses on literacy and student engagement,” Overcash said. “If we get our reading scores up, we’ll get all our other scores up.”
Hunter said he thinks there are multiple explanations for the district’s low test scores, including poverty and students’ lives at home.
Helms suggested partnering with Livingstone, Catawba and Rowan-Cabarrus Community College to develop mentoring and tutoring programs.
Allen touted student-teacher relationships and “the basics.”
“We took away relationships and put computers in there,” he said.
One question dealt with the board’s relationship with the superintendent.
Allen stated that while the superintendent is supposed to report to the school board, he feels the board has failed to maintain a system of checks and balances.
“For years we’ve had no school board that will reign in that superintendent,” he said.
Hardin said he felt the board didn’t come to the community for its opinions considering the superintendent nearly enough.
“We have to give her a few more years to evaluate her. I feel like she has a passion for education and a passion for literacy,” Hunter said, adding that he felt she would do “everything in her power” to make the school system succeed.
“I think we owe it to her as a school board to team up with her when she’s right but also hold her accountable when she goes the wrong direction,” he said.
Helms echoed the sentiment.
“When I think she’s right, I have no problem agreeing with her, and I have no problem disagreeing with her when I think she’s wrong,” he said.
Miller argued that the school board already holds the superintendent accountable with periodic evaluations.
“We do have a system in place where we are holding her accountable,” he said.
The candidates also faced a question about Knox Middle School’s deteriorating condition.
“The board has realized that the facility needs help,” Miller said, adding that it’s had a “facelift,” as well as new co-principals.
“You’d see a different environment that when I started on the board,” he said.
Norman said it’s been a priority of the board for more than 10 years, but it just received the funds to actually be able to do something.
“If it’s been a priority, why is the central office No. 1?” Allen asked, pointing out that the district had partnerships with the “wealthy elite” for the central office, but not for Knox.
A Livingstone student asked what the district was doing to recruit and keep teachers.
Hardin said that local supplements on top of state-mandated salaries are much higher in the counties surrounding Rowan.
He added that incentives must be a priority if teachers and classrooms are a priority.
“We are missing out on great teachers,” he said.
Kennedy responded that the district doesn’t get “a big pot of gold.”
“When we get money, it is earmarked,” she said. “The money is not there.”
Norman added that the school board needs money from the county commissioners in order to increase the district’s local supplements.
In the meantime, however, she said they try to provide teachers with a good environment and “as many resources as possible.”

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