Candidates in Their Own Words: Watauga County Board of Education Candidates Speak to HCPress.com

Published Wednesday, May 2, 2012 at 11:30 am

Compiled by Jesse Wood

2012 Election graphicMay 2, 2012. This year, seats on the Watauga County Board of Education are coveted with seven candidates running for six spots during the primary.

In the general election in November, the field will be whittled down to three. Incumbents Deborah Miller, Steve Combs and John Welch, a candidate for Watauga County Commissioner, chose not to run for re-election.

Those running are: Deborah B. Greene; Jay Fenwick; Barbara Kinsey; Ron Henries; Fred C. Oliver; Brandon K. Petrea; and Brenda Reese.

(Scroll down to the bottom of the page for other important deadlines regarding the primary on Tuesday, May 8.)

For the upcoming primary election on May 8, High Country Press asked the candidates three questions:

  • Why are you running for a seat on the Watauga County Board of Education?
  • What do you feel qualifies you to be a member of the Watauga County School Board?
  • What are three things regarding Watauga County Schools that you would change or improve upon if elected?

Editor’s Note: High Country Press did not alter the candidate’s responses. Candidates were asked to limit their word count per question to 250 words per question.



Deborah B. Green

Deborah B. Greene

Why are you running for a seat on the Watauga County Board of Education?

A) To improve the relationship the Board of Education has with the community, families, and employees.    The Board of Education (Board) needs to resume its’ primary responsibility- providing support and leadership services to our schools.    The Board needs to embrace the community and families and encourage participation.  The Board should demonstrate they can be good stewards of the funds entrusted to them.   We need more communication between the Board, teachers, maintenance, and other support staff.    The Board must be more responsive to the surveys completed by teachers identifying the resources and improvements needed to help them to give our kids the education which will afford them the opportunity to succeed as adults.   The Board should encourage cost-saving ideas from employees.  And, the community, families, and employees should have greater accessibility to the Board of Education.   To this end, the Board will need to expand the School Town Hall meetings and provide dedicated support to the accessibility to public information, as initiated by board member John Welch.   We need to see the Board reform its’ open meeting policies to err on the side of transparency.  

B) To support educational choices of families and students.   In this effort, the Board of Education needs to focus on improving the traditional public school alternative, recognize it is logical for funding to follow the child and to support instead of denigrate other alternatives.   We want the Board of Education to truly put our kids first.  The Board should identify what makes other alternatives more attractive and focus on making traditional public education competitive.    Not every family is able to choose another alternative for various reasons (economics, location, etc.); it is therefore imperative the traditional public school alternative is the best it can be.   Every child is not the same and we must recognize not every child is destined for college.   We need to provide more paths for students and focus on the skills and core competency needed for the alternative paths.   We should work with businesses to prepare our students for the workplace; we need to ask employers what skills need to be improved upon.  And, we need to improve and expand the choices and credit for on-line courses; and, encourage independent learning.  

C)  To improve our approach to equipping our kids for a rapidly changing world driven by technology and global interdependence.   To this end we need to adopt a cost-effective approach, an approach that considers the rapid changes, the need to be in step with such changes and recognize our funding limits.  To be cost-effective, we need to zero in on the core competency; we must have clear objectives before we acquire these resources.   Our program needs to focus on safe-guarding our resources; and we need to acknowledge the dangers of unlimited access and respect family input.    We need to see what is working and what is not working at other schools.  And, again, we need to ask the business community for their core expectations.

What do you feel qualifies you to be a member of the Watauga County School Board?

I am a citizen of our great Nation and I am a resident of Watauga County.  As, any other citizen or resident, I want to naturally see our kids succeed as adults.   I have worked with children at risk and I know every child’s circumstances are not the same.  I appreciate the need for counselors and student services.  I have been a tutor and a teacher and I have seen the decline in the standards of core education.  As a college graduate, previous manager in a large corporation and now a business owner, I am acutely aware our kids are not being equipped with the vocational skills and/or core competency to enter the workplace or college.  As a business owner, I am aware of the fast pace change in technology and the need to equip our kids with the core technological competency skills to succeed in the job place and college.  And, as an entrepreneur, I am aware of the cost of keeping up with technology and the need to meet the task in the most cost-effective manner.   Over the past decade, I have been analyzing the financial reports, budgeting process and operations of the Board of Education.   I believe my experience in accounting and budgeting could be utilized to reform the current operations to 1) safe-guard and greatly improve the manage of the resources entrusted to the Board of Education and 2) make funding for the resources at the classroom level the priority.  

What are three things regarding Watauga County Schools that you would change or improve upon if elected?

See 1 above. 


Jay Fenwick

Jay Fenwick

Why are you running for a seat on the Watauga County Board of Education?
I am running for School Board because I believe that education can transform and improve people’s lives.  Public education makes this opportunity available to everyone.  My passion for education led me to become a teacher myself and to become an involved parent.

I am running for School Board now, because strong local education leadership is needed now.  Leadership to defend against attacks coming from the state level, attacks that cut teacher positions, increase class sizes, and reduce access to pre-K education.  Leadership to empower teachers and principals and not drown them in more silly red tape, teachers want to help students learn not fill out forms.  Leadership to listen, investigate and ask tough questions, why are school cafeterias throwing away food when so many in our community are hungry?

What do you feel qualifies you to be a member of the Watauga County School Board?

For nearly 18 years Watauga County has been home to myself, my wife Cindy, and our three sons, Baron, Grayson, and Ethan.  Ever since being asked to sing in my oldest son’s Kindergarten Christmas program, I have been involved integrally in education in Watauga County.  A member of the Green Valley PTA for many years, I served one year as treasurer and two years as president.  In addition, I served on the Green Valley School Improvement Team and teacher hiring committees.  I was a Green Valley constituency on the High School Feasibility Study in 2003.  In 2005, I became a board member of the Watauga Education Foundation and served as president from 2009-2011, which allowed me to interact with teachers and students in all of our schools.  I served as a Sunday school teacher for six years, a Vacation Bible School teacher for four years, and a youth soccer coach for seven years. I am currently using my expertise as a computer science professor at Appalachian to assist teachers at Bethel and Green Valley schools with elective courses that target STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) curricula.  

What are three things regarding Watauga County Schools that you would change or improve upon if elected?

We must first recognize proudly that Watauga County has a tradition of excellence in education, not only in student performance but also in community support.  By all objectives measures our schools are successful.  All the schools in the county consistently score as Schools of Distinction or Excellence.  Our high school students achieve SAT scores that are consistently at the top in the entire state.  We have one of the highest rates of National Teacher Board Certification attesting to our highly qualified faculty.  Subjectively, great things are happening in our schools.  Seussical was an absolutely thrilling production and a smashing success.  Mock trials, Odyssey of the Mind teams, Math Counts! competition winners, Battle of the Books, and Bring a Vet to School are just a few of the many wonderful learning experiences our teachers are crafting for our children.

The School Board is charged with maintaining and expanding these collaborative successes.  I will spearhead a renewed commitment to art, music, and foreign language programs.  Every student in every grade should be participating in these activities.  Some of these teachers are serving students at up to three different schools.  I will make our children’s health and well-being a top priority.  Nutrition, exercise, and safe environments are vital components to fostering a culture of learning.  I will act to empower teachers and principals.  These are professionals who should be consulted, encouraged, and provided continued training. 


Barbara Kinsey

Barbara Kinsey

Why are you running for a seat on the Watauga County Board of Education?

Since I graduated from high school and chose the subjects I would major in at Baylor University in Texas, I have been passionate about maintaining and improving the quality of public education at all levels in theUnited States. I learned early that our Forefathers who founded this extraordinary experiment in democratic government understood three hundred years ago, and expected us to this day and beyond to understand, that a democracy cannot endure without an educated citizenry. Thomas Jefferson stated many times that without good public schools available to people of all socio-economic levels, the vision of a successful free and independent nation, under God, would be only that – a vision, not a reality. For the past several decades, North Carolina public schools have been exemplary in their levels of achievement and their production of outstanding public and private leaders who have inspired both our state and our nation. During the many years I have taught at Watauga High School, I have personally watched many students attend prestigious colleges and universities. Those students have become doctors, scientists, archaeologists, etc. Our county has consistently been at, or near, the top of excellent schools in North Carolina, and we must continue to offer that distinction to a population who values such excellence. I believe that I have much to contribute to those values and that distinction.

What do you feel qualifies you to be a member of the Watauga County School Board?

I earned the Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Latin from Baylor University in Texas, and I earned the Master of Arts degree in English from Appalachian State University. For over 38 years, I taught English and Latin in public schools and at ASU. In 1982, I was named Wilkes County Teacher of the Year. While teaching in Watauga County Schools, I was elected president of the Watauga County Association of Educators and was chosen as one of the first one hundred teacher trainers for the newly formed North Carolina Teacher Academy. In 1998, my husband Winston and I were chosen as Fulbright Scholars to go to China to observe and formally study the myriad of levels of formal and informal education in that giant land. We were allowed to visit and observe every entry level of education from pre-school through college and graduate study.

What are three things regarding Watauga County Schools that you would change or improve upon if elected?

As I said earlier, Watauga County Schools have traditionally excelled in educational endeavors, and, as a school board member, I hope to
help continue that excellence and to help teachers further explore and take advantage of best teaching practices for the 21st Century. I would specifically like to restore a sense of excitement for life-long learning for students, teachers, administrators, parents, and community members. I would like to encourage advanced study of technologies which will prepare Watauga graduates to quickly fit into a job that offers immediate positions. I will always support arts education, including visual arts, dramatic arts, performing arts, etc. I believe the citizens of our county have learned an important lesson: it is the responsibility of each generation to pass on the legacy of excellence in education to the next generation. My dream is that Watauga County will provide well for their children and grandchildren.


 

Ron Henries

Ron Henries

Why are you running for a seat on the Watauga County Board of Education?

My reasons for running for a seat on the Board of Education are based on my interest in education and our school system in particular.   I worked in the public schools of North Carolina for 31 years and 25 of those years were in the Watauga County Schools.  I served as a teacher, assistant principal, and principal in three of our schools.  I also served on the Board of Education from 2006-2008.  I believe that the issues that face the Board of Education require the Board Members to evaluate diminishing revenues and find the most effective use of those funds to serve our students. This will require the Board to be knowledgeable about the curriculum, personnel, effective teaching strategies, etc, and to assess our strengths and needs and target where we should spend our Current Expense and Capital Outlay funds.

What do you feel qualifies you to be a member of the Watauga County School Board?

Besides spending 31 years as a teacher, assistant principal and principal I also served for two years on the Board of Education, serving from 2006-2008.  Since retiring from the public schools, I have taught in the Reich College of Education at Appalachian State University. I teach special education teacher candidates in the Reading Education—Special Education Department.  Some other areas where I have served in leadership positions include currently serving as Chairman of the Board of Directors of Special Olympics North Carolina.  SONC serves 39,000 athletes in North Carolina with intellectual disabilities.   I also currently serve as Chairman of the Board of Directors for Watauga Opportunities, Inc.   WOI serves local residents with developmental disabilities in job placement and training.

What are three things regarding Watauga County Schools that you would change or improve upon if elected?

Watauga County has one of the finest school systems in North Carolina.  But in any business or organization there is always room for improvement.   Three areas that I see where we could improve are early childhood reading, efficient delivery of services for exceptional children, and reducing the dropout rate in our schools.  Most research shows that if we teach students to read in grades 1 and 2 and keep them on grade level through the 3rd grade, students will be more successful throughout their career in education.   As for our exceptional children, we need to make sure their placements made are for student success, keeping the student’s needs as first priority.

By any measure, we lose too many students that dropout of school. This needs to be a priority from Kindergarten through the 12th grade.  There are many school systems in North Carolina who have improved their dropout rate. We need to find out some of those strategies and see if they would be possible in Watauga County.


Fred C. Oliver

Fred C. Oliver

Why are you running for a seat on the Watauga County Board of Education?

I believe we need more conservative voices at all levels of government and more accountability for the way tax dollars are spent.  I recognize that education of our children is an important obligation of society; it is also a large percentage of our county budget.  Many personal experiences with various government agencies inform me that government, by nature, is clumsy and inefficient, and that those spending “other people’s money” are often not as careful as they could be with expenditures.

I am frustrated by the number of people in public office who feel the only solution to a problem is to simply throw more money at the problem.  I think it likely that we can improve the educational system and also be better stewards of the money provided by taxpayers.

What do you feel qualifies you to be a member of the Watauga County School Board?

Practicing medicine – and managing a medical practice (a small business) – require identifying a problem, gathering the information needed to solve the problem, and making a logical, rational, common-sense decision to address the problem.  I did that successfully for more than two decades, and I believe those skills can be used effectively in the management of a county school system.  Other than the 24 years I spent in the educational system, I have not been involved with the system, or indoctrinated by it.  That is an advantage, as it enables a fresh, unvarnished approach to the issues at hand.

What are three things regarding Watauga County Schools that you would change or improve upon if elected?

The educational system should exist for instruction, not indoctrination, and I’d like to see less ‘political correctness’ and a more impartial presentation of our nation’s history and social issues.  It seems to me that the liberal (or progressive) perspective has been over-emphasized in the curriculum and the classroom, and there should be more balance in the viewpoints offered to students.

I’d like to see teachers freed from senseless, unnecessary rules and overbearing bureaucracy and allowed to do what they love.  We should permit the occasional use of common sense. (My daughter taught an art class, including painting, in a room without a sink, while the math teacher down the hall was in a classroom with a sink that was never used.)  Excellent, effective teachers should be recognized and rewarded.  Ineffective teachers should find another vocation.

As in any household, business, or government agency, waste and inefficiency should be sought out and eliminated.  Without any ‘inside knowledge’ of the Watauga School System, I know enough about government to believe there are ways to more efficiently use the limited resources available.


Brandon K. Petrea

Brandon K. Petrea

Why are you running for a seat on the Watauga County Board of Education?

I want to make a difference in our education system. It’s changed over the years since I was in school, and I want to make sure – I have kids in school now, and I have kids coming up in school – I want to make sure the education system is the best it can be.  I want to make it better for the kids coming up, where it is actually worth being in school for. Like is said, I will make a difference, when I get in the office to when I leave, they are going to say ‘When Brandon was in their, I was able to teach my kids efficiently.’

What do you feel qualifies you to be a member of the Watauga County School Board?

I feel like I can bring common sense to the school board – make good decisions with common sense. I have kids in the system and I want to make sure they have a good experience in the school – dropout rates and all. All kinds of stuff happens in school; I want to make sure the system is good. I want to bring common sense to it.

What are three things regarding Watauga County Schools that you would change or improve upon if elected?

I definitely want to work with the county commissioners and all school boards to make sure we keep jobs. That’s my main goal – keeping jobs. So we are not tight on teachers –  I know some teachers left for their own reasons and not because of budget cuts. And create jobs, in somehow in someway.


Brenda Reese

Brenda Reese

Why are you running for a seat on the Watauga County Board of Education?

In early February, I was approached by several community members who encouraged me to seek a seat on the Watauga County Board of Education. I decided to accept the challenge as a way of giving back to a system which has supported and given me so many opportunities in the past. I have devoted my entire career to making life better for children of all ages. Now I have the opportunity to move into another level of decision-making where budget and policy decisions directly affect every child in the district.

Being actively involved in all phases of education over thirty years provides me with a unique perspective and will allow me to become a dedicated and effective Board member. By nature, I do not seek the lime light; however, I am a “hard worker” who is persistent in getting the job well done. When I believe in an idea or concept, I do not give up or quit. I believe in the goals of the system and am proud to have worked for Watauga County Schools. I believe strongly that ALL students deserve the best education possible and that education can best be delivered through our public schools. My background and experiences give me the prerequisite skills to function as an effective Board member. Our motto at Mabel was, “Dream! Believe! Strive! Succeed!” It has become my personal mantra and will serve me well as a future Board member for Watauga County Schools!

What do you feel qualifies you to be a member of the Watauga School Board?

My life has been devoted to education from the time I stayed in the primary class at church instead of moving up to the junior class. I stayed so I could serve as my wonderful Mrs. Catheyʼs “teacher assistant” in Sunday School and Vacation Bible School. I knew early on that I wanted to teach. Now I have experience working with all grade levels from pre-kindergarten through twelfth–as a serving as ahouse parent, substitute teacher, teacher assistant, exceptional childrenʼs teacher, Director of Exceptional Children and Federal Programs, and as a principal at Mabel, Crossnore, and, currently, Freedom Trail. Through my positions with Watauga County Schools, I became familiar with all of the districtʼs schools and recognize each oneʼs uniqueness. I appreciate the excellence for which the district is recognized, and I also know there must be a balance between individual school needs and district wide needs.

 I have worked in some of the largest (Charlotte and Raleigh) and smallest (Crossnore and Elk Park) populated areas in the state at both the district and school level…from Eastway Daycare and Kindergarten in Charlotte, Elk Park Elementary in Avery County, to Lacy Classical Magnet School in Raleigh. My career has included serving as a house parent at Crossnore School Incorporated and as a teacher assistant in Head Start. As an administrator in Watauga County, I served as Director of Exceptional Children and Federal Programs and as principal of Mabel Elementary School. These experiences have allowed me to become familiar with all schools in the system. I am currently working in Avery County where I am principal of Freedom Trail Elementary.  

Each situation has provided its own unique set of strengths and challenges, and has included–but is not limited to–many of the following issues: personnel, budget, curriculum, assessment, interpretation and enforcement of local, state, and federal rules, regulations, and laws. I have been recognized as Teacher of the Year at schools in Avery and Wake counties and as Principal of the Year in Watauga and Avery counties. Specific interests are the North Carolina School Improvement Project or NC SIP and Responsiveness to Instruction or RtI. My background in federal programs and in the principalship has given me experience with the important and appreciation of following laws, rules, and regulations as intended. This has given me insight into balancing confidentiality and transparency. Board members must see issues from many complex angles and then simplify to the heart of issues. The goal is to blend common sense and legal sense. For these reasons, I believe I am well qualified to serve as a member of the Watauga County Board of Education.

What are three things regarding Watauga County Schools that you would change or improve upon if elected?

Three issues which are near and dear to my heart are: Early Intervention/Prevention, Key Personnel, and Managing Constant Changes.  I am a staunch supporter of early intervention/prevention. I began by believing that early intervention in prekindergarten and grades kindergarten through second was the key to later success. As I have learned more about current research–both on the development of the brain and on curriculum–I have added the word “prevention” to my original focus. Early intervention and prevention of learning problems in early education has significant payoffs in later years. Without strong foundational reading skills, students will struggle throughout their school careers. Providing quality prekindergarten programs which flow in sync into kindergarten through second grade reading programs is critical. Partnering with parents to help parents understand the importance of reading and offering practical opportunities for them to foster a love of reading in the lives of their children is vital. Keeping class sizes low and keeping the extra pair of hands provided by well trained teacher assistants is vital in assuring that every child entering third grade is reading with both adequate fluency and comprehension skills. Reading is the underlying key to success in every content area. 

We need the BEST teachers and assistants we can locate to teach our children. Then, we need to give them our full support and eliminate as many obstacles as possible to allow them to teach. This includes lobbying our legislature and government officials for adequate financial support so that we can keep class sizes reasonable, we can provide technology and related materials and supports, and we can provide relevant professional development opportunities for them. We not only must locate the best, but we must also keep them once we have them. Training takes time and is expensive.

Once we do the training, we need to keep personnel in place to refine and implement the programs or skills for which they were trained. This means providing time for the planning necessary to implement new programs or skills effectively. Gone are the days students were allowed to just sit in the back of the classroom and be ignored as long as they did not disrupt class. Today teachers must differentiate instruction for not only the gifted or struggling students, but for ALL students. This is a tremendous challenge as Common Core and Essential Standards, the expectation for increased formative assessments three or four times per year as well as field tests, end of year tests, and weekly and biweekly progress monitoring, and the need to learn new technologies take more and more time. Ultimately, it is the teacher behind the classroom door who determines the skills her students will have at the end of the semester or year. It is our responsibility to make certain the teacher has what he or she needs to guarantee ALL students leave with adequate skills.

Managing change is perhaps the most difficult arena schools and school personnel face today. A friend of mine once said, “Change is an event, not a process.” At the time, I was not sure I could accept that definition; however, I am beginning to think his statement is truer than I may want it to be. Technology in the twenty-first century is changing how our world functions at such a rapid pace that we can no longer only give lip service to twenty-first century skills. Everyone must analyze, problem solve, make connections, synthesize, collaborate…all at a faster pace than ever before in order to make sense of the barrage of information coming at them. The best way to guarantee that students and school personnel can function in this type of setting is to employ the best educators the system can locate. Programs, materials, technology, and buildings are important; however, it is the people in the positions dealing directly with students on a daily basis who make the difference. Communication is vital. School personnel and community members need to clearly understand who is responsible in which areas and who the contact person is for answers to their questions without having to call person after person or get only partial answers. Continuous improvement has always been my primary goal. Along with that, I have to recognize change is a fact of life, more so than ever. We can get frustrated and give up or we can embrace it and develop coping skills that will allow us to thrive. I have not said it will be easy; however, acceptance and recognition that our world has become smaller, information is coming faster, and we can embrace the excitement of new possibilities is key.


Important Dates To Remember Regarding the Primary on Tuesday, May 8: 

Party affiliation change deadline: Friday, April 13
Voter registration deadline: Friday, April 13
Deadline for submitting faxed voter registration forms: Wednesday, April 18
One-stop voting begins: Thursday, Apr 19
Absentee ballot requests due: Tuesday, May 1
One-stop voting ends: Saturday, May 5 
Voter absentee ballots due: Monday, May 7, by 5:00 p.m.
If mailed, postmarked by election day and received by: Friday, May 11, 5:00 p.m.
Absentee ballot requests for ill/disabled voters due: Monday, May 7, 5:00 p.m.
2012 primary election: Tuesday, May 8, 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

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