By Jesse Wood
Sept. 24, 2012. Ron Henries is the only school board candidate with experience on the Watauga County Board of Education and, perhaps along with Brenda Reese, he is the most experienced educator running for school board.
He has worked in three county schools systems, all the while living in Watauga County, where he has lived full time since 1969. Upon graduating from ASU, he drove to Burke and Ashe counties to teach. Since 1980, he has worked in Watauga County Schools as a teacher, assistant principal and principal, and twice he was awarded Principal of the Year.
He was a teacher and assistant principal at Hardin Park from 1980 to 1986, where upon he left to become principal of Bethel Elementary School until 1995. Then he became the principal at Cove Creek Elementary School until he retired from Watauga County Schools in 2003.
He didn’t stay retired long. After a little bit of “boredom,” Henries joined the Reich College of Education (RCOE) at ASU as an adjunct instructor in the Department of Reading Education and Special Education in 2004. In 2006-07, he received the RCOE Outstanding Adjunct Award. Currently, he teaches Creating Inclusive Learning Communities, a Special Education course required of all teacher education majors, and he supervises student teacher candidates majoring in Special Education.
Charles Duke, the dean of RCOE, said Henries has “outstanding character and terrific integrity,” among other positive attributes.
“He is extremely popular with the students, and he’s a real outstanding teacher himself and has a very good grasp on education and education policy,” Duke said. “I’d vote for him in a minute.”
At RateMyProfessor.com, the largest online database for professor ratings, Henries scored nearly a perfect rating – although it was a very small sampling of only 10 students.
One former student wrote, “Dr. Henries is not only the BEST professor I have ever had, he is one of the best people I have ever met. He is so helpful, funny, and informative. He has A LOT of experience and is willing to share his stories with his students. I encourage you to take a class with him before graduating. You won’t regret it.”
And it seems as if Henries has had as much fun in those classes at ASU as his students have.
“As far as teaching at ASU, I just absolutely love to teach. I didn’t get to teach a lot when I went into administration when I was pretty young,” Henries said. “I love to teach and now I get to teach teachers, and it’s a lot of fun.”
From Siler City to Boone
Henries is married to Wanda Dale Henries, and the couple, which recently celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary, attend Boone United Methodist Church. Both of their sons spent their grade-school days inside Watauga County Schools; are employed in Boone and attend Faithbridge United Methodist Church.
Henries grew up in Siler City, a typical small town in the ‘60s that he compared to Mayberry of the Andy Griffith Show. Frances Bavier, who played Aunt Bea on the show, actually retired in Siler City. “It was just a small town where everybody knew everybody,” Henries said.
At the age of 18, Henries moved to Watauga County for freshman classes at ASU, which was the only college where he submitted an application. Although ASU has a track record for being the premiere teacher’s college in the state, Henries initially considered a major in history but eventually focused on health and physical education because he “really enjoyed classes in education.”
When he graduated, the only job available was amidst special education field, so he went back to school to receive certification in special education and “like it so well,” he earned a master’s degree working with exceptional children. Until he became an administrator at Hardin Park Elementary School, he worked as an educator inside the classroom for those with special needs.
While his current interests include golf and riding his horse, Henries said “his passion has always been helping individuals with disabilities” and because of his long career in education, he added that his interest in running for the school board is “just part of me.”
Devoted to Special Needs Children
In 2006, Henries ran for Watauga County Board of Education and won a seat on the school board.
As he was considering running for a second term in 2008, he was elected to the board of a “very important organization” – the Special Olympics of North Carolina (SONC), which serves 39,000 Special Olympic athletes in the state. It’s an organization that he has volunteered his time with for the past 32 years.
Not wanting to spread himself thin and slight any of his other works, he decided not to run for school board as an incumbent while working for the SONC and Watauga Opportunities, where he also serves as chairman of the board for the local organization that serves citizens in Watauga County with developmental disabilities by providing job training and placement and helping those individuals to become productive citizens.
“Both of those organizations take a lot of time, and I am still working pretty much – only so many hours in the day,” Henries said, adding that it was also an honor to be appointed to the board of the SONC.
Currently, Henries is the chairman of the board of directors for the SONC, but his “tour of duty” will come to an end in less than a year.
“I felt like I had time to devote myself to the school board,” Henries said
Former Watauga County Schools Supt. Dick Jones worked with Henries for five years from 1998 to 2003 while Henries was principal at Cove Creek Elementary School and had nothing but good words for Henries.
Jones cited Henries vast experience in the school system as teacher, assistant principal and principal and Henries’ work with special needs children has two areas that “stick out” in Jones’ mind.
“He has really dedicated a good portion of his career to special needs children and has done a lot with the Special Olympics – not only statewide but locally as well,” Jones said. “A lot of the public doesn’t know about this. He didn’t do it for credit. He did it to help kids that hold a special place in his heart.”
Being one of the two candidates with a vast career in public schools, Henries said it’s “very beneficial” for board members to understand what happens in public schools and how public schools operate on a day-to-day basis. But he said it isn’t necessary for every school board member to be an educator.
“The board of education is a policy making board. It does not run the day-to-day operations of the school system. That’s the responsibility of the superintendent. The board hires the superintendent to run the school system. The board is primarily a policy-making board,” Henries said. “We need people on the board that come from other backgrounds, whether it be business [or something else].”
For example, he said that when he was on the board several years ago, the school system was in a “big-building boom.” He said that one of his fellow board members was Ted Greene of Greene Construction, adding that Greene’s knowledge of the construction trade was “absolutely essential” for doing renovations and building projects.
When asked about educational issues that he wants to tackle as a school board member, Henries warned about pitfalls of joining the board with an agenda before mentioning certain issues.
“It’s OK for board members to have agendas, things they would like to see done. But a lot of the time that can get in the way of what can be done. A lot of the time board members go in there with unreal expectations with what they, as individuals, can do,” Henries said. “The board functions as a five-member board, and the calendar is pretty well covered by state law. Rules are covered by state law. As for going on the board saying I want to do this, it’s not wise. We’re faced with enough problems and things to deal with without coming on with an agenda.”
Although Henries said that Watauga County has one of the finest school systems in the state, he said there is always room for improvement in any entity. Three areas that he seeks to improve are early childhood reading, efficient delivery of services for exceptional children and reduction of the dropout rate.
In an interview before the May 8 primary runoff, Henries wrote in an email, “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 the dropout rate, he said that even though Watauga County Schools has improved its high school dropout rate to 80 percent, the 20-percent dropout rate “is not good enough.” He added that kids who dropout have little chance of finding a job or supporting themselves. “We need to cut the high school dropout rate to nothing,” Henries said. “We need a zero-tolerance policy.”
In that same interview before the primary, he wrote: “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.”
He also mentioned that ever-changing technology is an ongoing issue in schools, especially as more schools move to end-of-grade tests being taken on the computer. “Soon, it won’t be paper tests anymore,” he said. “So we have to have the type of hardware and software available capable of dealing with state requirements. We need to give kids opportunities with the best technology available.”
Henries, along with Fred Oliver, are the two school board candidates backed by the Watauga County Republican Party. Henries, though, is adamant about the school board not taking a partisan stance.
In fact, the first thing that he said to the crowd that gathered at the headquarters of the Watauga County Republican Party during its grand opening in August was this school board race is “supposed to be nonpartisan.”
During a recent interview in September, Henries maintained that stance. “Politics should play no part in the school board election. I served on the board for two years and never saw the board of education make a partisan vote,” he said. “Five members on the board voted for children. They didn’t vote for political parties.”
Henries placed third in the runoff of the seven school board candidates during the May 8 primary with more than 16 percent of the votes. Henries said he has engaged in the “typical campaigning practices” to let the public “know I am a candidate.”
During the primary, he didn’t place any signs on the roadways and/or front yards, but that recently changed.
“They are kind of tacky to tell you the truth,” Henries said. “But, I know they are a necessary evil.”