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Watauga County Association of Educators Surveys School Board Candidates, All Candidates Respond

Correction: Fred Oliver’s response is listed below. Due to a miscommunication between WCAE President Wendy Nicholson and Fred Oliver and perhaps an email being lost in cyberspace, his response wasn’t in the initial post. 

By Jesse Wood 

Oct. 1, 2012. The Watauga County Association of Educators (WCAE) surveyed the Watauga County Board of Education candidates recently and asked them three questions.

The WCAE is comprised of educators, and WCAE President Wendy Nicholson said, “We want informed voters in November as to these Board of Ed candidates.”

The Three Questions

What are your two top educational priorities for Watauga County Schools?

What is your position on career status for educators versus merit pay?

What positive changes to do see as necessary to provide quality public education in Watauga County?

Since some of the candidates emailed, faxed or printed off a hard copy, the format for High Country Press is different than usual.

Fred Oliver: 

Before answering your specific questions, I will admit to having no involvement with the education system, other than the 24 years I spent in the system. (And that was a while ago.) I believe that can be viewed as a positive attribute, as I have not been indoctrinated by the system and can offer a fresh, unvarnished approach to the problems and issues at hand. Sometimes thinking ‘outside the box’ is beneficial.

The same skills, abilities and common sense required to establish and operate a successful small business (in my case, a medical practice) can be utilized for many of the issues facing a county school system.

My wife taught briefly after college graduation, my daughter taught high school art before changing to a career in graphic design, and my mother-in-law taught 3rd grade for 40+ years in Eastern NC. So I have some appreciation of the challenges that teachers face.

I had a nice long meeting with Dr. Jones, and another with Dr. Kafitz, to learn about the state of the county schools and some of the challenges we’re facing. I’ve talked extensively with past and present members of the school board and attended the last 5 board meetings. However, I’m not ‘up to speed’ on the issues and will not form any opinions until all the facts are before me. Therefore my answers will necessarily be somewhat generalized.

1. What are your top two educational priorities for Watauga County Schools?

We must deal effectively with funding challenges. Although the school board has little control over the amount of money received from the county and state, emphasis should be on using available funds in the most efficient manner and optimizing resources in the classroom. Fancy buildings, technological gadgets, and unnecessary bureaucracy are no substitute for a committed, enthusiastic and effective teacher in the classroom.

We should look for ways to reduce the dropout rate without taking resources away from the students who can and will succeed. We all know the lack of a high school diploma is a key harbinger of a life in poverty (and crime). The challenge is to convey that knowledge to 15-17-year-old students (and in some cases, their parents.)

2. What is your position on career status for educators versus merit pay?

I believe most teachers are committed to the welfare and education of their students and work hard at what is often a thankless occupation. Successful, effective, enthusiastic teachers should be – must be – encouraged, rewarded and recognized. As in any profession, like it or not, there are teachers who are not effective, due to lack of skill or enthusiasm or interest. If they cannot be assisted in developing the necessary abilities (or attitude) they should change careers (for their sake and the students.)

3. What positive changes do you see as necessary to provide quality education in Watauga County?

While there’s always room for improvement, it seems to me the Watauga schools are doing pretty well. In addition to the previously mentioned items, I’d like to see more allowance for common sense in education and less political correctness.

I suspect there are rules, regulations and restrictions imposed by the educational system that impair the ability to function properly as an educator (or student) and that reduction or relaxation of the restrictions would be beneficial.