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At-large Board of Education candidates discuss issues

 

LTN Staff reports

 

Lincoln County voters will be deciding this fall on which candidates for a range of federal, state and local offices they want to represent them. The Lincoln Times-News is surveying those office-seekers with questions related to issues they are likely to face if elected. Today’s edition provides the responses from candidates for the Lincoln County Board of Education, at-large seat.

With the current at-large board member, Kelly Childress, not seeking a new term, the race features three candidates hoping to join the board.

Joan Avery of Crouse, a registered Democrat who previously held a district seat on the board is hoping to return to office after being voted out during the 2010 election. Two Republicans, Mark Mullen of Lincolnton and Todd Wulfhorst of Denver, are also seeking the seat. Because this is a nonpartisan election, the candidate with the most votes will be the winner regardless of whether that person has a majority or how close the vote total is.

 

Question: Troubled students in Lincoln County are sent to the Asbury School, which continues to post very low numbers on standardized testing. Is that to be expected or should something be done to try and improve the situation there?

 

Avery:

 

Asbury Alternative School allows any student in Lincoln County Schools, who is struggling in a regular classroom having a behavior problem, to continue his/her education and avoid suspension. Lincoln County Schools serve all students. Asbury allows the student to focus in smaller classes with differentiated instruction given. The faculty and student work on self-respect and character building, which directs the student to use the rules of conduct as his/her guide. This intrinsic motivation can diminish discipline issues. Standardized test scores stay at the school except for the centralized BED scores that return to the student’s home school. The staff at Asbury work hard to see that each student receives the best education possible. Counselors are available for any issue that may arise.

Mullen:

Low-scoring numbers posted on a standardized test should never lower the expectations of the educational experience for any child. Asbury by title is an alternative school. Students attending alternative schools usually have not performed to expectations in the normal school environment. Every effort should be made to help these students achieve a high school diploma and provide them with the life skills needed in order to succeed. Studies show that results using a more interactive approach to education with students who are at risk has a more favorable outcome. This requires more teacher/student and even community/student involvement to be successful. There are many underlying reasons that must be addressed with each student to determine what approach is necessary in order for them to learn. As a community, we have a vested interest in making sure every student within the Lincoln County School System is given the best education possible, not only at the best performing schools but also in the most challenging settings. There has been a lot of discussion from the School Board on building a new Alternative school to replace Asbury, however, the School Board should be more interested in investing and promoting alternative educational programs that will allow the students at Asbury to thrive.

Wulfhorst:

The school board should be encouraging the superintendent to place highly trained and motivated teachers as well as highly trained and motivated support staff to address the issues the students who are enrolled at Asbury School are facing. In addition to addressing the needs of the students, the staff at Asbury School should be involved with the process of evaluating the condition of the facility and determining the cost effectiveness of renovations versus finding another location. Hopefully the county will be open to utilizing some of the old hospital to replace Asbury School.

 

Q: The previous superintendent of Lincoln County Schools did not have his contract renewed after accusing board members of allegedly unethical conduct, including using their board positions to seek unfair favors for relatives and friends. What do you think about how that situation was handled and do you think the conduct of which he accused the board members, if true, would be inappropriate?

 

Avery:

 

The previous superintendent of Lincoln County Schools was hired to a four year contract. After he had worked for two and a half years, he asked for an extension of that contract. The majority of the board voted no. His original contract remained in effect. The superintendent decided not to finish the last nine months of his original contract. Allegations made against me personally, even if true, would not support a finding of being unethical or acting improperly.

Mullen:

Any conduct that is unethical is unacceptable. There should never be any “favors” sought due to anyone’s position within the school system including those on the Board. During Dr. Martin’s tenure, he received glowing reviews from the School Board each year prior to his contract being non-renewed. I do not know why the previous board declined to renew his contract. I can only say from my interactions with Dr. Martin, within the schools and throughout the community, that he cared deeply for each student and worked diligently towards promoting their education.

Wulfhorst:

Neither side handled the situation appropriately. A school board member should not use their board position to seek favors for relatives or friends.

 

Q: If you are on the board and disagree with a policy decision made by the majority, what do you feel your role should be? Are you obligated to silently endure a policy you think is wrong in order to promote unity or do you continue to have a right and obligation to speak your conscience, even if it creates disharmony?

 

Avery:

 

The Lincoln County School Board has a policy committee. This committee is led by a board chairman as well as two other board members. The policy meeting is open to all board members and the public. Policies are discussed in open session with the public present. Any policy is open for thirty days for input before it is brought to the board for voting. The majority vote counts. If any policy needs to be discussed, it can be brought to the policy committee for evaluation by any board member..

Mullen:

The Lincoln County Board of Education is a board made up of seven members who are responsible for the educational direction of every student within the Lincoln County School System, and are accountable to each Citizen of Lincoln County.  The board must represent these students both ethically and transparently. It is each board members responsibility to make sure they strive to do what is ethical and legal within that role. This includes performing due diligence to research all facts so that a well informed vote may be made. I am prepared to devote the time needed to understand each issue faced by our system and will be diligent in doing what is best for our children. Once a vote has been made, it is the entire boards’ duty to promote the decision regardless of how an individual voted. Individual members of the board have no individual authority and must work to maintain unity for the good of the students.

Wulfhorst:

If any board member disagrees with a policy decision, the board member should voice their opinion and explain why they dissent from the majority’s position.  The purpose of the board is to make decisions after weighing all the facts.  The majority should prevail.

 

Q: Even though unemployment in the region is high, industries with good-paying jobs have said they can’t find enough Lincoln County workers with the necessary advanced technical training. What can board of education members do to address this issue?

 

Avery:

 

The Board of Education has made great strides in technology and AP courses for our high school students. Lincoln County Schools has a great relationship with Gaston College. Through this partnership, classes will be offered in correlation with business’ needs. Due to funds cut on the state level, the School of Tech is working closely to see that these needs can be met. A Culinary School/Technology Center was drawn up several years ago when I was on the board. Seed money was given in the bond issue. Contributions by businesses and industries were needed to fully fund this endeavor. We need to rethink the center that was to be built at the School of Tech.

Mullen:

Lincoln County Schools received a Grant from Timken many years ago to establish the Lincoln County School of Technology (LCST). This was a great advance for Lincoln County Students and for employers in the area. However, Lincoln County Schools have failed to keep up with the times. The curriculum at the LCST is currently well over 20 years old. Updates need to be made to the curriculum in order to educate our students in the advanced technical training needed in order to secure jobs available both in Lincoln County and surrounding areas. We should take every step we can to develop our graduates to be the workforce of the future, not the past. As a board member, I would like to work with local industries to develop programs that will provide skill sets needed to excel in jobs that are available now. Through corporate sponsorships and internships, we can make sure that our students are ready for any career field they choose.

Wulfhorst:

The board should review the role of the School of Technology and work with industries to create apprenticeship opportunities within the industries. The Board should also better utilize the resources available through Gaston College.

 

Q: School Board members have to handle a range of complex policy and legal issues. What can you tell us about your educational and professional background that would show you are the most qualified candidate in this race?

 

Avery:

 

My educational background qualifies me to handle complex policies and legal issues. I graduated from Lincolnton High School and continued my educational degree at Lenoir Rhyne College. I earned a BA in Health and Physical Education. I obtained a Media Specialist Degree from Queen’s College in Charlotte. I am a Registered Nurse licensed in the state of North Carolina. As an educator for 33 years in Lincoln County, I am well aware of the growth and progress that our schools have achieved. Equality in schools is very important for the success of our students. Technology needs are being addressed K-12. With this technology growth, we must be proactive in making certain that schools have necessary wireless capabilities and tools. Meeting the community needs through education has been my lifetime goal. For the past two years, I have enjoyed substituting in the schools, meeting parents and students, and volunteering through the Junior Achievement Program..

Mullen:

I am a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a business owner, insurance professional, and community volunteer. I am faced with complex and legal issues of all types every day. In my own business, I must understand and implement the federal and state regulations regarding employees, develop budgets, timelines, marketing initiatives, and manage employees. As an insurance professional, I have to understand the complexities of many businesses and the rules and regulations that go along with them. I study and review risks that affect many types of businesses and find solutions that will keep their assets safe. Through community involvement and serving as a member on several local boards, I understand what it takes to be a good steward of resources entrusted. I am ready to bring these experiences to the School Board to give back to the citizens of Lincoln County.

Wulfhorst:

I am a graduate of East Lincoln High School. I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Pennsylvania State University. I have a Juris Doctor degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I am the Principal in a successful Lincoln County law firm. I have experience managing people and running a business.

 

Q: The School Board is required to enter a closed session to discuss some issues, but not allowed to examine other matters or take most actions while in closed session. If you were on the board and believed that business being done in closed session was improper, what would you do?

 

Avery:

 

If I were on the school board, and believed that business conducted during closed session was improper, our attorney would instruct the chairman of the school board that this was improper and should be only discussed in open session.

Mullen:

The board must maintain transparency. It would be unethical not to interject whenever something is improper. I would immediately request that all conversation stop and that the board reconvene into open session so the members of the community know exactly what is being discussed. The School Board is elected by the Citizens of Lincoln County and should be diligent in keeping the citizens informed with the boards’ actions on every issue permissible by law.

Wulfhorst:

I would object to any action taken in closed session that is improper and make a motion to end the             closed session.

 

Q: At budget time, the board often faces tough decisions. What would your priorities be?

 

Avery:

 

My priorities at budget time will be to best meet the school systems needs for the upcoming year. The budget committee is led by a board member chairman as well as two other board members. This committee works closely with the superintendent, county office personnel, the director of finance, and state and federal guidelines. Principals are included in budgetary conversations concerning state mandates, cuts, and appropriations. The School Board is given weekly/monthly updates at the budget meetings that all school board members attend. The public is invited to attend.

Mullen:

My priorities are and will always be to the students and teachers in the Lincoln County School System. There are many areas where cuts can be made before any one should look at the core requirements of educational needs. There have been strides made with economies of scale through a joint effort with Lincoln County and I would like to continue these and use the savings to provide more resources to our students and teachers without placing an additional burden on the taxpayers of Lincoln County.

Wulfhorst:

Children’s ability to learn appears to be tied directly to the student/teacher ratio.  My priority would be to concentrate resources to keep this ratio as low as possible. Additionally, finding ways to retain good teachers as well as attract the best-qualified teachers to the system is a priority.

 

Q: If the board is asked to hire high-level administrators, should whether candidates are from Lincoln County, or a certain part of the county, be a factor in the decision, either for or against them?

 

Avery:

 

Any job that is open must be posted for applicants. If dealing with high level administrators, candidates are first interviewed by a panel of principals and directors. The top candidates are then interviewed by the superintendent and his/her county office personnel he/she so designates. A recommendation is given to the board. A majority vote is needed by the board for the person to be hired..

Mullen:

As a board member, it would be my duty to hire the best qualified candidate for any position within the school system regardless of where they live. The only way that our school system will succeed is by having the best employees we can. I support local and recognize that professionals in Lincoln County need employment; however; the role of the School Board is to outfit our community with the most qualified administration to continue to raise the bar on education.

Wulfhorst:

Where a candidate is from should not be a consideration in the decision.  The best-qualified candidate should be hired for the position.

 

Q: While charter schools in some areas of the state have struggled, Lincoln Charter School has consistently posted better scores on standardized tests than the public schools in this county, including the recently released SAT scores. What do you think of charter schools and Lincoln Charter in particular, especially as they affect funding for and perception of traditional public schools?

 

Avery:

 

Charter schools are approved and funded by the state. They operate according to their charter. One advantage noted in Lincoln Charter School is smaller class sizes. Smaller class size enables more one on one interaction. Small group and cooperative group instruction can be utilized more effectively. I am not familiar with the curriculum or policies at Lincoln Charter. However, some charter schools in North Carolina are allowed to send students with discipline problems back to their home public school after receiving state funding to educate the child. There have been instances where families have children at both charter and public schools. Students with exceptional needs are sometimes not accepted. Also, to enter a charter school, often the public school is asked for a copy of the EOG scores before acceptance.

Scores in Lincoln County Schools are showing progress. North Carolina adopted the Core Curriculum and Essential Standards. With the implementation of this new curriculum, teachers across the county are being trained. Students will be challenged to think more critically through problem solving activities. New challenges face our teachers and students as they prepare to learn this new curriculum.

Mullen:

Charter Schools are a great alternative for some students and families, but I would emphasize some. Charter Schools do take funding from public schools as well as students. There should not be an argument to abolish them based solely from a financial prospective. Charter Schools are very limited on the extracurricular activities that they offer. Lincoln County Schools have many activities available to students outside the classrooms. One important point to remember when looking at Charter Schools’ test scores are the demographics of its students. Public educational districts are required to provide for every student as is the Lincoln County School System; Charter Schools do not fall under this regulation. Lincoln County Schools provide for every student regardless of their household challenges, including financial, cultural, disciplinary, and special needs, all of which can and will skew test scores.

Wulfhorst:

The Charter Schools have an advantage over traditional public schools due to the relaxed regulations given to the Charter schools.  Lincoln Charter is doing a great job. The School Board should investigate the changes needed to immolate what Lincoln Charter accomplishes.

 

Q: Some past board members have complained that the school board’s attorney, himself a previous partisan office-holder, has given biased and sometimes misleading legal guidance to the board on a variety of issues. What should the relationship between the board members and the attorney be and what should board members do if they question his counsel?

 

Avery:

 

To my knowledge, no one has confronted the school board attorney about any of his representation being biased. If I thought I was receiving bad information, I would confront him and demand an explanation. .

Mullen:

The board members of the Lincoln County School board need to have an attorney who will provide legal advice to the letter of the law, not an interpreted or biased view of the law in question. In today’s technology-rich environment, information is only a few clicks away. Anytime a board member does not feel that they are receiving the correct unbiased information requested, it is their duty to thoroughly research the issue to determine if the information received is correct. If the school board attorney or any other member of the administration is knowingly giving biased or incorrect information, this persons resignation should be immediately requested so that the position can be filled by a professional that will not attempt to sway board decisions.

Wulfhorst:

I have the training and ability to research the issues on which the school board attorney is counseling the school board. I would not hesitate to challenge the guidance if I felt it was misleading.

 

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