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Newly elected board members discuss plans

 

AMANDA SEBASTIANO

Staff Writer

 

With thoughts of transparency, new ideas and keeping the focus on area children, three members-elect will be sworn in to the Lincoln County Board of Education next month.

Cathy Davis, Tony Jenkins and Mark Mullen will replace Tommy Houser, George Dellinger and Kelly Childers.

An active member in various community groups and organizations who wears a variety of hats, such as her role as the Executive Director of the Cultural Center, Davis thought about joining the board in previous years. However, she decided to take action and run after a conversation with members of her family last year that changed her mind.

The mother of three welcomed her first grandchild in July, and had overheard her son-in-law mention that he didn’t want his daughter attending public school. Davis, a West Lincoln High graduate who was educated in the public school system for all of her K-12 years, was surprised by his reaction.

“It bothered me that people in the room lacked confidence in the school system,” Davis told the Times-News on Thursday. “I went to public school and had a great experience.”

The disillusioned tone of those around her that day would be her inspiration to get involved and work toward building confidence back in the schools.

Using her managerial experience and her knack for utilizing what people and corporations have to offer and distributing it where needed, Davis is optimistic she will be able to use her skills to bring something different to the board. As it stands, Davis thought there was a lack of clarity with some of the policies and how they were executed — something she hopes to change once she is officially a member.

In last week’s election, Davis fell short to Houser in the western precincts, but she clenched the eastern parts of the county and most of the Lincolnton area.

Davis was active in the efforts of putting together the homeless shelter in Lincolnton, and worked with corporations — another goal she hopes to fulfill during her time on the School Board — to find ways for items to be donated to decorate and fill the interior of the building.

After meeting with different businesses, everything inside the shelter was donated, from the bunk beds to the cabinets and kitchenware.

She likes to stay busy, she laughed, and thinks she has set a tone within the community that she is someone who is able to direct people in a way that will help them find the resource, person or answer they are looking for.

With a passion for working with children and those in need, the newcomer is not a new face around town. She and at-large board member elect Mark Mullen will both serve on the board for the first time next year.

Mullen, a father of two elementary school-aged children, Davis and returning board member elect Jenkins all have at least one ideal in common – they say they want to stress the importance of teachers.

On the financial end of the spectrum, Davis is unhappy with the formula for teachers’ supplements and wants to revisit and take a look at it to ensure instructors are (financially) getting what they deserve. She believes supplements were created to keep quality teachers in Lincoln County, to not lose them to neighboring counties that have more to offer.

Early in the election process, Davis posted a question on her Facebook page about the amount of money teachers have to spend out-of-pocket on things for their classrooms. She was less than thrilled with the responses she received.

“We should be doing that, paying for these things, not them,” Davis said. “If you think about the number of educators and if they’re all paying out of their own pockets — that adds up; teachers should be compensated for what they do.”

When his oldest child, now 7 years old, started school, Mullen and his wife became more involved with what was happening inside the classroom. He noticed that, at that time, there was only one School Board member with a child in the school system, and felt that more “insiders” needed to be a part of the group; those who know what’s going on day-to-day inside local schools.

“Teachers need more of a voice and more resources in their classrooms,” Mullen said. “I would really just like to see the educational standards continue to be raised, to give teachers the resources they need to teach the new curriculum.”

Recently, Mullen spoke with various local teachers about the Common Core State and Essential Standards and how prepared they feel to implement the more rigorous coursework that was mandated across the state. Overall, those he spoke with felt under-prepared to successfully instruct their students according to the new guidelines, he said, and they didn’t feel the training they had received was up to par to make them feel confident.

The UNC-Chapel Hill graduate is setting aside time to do some research so that he will be an “effective” board member who will be entering with an open mind, and is open to listening to any parent, teacher or administrator whereas to move county students into the 21st century way of learning, he said.

Also doing his homework in preparation for his new role, Jenkins is a returning School Board member elect who was a member of the group from 2000 to 2008. After eight years of service, he decided to take a break and re-group, not completely ruling out going back to the board later.

Over the four years he spent away from the education official-setting, he feels he learned that there needs to be more discussion between the members, and that there were issues that (he felt) needed to be addressed during his time on the board that weren’t, that he still thinks need attention today.

Not dwelling on the past but learning from it, Jenkins is looking forward to getting to know his fellow members and how to work with them on issues affecting local schools and its educators and students.

“Once we get together as a board and I can hear what they’re thinking, I’ll be able to make sure we’re on the same page,” Jenkins said. “I don’t want to jump out there and say something I can’t back up. I feel like, with this new team, we’ll get the job done.”

Though cooperation is something Jenkins is hoping for, he doesn’t want or expect the others to always agree with him. He, like Mullen, is open to the thoughts and ideas of his peers, but “doesn’t know them as well as he wants to, yet.”

Going out to schools in the area and talking to teachers to determine where the needs are and how to meet them, Jenkins fully intends on reading up on his new position and doing the field work before approaching the school board with ideas; the act of physically going into an establishment and seeing with his own eyes, rather than just hearing from the administration what is going on at elementary, middle and high schools, will give him the background information he wants before making any decisions.

Jenkins intends on keeping things nonpartisan, noting that he doesn’t educate Republican, Democrat or Independents in the community — he works for all students and educators in Lincoln County. Replacing former board member Dellinger whom Jenkins has worked beside during his previous term with the board, Jenkins was unopposed for his spot this time around.

As the two other new member elects mentioned, Jenkins has the best of the children at heart and will strive to stay close to that ideal throughout his second round with the Board of Education.

 

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