12/17/06 — New member sets sights on facilities, testing rules

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New member sets sights on facilities, testing rules

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on December 17, 2006 2:00 AM

After retiring three years ago, Coach Dave Thomas might have found a way to get back in the game, this time as a Board of Education member.

He ran a low-key positive campaign against incumbent Lehman Smith.

"When I thought about running, my whole interest was to give something back to the students, the parents, the community, the employees" of the school system, he said.

With 42 years in education, 30 of those in Wayne County Public Schools, where Thomas parlayed his experience as a teacher, coach and athletic director into the role of director of health, physical education, safety and athletics for the school system. He also has an array of honors that include being inducted into the East Carolina University Sports Hall of Fame, the Charles B. Aycock High School Hall of Fame, and the N.C. Athletic Directors Association Hall of Fame.

But Thomas says success means nothing if one's priorities are not in the right order. When he ran for the school board, his resume listed the most important things in life as "God, family, country and schools." The only campaign promise he made was to look at each issue with character and integrity.

His biggest agenda would probably be the schools' facilities plan, he said, having avidly followed the board's efforts in recent years to make improvements to the county schools. When a series of meetings was held to discuss plans and obtain input from the various communities, he attended every one.

"I wanted to be sure to be updated," he said. He is particularly supportive of the proposed five-year facilities plan, he added. "There used to be Eureka Elementary, Nahunta Elementary, Pikeville Elemen-tary, Belfast Elementary. ... When they built Northeast and Northwest, those children went to those schools. They pretty much filled them up."

Now, he said, growth in that area has prompted the need for another new elementary and middle school. While other high schools in the county have two middle schools feeding into them, Aycock only has Norwayne.

"So we definitely need another middle school up there," he said.

Thomas said he is for the plan for other reasons as well. Spring Creek High School, for example, is the only school that houses a middle and high school together.

"I think they need a middle school there," he said. "A 12th-grader and a sixth-grader, there's such an age range. I think it's better that they (be) separate for academic reasons."

A similar situation exists at Grantham, the only K-8 school in the county. There is a big age difference between a kindergarten student and an eighth-grader, Thomas said, justifying the need for a middle school in a separate building for those students.

He also favors proposed improvements to the aging schools. Brogden Primary particularly needs a better gymnasium to accommodate students, he said.

The recently announced effort to introduce a school-within-a-school at Goldsboro High School -- focusing on science, technology, engineering and math -- will be a good idea, too, Thomas said.

But, he noted, none of the ideas being bandied about will mean anything unless they are put into practice. He likened it to a team studying a game play.

"Being an old former football coach, you have got to get it off the blackboard and get it on the field," he said.

While he is a new recruit on the school board's "team," Thomas said he does have some ideas he would like to promote during his tenure.

"I would like to encourage teacher supplements and coaches' supplements," he said. "I think that since we are so close to Wake County and Johnston County, that we need to be very competitive in that."

With the projected loss of teachers rising each year, incentives are necessary to secure educators, Thomas said. He also supports programs and extra-curricular activities that will direct children and youths on the right path.

Statistically, he said, the crime rate burgeons between 3 and 10 p.m., when kids are out of school. Worthwhile activities, whether they be athletics, band, chorus or other established programs, could curtail some of it.

"Society doesn't stop at the schoolhouse door," he said. "Whatever is going on in our environment walks through the schoolhouse door."

That is one reason why character education is vital, he said. But that is not to say that academics are not equally important, he said.

Citing No Child Left Behind, the federal mandated program, Thomas said that some might not agree with his stance when he says students are being "over-tested."

"Being a former football coach, if I told all my football players, you must bench 400 pounds ... (But) if enough of you don't bench 400 pounds, we have got to close the team."

Thomas said the standard is arbitrary. One child might bench 100 pounds, he said, so the goal would be to have him reach 125, 150.

'To set the bar for everybody to bench 400, I don't think that concept is correct and I think the federal government needs to do some modifying on that."

There is no denying that education matters, Thomas said. Realistically, though, it can never be one size fits all.

Citing some well-known leaders, he said, "Bill Gates never graduated from college. Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy's, never graduated from high school, although he later got his GED. Academics is important, passing a test is important but that's not the only thing in life."

Thomas could also use himself as an example, and often does. The son of a minister moved around a lot as a youngster and by the time he reached Wingate College, said the college didn't have a football program his first year there and noted that his grades were not the best.

By his second year, however, the program returned and he was able to play and later continue his football career at ECU. He credits good teachers and role models with encouraging him to improve his grades and focus on his career path.

"Whenever I get to speak to young people, I try to encourage them. I always tell youths, keep your hopes up. You never know what life has in store for you," he said.