06/20/10 — School board could see several new faces this fall

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School board could see several new faces this fall

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on June 20, 2010 1:50 AM

By year's end, the Board of Education could have a whole new look.

With three members' names on the November ballot and two others departing, the bulk of the board could be new faces.

Board member Dave Thomas announced in October he would not seek re-election to his District 1 seat. Chris West is the only candidate who has filed to become his replacement.

Those up for re-election this fall include John P. Grantham, District 4, who is running unopposed; District 5 representative George Moye; and Rick Pridgen, current board chairman, from District 6.

Former county commissioner Arnold Flowers has filed for the District 5 seat, while Trebor Jackson is a challenger for District 6.

Then in May, veteran board member Shirley Sims said she was stepping down after more than 20 years of service. She has moved to Garner and will leave her position at the end of this month.

The announcement sent the county Board of Commissioners scrambling to find a replacement. According to an agreement made when the city and county schools merged years ago, the commission will appoint a new board member.

Commission Chairman Jack Best has created a committee to assist in the process, with July 12 given as the deadline for applicants to throw their hat in the ring.

One of the committee members, Thelma Smith, the school board's vice chairwoman, has been recovering from recent surgery.

"She has been sorely missed and it appears that she is back now," Pridgen said last week. "We have missed her while she's been out."

Until the results are in from the District 2 search and the November election, Pridgen said the board will be in transition.

"I don't know exactly how long this appointment process takes from the county commission," he said. "Ms. Sims will be sorely missed. It's my hope and prayer that we have one selected from District 2, that they will be as passionate about the children and represent the district as well as Ms. Sims did."

Whatever recommendation is made, Pridgen said, he hopes it will be someone who will serve not only the district that covers a portion of southern Wayne County, but also a representative who will support the entire school system.

Meanwhile, the commission's role in the appointment process has created quite a stir in the county.

Local and state educators have weighed in, with some suggesting it be submitted to legislators to reverse the decision so that the power falls to the Board of Education to appoint its own members.

"It's kind of an unusual situation in that it's the only county in North Carolina that it's done this way," Pridgen said. "But I understand why it was done this way, when the schools merged back in the '90s.

"I do not think that process is necessary, that perhaps they can change in the future. It's obviously going to take more than the short session in the legislature (to change it). But it's something that the Board of Education is concerned with. I think it will be interesting to see who (the committee's) pick will be."

As for the approaching election, Pridgen said he does not view it so much as a "climate of change" as the culmination of things that have come together at one time.

"There's a lot of things on the platter for the school system that I have some concerns about," he said. "I know I'm running for re-election, George is running for re-election and of course, John Grantham -- he also had an opponent, but he has stepped down.

"When I look at the reason behind staggered terms, I have always said I wish the county commissioners had staggered terms. There's a lot to be said for board members staying on the board when new members come on."

November will mark eight years since Pridgen was elected. In that time, he has learned much, he said.

But there was a natural period of adjustment before that occurred.

"It took me about two years of first being on the board -- you have got all these ideas of what you would like to do or try to make a difference on," he said. "When you get on, it's kind of like someone's slapped a pair of handcuffs on you. You're put in a situation where first of all, you have to learn the laws, the federal laws and the state laws."

The state board has a wonderful program, he said, which educates new board members on the "do's and don'ts" and policies.

Ideally, however, the transition has been limited to a smaller number of new members than what the local board will face in the coming year. With the majority -- four in this case -- joining the board at once, Prigden admitted it will be a challenge.

"Because you're fielding a lot of phone calls from parents, you have to know what you can do and what you can't do to advise them the right way," he said.

It will require bringing new members up to speed -- on the district's facility plan, anticipated changes in No Child Left Behind, for which math standards are being raised this year, and other issues the board must navigate.

"There's going to be a lot of going back and re-inventing the wheel on a lot of things per se," Pridgen said. "Even if I were to be defeated -- I hope not but if I were -- I would hope that those people that are coming on board would not slow the process of moving ahead.

"(We need to) move ahead with those issues but it's going to take a commitment to get up to speed where the other board members are."

Pridgen said he is trying to take a positive approach to the looming shifts, and appreciates that new ideas will be brought to the board.

"I hope that they will have the best interest in children when they come on board," he said. "I will try to help them any way that I can."

If recent history is any gauge, he said the board has typically weathered change well.

"Our board has always worked together for the good of all children in Wayne County," he said. "When I go to school board conferences and school board meetings and things of that nature, I see boards that sit on opposite sides of the room; they won't even talk to each other. I mean, it's real bitter. How can they get anything done that way?

"I have to say that our administration, ever since I have been on the board, they have been about the children, all children of Wayne County."

Most assuredly, there will be controversial votes and dissenting opinions, as with any elected board, Pridgen said.

But when the time comes for debate or to handle matters like funding cuts and changes that are imposed upon school systems, the Wayne County board has a reputation for rolling up its sleeves and working together, he said.

"It's a matter of putting the priorities where they need to be," he said, adding, "We have had two good boards -- the one when I first came on and the one we're on now. We have had good rounds of people, where I felt like everyone was working together and where they had their priorities where they needed to be.

"I do have concerns about that -- will it be a Wake County situation, will it be every man for himself, who wants what's in their own area? If they're coming on for that reason, it's the wrong reason for coming on. My hope is that they're willing to be open-minded, willing to learn how they need to get up to speed."

Pridgen said he will work with anyone who joins the board and offer help wherever needed.

In the meantime, it's a matter of awaiting the outcome at the polls.

"It will be interesting to see. (The board will) have a different face up there, especially come November," he said.