07/22/10 — Committee talks with candidates

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Committee talks with candidates

By Steve Herring
Published in News on July 22, 2010 1:46 PM

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Len Henderson

Linda Pigford

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Dwight Bernard Cannon

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Ven Faulk

Little information appears to have surfaced during Wednesday afternoon interviews to clearly differentiate among the four people hoping to secure a vacant seat on the Wayne County Board of Education.

"We have four very good candidates here today, and I look forward to learning more about them," said Jack Best, county commission and committee chairman.

Best thanked each candidate for his or her willingness to serve -- Ven Faulk, Len Henderson and Dr. Dwight Bernard Cannon, all of Dudley, and Linda Pigford of Mount Olive.

Whether their background was in education and/or that they have children, grandchildren or nieces and nephews in the school system, they all agreed they had the life experiences, time and drive to devote to serving as the District 2 representative on the school board.

The four said they would represent the interests of the district, while realizing that the education of all children in the county was their responsibility.

Perhaps they differed most in describing their leadership styles.

Cannon, a pastor, said he leads by participation and would never ask a church member to do something that he would not do himself.

Ms. Pigford said she considered her style as "democratic" -- involving as many people as possible.

Faulk said as a business owner he has a proactive leadership style. He said he makes decisions that might be unpopular with his employees, but that are in the best interest of his business. Also, as former chief of the Dudley Fire Department, Faulk said he knew how to make quick decisions.

Henderson said he believes in research so that he "can brings facts to the table."

"The best decisions are made by more than one mind," he said.

The four cited their ability to help build consensus on the board and their willingness to speak out on unpopular actions.

In those cases, the public needs to know the reasons for the board's actions, Faulk said.

"Sometimes they are misinformed or uninformed, and it is our job to inform them," he said.

They all demonstrated knowledge of the respective roles and duties of the school board as a policy-making and budgeting authority and the administration's job of carrying out those policies.

And they all said their reason for seeking the seat was to help ensure that all of the county's more than 19,000 students receive the best education possible regardless of whether they planned to attend college, a trade school or to go directly into the workforce.

For the most part, they dodged pointing fingers when asked their view on the working relationship between the school board and county commissioners.

They all agreed that commissioners hold the purse strings and the school board is responsible for overseeing the education system. As such, the two need a good working relationship, all four said.

Henderson agreed, but added that at times, "there seems to be an us versus them mentality" between the boards.

"I want to serve on the Wayne County Board of Education because I feel it is my duty to offer whatever I can offer to make the county better," said Cannon, pastor of St. James A.M.E. Zion Church.

Rather than sit back and talk about what needs to be done or should be done, Cannon said that he wants to do what needs to be done.

He said education is not the sole qualification to serve and that the county needed more than just a board of educators.

He said that as a pastor of 30 years that he could write a book on building consensus.

"I am a team player. I want to be heard, but I know others want to be heard," he said.

He added that while he did not come with a religious agenda, he could possibly help bridge the gap between the community and churches.

Ms. Pigford said as the eldest of nine children raised by a widowed father, she has a strong work ethic.

As a retired teacher with more than 30 years of experience, she said she loved children and wanted to ensure that the district is well-represented. She said she only offered herself once she realized that others in the community were not.

"I worry about the board becoming gender-biased," she said.

She said she also worried about so many single-parent households and that she felt women were more sensitive to the needs of families.

Asked what contributions she felt she could make, Ms. Pigford said she has "lived history" having attended segregated schools and watching how things have changed.

"I think this has given me the knowledge and skills (needed)," she said.

Faulk, the only white person seeking the seat in the minority district, reminded the committee that he ran for the at-large school board seat in 2008 gathering 17,000 votes.

"I think that proves my passion and dedication to the children of Wayne County," he said.

The issue of diversity was not among the questions asked of candidates, but committee member Robyn Wade asked Faulk how important he thought it was.

"I don't see skin color," he said. "Diversity is important, but education is more important."

Faulk said he didn't see "messing up" the education of one child or many children "because of color."

Faulk said that as a business owner that he felt the school system should be viewed in a more business-like manner and make decisions accordingly.

He noted that he has served on the system's facilities and real estate committees and is past treasurer for the Wayne County Partnership for Children.

"Most importantly, I have five children in the schools," he said.

He said that school board members need to be up on new technologies, such as electronic books and to be able to think and plan ahead.

Henderson said he has grandchildren in the school system and has a firsthand perspective on what is happening in the schools. He said he wants to help provide a better working relationship between parents, students, teachers and school administrators.

He said his communications and organizational skills are among his strong points. Also, his background as a Spanish teacher will be an asset in light of the county's growing Hispanic population, he said.

"One of my biggest attributes is that I am a good listener," he said.

He added that as a former teacher at O'Berry Center and staff development director at Cherry Hospital that he has experience dealing with special needs children.

He said he respects the opinions of others and would seek common ground, and that he would be willing to compromise as long as it did not compromise his beliefs or principles.

Henderson said he also considers himself to be a visionary, someone who looks ahead and not behind.

More than a dozen people were on hand when the meeting started at 1 p.m. and by the time it ended about 3:30 p.m. there were more than 20 people jammed into the area that had been set aside for the public.

Several people placed chairs along the wall. Among the crowd were school board members Eddie Radford and Rick Pridgen and Commissioner Steve Keen.

An hour had been set aside for each interview, but the process took about only 30 minutes per person.

Best had asked candidates not to remain in the room while the other interviews were being conducted.

There had been some questions as to whether the interviews and a review session scheduled for 1 p.m. today would be open to the public.

Best was asked prior to the meeting if he had spoken with County Attorney Borden Parker for an opinion on whether the meeting could be considered a personnel matter and be conducted behind closed doors. He said he had, but that he was not going to tell the newspaper since it had already spoken to an attorney.

The News-Argus did contract N.C. Press Association lawyer Amanda Martin who said in her opinion the meetings had to be open to the public.

Today's meeting, as was Wednesday's, will be held in Room 111 of the Jeffreys Building, 134 N. John St. The committee will discuss the candidates and prepare a recommendation for county commissioners who will meet in special session Friday at 9 a.m. to consider appointing the replacement. The meeting will be held in the commissioners' meeting room on the four floor of the county courthouse annex.