Three running for at-large seat on school board
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on October 23, 2012 1:46 PM
Incumbent Eddie Radford, the current chairman of the Wayne County Board of Education, is facing challenges from another board member and a write-in candidate in his bid for re-election to the at-large seat on the board.
District 2 member Len Henderson is running for the seat, as is latecomer Gene Baker, who announced last week he would file as a write-in candidate. Baker's name will not appear on the ballot and must be written in to count.
Radford, a former teacher, coach and administrator, has been on the board since 2008.
He said he believes in supporting schools and teachers with a "hands-off policy" while at the same time, providing them with tools to better educate students.
"I just think we need to know what our job is," he said. "We as board members, we're policy makers. We enforce policies."
Radford favors seeing the current facilities program developed.
"I would like to see the projects at Aycock and the two new schools to be built (Grantham and Spring Creek areas)," he said. "They certainly deserve to have a school. They have worked had.
"Grantham School is already old and Ms. Tart (principal) over there has done a great job so that she can accommodate her kids."
Of course, he added, making schools as safe as possible is also a priority.
"I know we have had some situations throughout the year. But if you notice, our SROs (school resource officers) are pretty much on top of it," he said. "The kids protect themselves. If they see something that's not exactly right, they report it."
It's important to ensure that every child receives the best possible education, Radford said.
"At the high school level, we have put in academies, we have tried to put the best teachers available in classrooms and we back our teachers and our administrators, too," he said.
Radford said there are some misperceptions swirling around that there is a growing rift between the school board and commission.
"I believe that in the very near future that we'll probably see some things happen," he said. "They not mad with us and we're not mad with them. After the election, I see a meeting that will come between the two boards that will come up with some definite plans for our county.
"I have to commend the commissioners for being patient. They know what they want and I think they realize the funds are sometimes not readily available. But it's coming, it's going to be there."
One thing funding could provide, he noted, is much-needed technology to keep the district current.
Testing is another area of concern.
"I have never liked testing, simply because you do have to teach to the test," he said. "Your school is (measured) on how well you do on tests. Demographics can determine how this school is going to be."
Instead of placing all of the onus on the schools, or even the students, though, Radford said part of that burden needs to be given to parents.
"Being fair to the parents, they're working and don't know what their child is doing all the time," he said. "But that child needs to be in the classroom and be ready to sit down and go to work.
"We offer them heat and air conditioning, nourishment. All they have to do is sit down, listen to the teachers and they can get an education."
Accountability that testing affords is important, he said, and the district has actually fared well on its scores. But like anything else, he added, more needs to be done in that area as well as the dropout and graduation rates.
"But that's true nationwide," he said.
There are many positive things going on in the county, Radford said, and he believes he has contributed insight from an educational perspective.
"There's no one on the board that has any more experience with classroom and coaching and administration than I have and I feel that at every school that I have been very successful."
Since being appointed by the county commission in Aug. 2010 to the District 2 seat vacated by Shirley Sims, Henderson has had "serious concerns" about the county's schools.
"I have seen that there are several issues that we are failing to address in our school system and I think we need to focus more on the specific problems that are affecting the kids in school," he said.
One of those has been the alternative schools and discipline problems that are behind so many, especially at the middle school level, being sent there.
Other issues date back several years -- like the facilities plan done in 2007 and Evergreen Solutions analysis of the district's facility needs from 2006.
"We have made some major progress with recent construction and renovations but there are more pressing things that have come about since 2007 that need to be addressed," he said.
The central attendance area, for example, was originally slated to get $8 million for projects but which has since been reduced to $6 million.
"The response has been because there was not a need for an auditorium/multi-purpose building at the alternative school," Henderson said. "I think that if we begin to look at those and assess things a little differently, we may be able to cut down on some of the expenses we have. ...
"One of the other concerns, particularly in the gymnasium aspect, is that our gymnasiums are still filled with a lot of asbestos. To me that's critical. We need to address that."
He would advocate for more joint meetings with the county commissioners to improve the relationship, especially since the latter is the district's primary source of funding. Periodic meetings, he added, would help educate the commission on the "real needs" of the board.
The Evergreen study had promoted the need for frequent discussions between the two boards, he pointed out.
"I have read the Evergreen report thoroughly and there are a lot of recommendations that it suggested that we're not doing," he said.
While he agrees with Radford that Wayne County is not ranked "at the bottom" in the area of end-of-grade testing, he said that efforts, like the school improvement plans, could assist in making improvements.
"I feel that the school improvement plans are too lengthy and cumbersome and they need to be streamlined with a direct focus on what all the needs for improving are in individual schools," he said.
The current plans appear to contain "routine, mundane things," he said, and are lacking in specific ways to go about accomplishing it.
"There's been a good balance between what's expected of our teachers and what's expected of our students," he noted. "With that being said, I need to make sure that we are equipping our teachers with all the necessary tools, training and support they need.
"One of the main concerns I've heard from teachers is they don't feel that they're receiving the amount of support from the administration and principals as well as parents. I would like to encourage more open communication."
Henderson also proposed a re-examination of the alternative learning programs from a fiscal as well as educational perspective and suggested it could be cost-effective to offer such programs within the individual school setting.
"We have gone away from alternative training being in all schools and it's apparent that not all of our students are college-bound students," he said. "We need to be providing some other alternatives, like vocational training."
Gene BakerBaker has a background in business and education -- including experience as a business teacher in the distributive education co-op program and marketing teacher at Charles B. Aycock and Southern Wayne high schools, as well as a principal at Belfast Elementary.
"I got to thinking about the two candidates that are in this seat," he said. "I think that I can offer a broader background, leadership and experience."
Just a little over a week ago, though, was when the idea to put his name on the ballot really took root.
"Sunday afternoon, coming home from church, my wife and I were talking about the election," he recalls. "She said, 'I really don't like my choices -- I think I'll write your name in.' That stayed on my mind a few hours.
"I hate that I didn't think of it two or three weeks ago or months ago. I'm an active person and I have always had things to do."
The school board races are non-partisan. But Baker unabashedly interjected a partisan tone to the contest.
"The two people that are running are very popular Democrats," he said. "Me, as a Republican, that would give a different perspective for a non-partisan race."'
He is a proponent of vocational and business education in the schools, he said.
"I feel like the trades industries, the business and service industries and all that, they really need to be focused on preparing those students that don't go to college," he said. "Having all the background that I have had in business and education, I believe I can bring new focus and energy to the board."
Baker added that he believes he can help bridge the gap between the school board and the county commissioners, who often feud over money.
"I know I read in the newspaper all the time conflicts that have been going on for the past few years about the funding," he said. "I think that I can help in that area and I do believe that this upcoming election is going to change the membership on the county commissioners and think it's going to be a new day after this election for the direction of the county and government and also for the school system."