- Last Updated on 08:39 AM 10/11/13
- BY The Gazette-Virginian
By Ashley Hodge
Tuesday began the first of four public candidate forums featuring candidates running for local offices. The forums are being sponsored by the Halifax County Chamber of Commerce and Halifax County Farm Bureau.
The first forum, held at Mt. Laurel Ruritan Club in Election District 2, featured Halifax County Board of Supervisor Chairman Tom West, who is running unopposed, and school board candidates incumbent Karen Hopkins, Pattie Hatcher and Ida Terry.
Nick Long, general manager of 95.3 WHLF FM, served as moderator.
Hopkins, Hatcher and Terry presented opening comments following a question and answer session where several issues were addressed.
As revealed in September by Division Testing Coordinator Nancy Zirkle, only two Halifax County Schools - South Boston Elementary and Clays Mill Elementary - met the Federal Annual Measurable Objectives.
ED-5 Trustee Robert Long questioned the validity of these tests “because the students were using computers to take these tests for the first time.”
Each candidate was asked if they detest the validity of these tests because they were administrated on computers and what steps would they take as a board member to support the other schools that did not meet the benchmark as they strive to meet AMO requirements.
Hatcher did not agree with Long regarding the validity of the test and referenced her two daughters who have both taken tests on computers.
“We are living in a technically-based world where mostly everything is done basically by computer now,” Hatcher said. “We as parents and educators need to continue to emphasize the importance of computers. We need to make sure the students are receiving the education and aware of how the programming works to the test they are taking.”
Hatcher added, “I personally fairly appreciate the importance of benchmark testing and think that it should continue to be utilized. Another option would be to use remediation not only for the current benchmark scores but for the students who score below 420 on the previous SOLs as well.”
Incumbent school board member Hopkins pointed out the decrease in scores was statewide.
According to Hopkins, last year the overall score of the 132 schools was approximately 1,240, and this year it was 715 calling it a “huge drop.”
“The theory that computers may have played a part is because the tests were utilized. There was a new reading test with other tests including writing, science and math. One theory with that math version is that students statewide may not have had enough experience manipulating the computer and just a very simple example is typing up 7 X 8,” said Hopkins.
“To answer the second part of the question, we are using Indistar to help out school systems learn from those test statistics, and this is something that is voluntary by the school system not mandatory,” she added.
Terry agreed with Hatcher stating she does not detest the validity of the tests adding, “all test results have some value,” and “computers alone should not be the only thing considered.”
When addressing the AMOs, Terry said, “I think we need to find out what Clays Mill and South Boston Elementary did differently. They are obviously doing something right, and we need to figure that out and combine it to the other schools.”
Confidentiality was then addressed. Each candidate was asked how they would deal with constituents while maintaining an appropriate level of confidentiality and how they would handle constituents’ calls received about topics that are not related to the policy.
Hopkins stated firmly, “First of all, I do not discuss any closed session meeting decisions or discussions and feel comfortable stating that to my constituents. If needed I use the following example. If it was your personal matter, would you want me to discuss it with others, or if it was your child who came to us with disciplinary issues, would you want me to tell others?”
Hopkins added, “Other questions about issues within the school system that may not exactly be related to policy, budget policy or that may not be considered confidential I’ll handle one of two ways. At times, I have advised or directed the constituent who to contact in administration, or I have investigated the question myself and returned the call by e-mail or phone.”
“I appreciate all calls and e-mails. Communication lets me know how my constituents feel about certain topics. I do appreciate all communication. If my constituents have information that they feel a little confused about that was discussed in one of our public sessions or something they’ve heard out in the public, I would also like for them to give me a call and let me help them with that as well. It gives me an opportunity to know what their issues are.”
Terry pointed out she has abided by confidentiality laws in all of her jobs such as working with social services.
“As a representative, people have to trust you,” Terry said, “and that’s what I want people to know, that they can trust me. I want everyone to know that they would be able to come to me and tell me things. I know not to be telling everyone’s business.”
Terry added, “If I don’t know an answer to a question that you have that is not confidential, I’ll get back with you.”
Hatcher informed the public that she as well deals with confidentiality in her job as a nurse in the emergency department of a North Carolina hospital.
“An individual has to be able to deal with the public on an individual basis,” she said. “No two people will react the same when someone says that’s confidential, and I can’t discuss it. I know you have to feel people out so you know how to get this across without offending them.”
Hatcher added, “As a representative, you have to have the capabilities to listen to people whether it is positive or negative. I want to hear from people regardless. I want them to know they can trust me. My word means a lot, and I will always do what is best. I want teachers and administrators to know whether they are in my district or not, that I want to hear from them also. They are the ones dealing with a lot of the issues, and they have to have someone they can trust. I want to be that someone.”
Another topic the school board and administrators deal with is a systemwide pay scale. Candidates gave their thoughts and advice on achieving this goal.
Terry said she would use data released by the Department of Labor on what the average pay for workers is as well as pay scales of other school systems as a reference.
“One of the things I would not do is decrease your pay. Also, one of the things I’ve been hearing is that pay needs to be fair,” said Terry.
Hatcher said, “I agree that a pay scale should be implemented. An example would be using knowledge and skill base and then add supplements due to student growth and incentives. Also, once you have a pay scale in place, you don’t take away from what you are currently making just to bring it up to date.”
Hopkins pointed out the school board is presently working with the Virginia Association of School Superintendents to learn what other schools in the region are doing in regard to their pay scale.
Hopkins said, “Several of our board members are presently on our committee with our superintendent to work on an employee compensation plan. I support working with other school systems to come up with a pay scale in which everyone is paid fairly.”
Candidates discussed how they would go about addressing aging facilities such as Halifax County High School and how they would go about funding new schools.
Hatcher said, “I believe we need to look at whether or not we need to renovate, remodel or totally rebuild some of these schools. These schools were not built to accommodate where they are now. We have more students and new technology used in teaching. There are many ways we can go about funding such as looking into financial incentives for reusing buildings’ older materials that are salvagable and applying for grants.”
Hopkins said, “At this time as a board, we make sure that our budget money is allocated to our capital improvement plan. We try to make sure that money is used appropriately as needed whether it be for a new roof or to repair heating/cooling system.”
Terry suggested getting a professional to look at the buildings to find out what the problems are.
Terry said, “While HCHS is 30 plus years old, Mary Bethune is even older than that and is still standing. So, I think we need to find out what exactly our problems are. I understand there are grants we can apply for, and I think we need to ask for more money.”
Vocational education is sometimes “looked poorly on,” but it is a “vital option for these students for them to get trained.” Candidates were asked what they can do to facilitate a more well-rounded support of this type of education.
Hopkins noted she is very supportive of vocational technical training and has been a member of the Future Farmers of America. She also pointed out jobs for people with four-year degrees are down; however, jobs that require technical training have increased.
“I realize that college is not for everyone, but that does not mean that our children don’t want to make a good living in a career that they enjoy. One way to support this type of education is to continue to advertise what we offer in our school system and make sure we begin with elementary and middle schools,” said Hopkins.
Terry reminded everyone that taking a vocational technical class to learn a skill used to be part of the curriculum, and she feels that we should reinstate that.
Terry said, “It would be a skill that they can build on and move forward.”
Hatcher agreed with Hopkins that not all students would further their education after high school.
“These students need this type of training because it will create an opportunity to find a job locally. The support could come from grants, private donations and local businesses that want to see these individuals succeed,” said Hatcher.
The session ended with each candidate for school board giving closing comments with each of them thanking the Chamber of Commerce, Halifax County Farm Bureau, Mt. Laurel Ruritan Club and attendees.
Terry said, “This is a new experience for me. I want to run to assist the students, the employees and teachers of district two. We have a good school system, but we need to listen to the voices of people. We should be doing things that are positive and will encourage the students and teachers. We need to work together to make things better. When you see this pretty lady around, think about her on Nov. 5.”
Hopkins said, “Thanks again for electing me to represent you in this district. I’ve given this position 110 percent. I have been a good steward of the taxpayers’ money. Through this tough economic time, the board has had to make tough decisions, but I assure you they have not been made lightly on my part. This has not been an easy position at all, but it has been a very important one that needs experience and knowledge of the school system and its policies and all regulations.
“The person needs to have a level head and be able to think things out before making decisions that impact the future of our children and their educators. I am that person and would ask that you vote for me to represent your district again for the next four years.”
Hatcher said, “It was very beneficial to hear Hopkins’ and Terry’s views, and in a way we share a lot of the same views. What we want for our children, grandchildren and the students of Halifax County is the best education possible. I know we could only touch on a few concerns, but I want people to know that I care, and I want what’s best for my family and your family. I implore the people of district two to vote for me on Nov. 5. We need a change, and I think I can be that change.”
The next candidate forum will be held Tuesday, Oct. 15, at Oak Level Volunteer Fire Department in Election District 3.
Board of Supervisor candidates Ray Owen, Arthur Reynolds Sr., Earl Womack and school board candidate Kimberly Farson, who is running unopposed, will be present.