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School board candidates debate issues at forum

Election District 6 candidates for the Halifax County School Board — incumbent Fay Satterfield and challenger Rita Best — went head to head during a Candidates Forum held Tuesday night at the Turbeville Ruritan Club.

Highlighting the discussion were subjects involving the Local Optional Retirement Program, better known as LORP, SOLs, confidentiality and the new school superintendent.

The school board’s decision last year to discontinue LORP drew heated responses from both candidates who offered very different opinions.

The challenger described LORP’s discontinuance with no notice as “unfair.”

“I think that the decision to discontinue LORP after those who were to participate signed contracts was unfair, especially to those who made the decision in June to retire.”

Best said she believes school board members should have honored the contracts for another year before discontinuing the program.

“I am not sure what the future will hold for LORP, however as a parent and a former teacher, I felt LORP was a win/win situation. It provided certified licensed persons with expertise to substitute in classrooms when teachers had to be absent. These individuals were knowledgeable of curriculum pacing and subject matter. Students were not behind in the pacing guide when the teacher returned. 

“Also LORP personnel knew how to maintain classroom discipline and in most cases knew the students and parents with the school he or she was substituting,” Best said in defense of the program.

However, Satterfield said because LORP has been litigated in the courts, she feels she is not at liberty to discuss the issue since she is a sitting member of the school board, and the issue involves personnel.

She explained how LORP works by using herself as an example.

“I retired during the 2007 school year and was not eligible for LORP until the next school year. I took my 30 plus years experience and often substituted at Sinai Elementary for $65 a day. The next school year, when I qualified for the program doing the same job, I was offered $500 a day for 20 days,” she said. “When I became your Election District 6 representative I could no longer benefit from local monies. After election the most a school board member can receive is  $200 a month from the school system. However, because I participate in the school insurance, my actual take–home pay is $93.28 a month.”

The topic of confidentially and how each candidate plans to deal with constituents while maintaining an appropriate level of confidentiality was also a topic addressed at the Candidates Forum Tuesday.

The incumbent and challenger explained how they would handle constituents’ calls about topics not related to budget or policy.

Best said, “Confidentiality is not something I take lightly. I have always been a person who others feel they can trust, and I plan to continue to maintain that trust if elected to the school board. I will listen to theirs, but I am not afraid to tell my constituents that I am not at liberty to discuss certain things. 

“I am an honest person,” Best continued, “and I plan to be honest with people. I hope people will respect confidentiality of information discussed in closed session and know that it must be kept confidential. Constituents must understand confidential information cannot be discussed or released. Constituents’ calls that are not related to budget or policy will be handled in a professional manner. I will respect and uphold confidentiality at all times.”

Satterfield said dealing with confidentiality is nothing new to her because during her years in education, especially in the guidance position, it was of upmost importance.

“The majority of the calls that I have received over the four years were not related to budget or policy. They were more related to individual issues,” she said. “I listened to the caller, and if I needed to follow up with appropriate people, I did not divulge any names without the person’s permission. Often, just being a good listener allows the caller to vent some feelings and come to a resolution on the issue.”

 The ladies next discussed Superintendent Dr. Merle Herndon’s performance since she was hired a little over a year ago.

“The survey forms filled out by county citizens carried a lot of weight in trying to choose a new superintendent,” Satterfield said. “We felt we chose a person who could qualify in regards to the citizens’ desires but who could bring progressive ideas and enthusiasm to the position.”

The incumbent school board member described the new superintendent as “visible.” 

“No one in the position of superintendent can satisfy everyone’s wishes, but I find her very competent, well-spoken, extremely respectful of others and very much a presence in our schools, at public functions, at sporting and extracurricular events. The students know she supports them because they see her at their functions. 

“Although we’re not always in perfect agreement on issues,” Satterfield said, she always tries to see everyone’s viewpoints are represented.

The challenger pointed out Herndon came to Halifax County Schools from Campbell County at a time when the county’s economy was at its lowest point. 

“Budget issues were being discussed, and after a year of service she decided to make major cuts with no regard for educators, children and support staff,” Best said. “As a result the morale of the educators and support staff are at the lowest point I have seen it in the 34 years that I have taught in Halifax County.”

Best said she knows the economy is “making life difficult for all Americans in all types of jobs, but the low morale of those who served our school system bothers me.”

Her goal if elected, Best said, is to improve employee morale.

As for Best’s expectations for the remainder of the superintendent’s term, she said she hopes Herndon will find a way to improve the morale of the employees. 

“If not I fear that Halifax County will have a difficult time recruiting and retaining top notch teachers,” Best added.

The candidates next offered their opinions on vocational education and how to facilitate a more well-rounded support of this type of education.

“Because we want to serve all of our students,” Satterfield said, “we need to emphasize our career and technical courses. Some 46 percent of the CTE students achieve advance diplomas. With new diploma requirements for the current ninth graders, graduates must complete a CTE sequence to earn a standard diploma. Because of the Perkins’ money and industry credentialing money, we would want to have someone to oversee the programs to ensure we get all the money we can to offer as many opportunities as possible.”

Best responded, “Our job as educators is to prepare the youth of today to become productive citizens of the community in which they live. Young people often have a hard time deciding what path to take in life. The parents often don’t know what is available for their children, so it is our job to guide them by providing them with as much information about the choices they have before them. For many kids, this mean vocational education.” 

The challenger said “it would be wise to implement a vocational curriculum as early as possible for those students who do not desire to go to a four year institution. 

“A student survey can be done to determine the job interest of students in the research-based job market. The board also needs to have in place a fair pay scale that will support bringing in certified personnel to this field of education in Halifax County.”

 The two also discussed the school board’s recent decision to join 28-school divisions across the state in asking for a change to SOL testing.

“Yes, I agree with the resolution passed by the Halifax County School Board calling for state law makers to change Virginia’s Public education accountability system. The use of the SOL has served its purpose and is not currently meeting the 21st century needs of students,” Best said. “Our children do not need to be subjected to state tests that are being developed above their developmental level. The current procedure of testing students from grades three until graduation is expensive. Elimination of the current procedure can save the state millions of dollars. Alternative assessments can be developed and implemented for accountability.’’ 

Satterfield said she also supported the resolution to join the 28 other school divisions.

“The current method involves students in grades 3-11 having to take 34 standards of learning tests. I believe there are methods of assessment, which can better measure not only achievement but also other skills such as problem solving. Student-centered methods of evaluating achievement should better prepare students to succeed in career education and college,” she said.

 Next, the candidates were asked what topics they wished to discuss during the forum.

“Having attended the two previous forums and including this one, I would like to have seen more emphasis placed on the 5,587 students. I’m mindful of our limited funding and how we can try to meet as many needs of the students as possible. Since the students are our number one priority, we need to keep in mind how to use taxpayers’ money wisely to benefit the majority,” Satterfield said.

 Best raised the topic of bullying.

“With so many cases nationwide about bullying among our youth, I was hoping to be asked about how the schools can deal with bullying at the local level. As a concerned parent, grandmother and former teacher, I would bring to the board the importance of having an anti- bullying program implemented in all schools,” Best said.

“This program needs to be knowledgeable to teachers, students, parents and administrators. Anti-bullying procedures for all to follow need to be posted in classrooms and hallways of schools. Students need to know who to talk to in a confidential manner when there is a problem. Annual training of all personnel needs to be implemented.”

Satterfield offered closing remarks detailing her accomplishments while serving as a school board member over the past four years.

“But with accomplishments and success also come disappointment sometimes,” Satterfield said. “I feel because I did what was right for the school system as a whole, 5,587 students and 1,056 employees, I have been targeted to be removed from my position on the board by some of my very own colleagues who worked with me my entire career. 

“Unfortunately, a small number of former employees have chosen to make the election focus on one issue. In my opinion, the needs of the students should take precedence over this small group,” Satterfield said. 

“In the end, the person who is elected has the obligation to see that all these students’ needs and requirements are satisfied to the best of that trustee’s ability. To focus on one issue does nothing but diminish the effort that should be spent on the students. In the past four years, I have been the most visible trustee visiting schools, attending in-school and after-school functions,” Satterfield concluded.

In her closing statement, Best said if elected she looks forward to serving her community by being a voice for her neighbors in Election District 6. 

“I look forward to working with other board members to better the education of our youth and to improve the morale of the teachers and staff of Halifax County Public Schools. I want my constituents to know that I will listen to them and be available to them to hear their concerns,” she said.