The five candidates running for Yadkin County Board of Education answered questions on April 17 in a forum hosted by the Yadkin County Chamber of Commerce. Running for the three seats are incumbents Tim Weatherman, Sam Crews and Howard McKnight as well as two newcomers, Tom Kilby and Charles Haire. Wayne Matthews moderated the forum.
Each candidate had two minutes to answer a series of question regarding their goals and qualifications if elected to serve on the school board. The forum began with the candidates sharing some biographical information about themselves and what they planned to accomplish as a school board member.
Tim Weatherman is lifelong resident of Yadkin County with three children, one of whom is a teacher in Yadkin County and a son who is a school resource officer in Yadkin County.
“I think this is a wonderful county to live in, to raise your children. I think we have a really good school system,” Weatherman said. School safety, teacher retention and updating school facilities were his top priorities if reelected to the board.
“I do have children in school, they just happen to be a teacher and a resource officer and I do have a grandson that’s in school, so safety is a main concern of mine,” Weatherman said. “We are working on some safety issues and I’d like to continue as a board member to continue working on these issues.”
Howard McKnight is a retired teacher from Forbush High School.
“I think we have some of the best educational opportunities we can have in Yadkin County,” McKnight said. He said as far as goals for the board that no individual should go in with his own wants, all decisions should be made collectively.
“We have to take the situation, analyze the situation and then arrive at the best solution and do that as a collective group,” McKnight said.
Tom Kilby came to Yadkin County in 1985 to serve as a juvenile court counselor. He has 32 years experience working with children and has served on a variety of boards and task forces, including the Governor’s Safe Schools task force.
“One of the top issues is safe schools, it’s one of the top issues across the country,” Kilby said. “Safe schools means more than physical safety. Feeling safe in school is something that we need to develop for our students, not just the physical buildings in safety. Mental health issues are important in schools, substance abuse issues are important in schools.”
He added that teacher retention and updating of the school buildings were also goals he wanted to work on if elected.
Charles Haire, a Forbush High School alumnus, has 20 years experience teaching and coaching, including 12 years at Starmount High School.
“School security I think should be number one, but something I think we’re missing is our vocational education,” Haire said. “I’ve watched it over the years, in the three different school systems I’ve taught in, get whittled down and I think we need to bring it back. Everybody going to college is a great idea, but it’s not for everybody. People still got to learn to lay brick and rock and build houses. I need a good mechanic to work on my truck now. Probably the major goal as a school board member would be to assist the superintendent in making our schools the best schools in North Carolina.”
Sam Crews, also a Yadkin County native, said that he agreed with McKnight on the importance of the board working collectively to achieve goals for the school system.
“The board is comprised of a lot of conservative people that have the same goals in mind,” Crews said. “Those goals are retaining good teachers, and the good thing about Yadkin County Schools is we have very low teacher turnover and that’s because teachers like to work here. The administration, the county office is a good county office with good leadership. It’s a very frugal county office and we do everything in our power to retain those good teachers. We have just a good community with good students, that goes back to how children are raised. I think the Yadkin County Schools sort of try to reflect what the community is, and the community is a community that is made up of hard working, honest, traditional-type Americans, all types of people live within our community.”
On the question of how to retain good teachers, Kilby said making schools safe so teachers can teach and concentrate on what they are doing and find ways to give them benefits other than salary, which is limited by the state budget.
“Yadkin County is a good school system so what we need to do is get out and really sell our school system to the local colleges to attract people to come in to the county,” Kilby said.
Haire said, “The big thing with teachers, it’s not about the money, obviously, because you could go some place else and make a lot more. If you’ve got good kids to teach and you look forward to getting up every day and going to school, that’s worth more than the extra $10,000 to $15,000 you’d make teaching in a big city system. We’ve got to let people know that our school systems are good.”
Crews said he agreed about what a good school system Yadkin County has and shared several examples of other teachers he had spoken with who wanted to work here.
“The fact is, something is to be said to live in a rural county that has the peace and also the type of traditional values that we do,” Crews added.
Promoting the close-knit community and small-town atmosphere is what Weatherman said could help bring teachers here.
“We’re not immune to the issues, but we don’t have the issues some of the bigger cities have,” Weatherman said.
McKnight said that he had often been told how fortunate he was to live and work in Yadkin County.
“We have to show these prospective teachers that this is a good place to work, that there are good people in Yadkin County, excellent students. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to Appalachian State to job fairs and it means something to those prospective teachers for me, a retired person from this system, to say this is an excellent system.”
School board candidates also were asked how they felt about the direction the state leadership was going in regards to education in North Carolina.
“This state has voted in conservative type leaders who have voted in policies that are fiscally responsible and that’s a good thing, I like that, but at the local level we certainly do need money,” Crews said. “I think that’s probably why this [state school] bond is going to be on the ballot soon and that is to fund a lot of things we need and we certainly do need so many things.”
Weatherman said he agreed with Crews and added, “I wish sometimes they would let the local [school system] have more freedom in what we do. Like the Common Core, I don’t necessarily agree with Common Core. I wish our teachers could just teach and do what they know how to do.”
“Certainly we do need more help from the state. I don’t know exactly how that they would do that. The idea is being floated around with different funding methods from the smaller counties as compared to the larger ones, something like that might help us. We need to have all the help we can get from the state. I think maybe somewhere along the way maybe they’ll increase funding,” McKnight said.
“I, too, agree with the conservative efforts that the state is making, but we do need more money in the local school system,” said Kilby. “The smaller school systems like Yadkin County are at a disadvantage to the larger school systems so it needs to be a balance of some sort to help out the smaller school systems.”
Haire said, “I agree we need more money, everything costs.
“But I do believe that local school systems should have much more control over their school systems than what they have,” Haire added. “And I am not a proponent of Common Core. When I can’t help my third-grade granddaughter with her math, something’s wrong. I have seniors that come in to work that don’t know multiplication tables. We missed the boat somewhere. I don’t think Yadkin County missed the boat, I think the state of North Carolina did.”
On the topic of school safety, Matthews asked the candidates how they thought the board of education should work with others to improve school safety in Yadkin County.
Kilby said he proposed working with the North Carolina Center for Safe Schools in Raleigh, which can help to customize safety procedures for individual schools.
“A school is a soft target because it’s open to the public. You’ve got to make schools harder targets. You’ve got to make sure they aren’t necessarily open for the public, make sure doors aren’t being left open by students and by teachers. Make sure that there’s a check-in system at the schools, make sure folks are following those things,” Kilby said. “But most of the school violence comes from students that are already there, not outside people. You have to be able to work with students when they have mental health issues and get that started early at the elementary age. One of the things I think our school system needs is more school social workers to work with those situations.”
Haire said he agreed that more social workers are needed.
“Again it comes down to money,” Haire said. “It’d be great to build a huge fence around every school, ‘cause our schools are open. Boonville Elementary where I have five grandkids, I mean you can walk right out in the middle of that place. Starmount High School, which is a mile from my house, is the same way. I’ve talked to [school superintendent] Dr. Martin about it and I am in favor of arming teachers that want to be armed, after they’ve gone through an extensive training program provided by our sheriff on active shooters on campus. Nobody cares more about those kids, outside of the parents, than that teacher, and if those teachers are properly trained and carry a sidearm, I feel comfortable.”
Crews said when he first joined the board four years ago, he was hoping to see SROs at each school.
“But those monies, they come from grants and so we have them at the middle schools, we have them at the high schools. That would be a good step in the right direction.”
He added that the sheriff had recently attended a conference on school safety and would be working with the board of education to find ways to improve school security.
On the concept of arming teachers, Crews added, “If teachers were to be armed it would have to be approved by the state legislature and then local municipalities could then make that decision. In our county we have a lot of sportsmen that are well-trained and that would make everybody feel much safer, I’m sure, if some well-trained teachers were on staff that were carrying a side arm.”
More cameras and moving the school office to the front building rather than the back building at the high schools were other ideas Crews said have been discussed by the board of education.
Weatherman said the board has been looking at ideas for improved school safety. He also noted that his daughter who is a teacher probably never considered that having a gun on her would be part of what she would have to do as a teacher. His son who is a resource officer, however, would be the one running towards the danger should a shooting happen on campus.
“Right now I’m not for or against teachers carrying guns. If they did, I would want extensive training. My daughter has a concealed carry permit, so do I, but that’s to defend yourself not to protect other people from a shooter. It would be devastating if a teacher or principal was to shoot another kid trying to disable a shooter.”
“I would say that all the years that I was working down at Forbush High School never did I imagine that it being dangerous to walk out into the courtyard, but now you see that, it is a soft target,” McKnight said. “But as others have said, we’re doing everything we can to provide a safe environment. We’re looking at all the ideas that come to us, evaluating the feasibility of them. The sheriff’s department is advising and helping.
“As far as arming teachers, I don’t know about that,” McKnight added. “I can say personally that I probably would not have been a good one to put a gun on down there. I probably would have shot myself or something. But we’re doing everything we possibly can.”
Early voting for the school board election, as well as the primary for District 34 of the state Senate began on April 19. Additional early voting hours are April 23 through 27 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., April 28 from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., April 30 through May 4 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and May 5 from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Election Day is May 8 with polls open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Kitsey Burns Harrison may be reached at 336-679-2341 or on Twitter and Instagram @RippleReporterK.