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Halifax School Board candidates outline leading priorities

SoVaNow.com / November 06, 2017

Candidates for Halifax County School Board agree more than they disagree on issues facing the county school division, even as they choose different points of emphasis in talking about what they’ll seek to accomplish in local office.

Four of the five hopefuls for School Board on the Nov. 7 ballot took part in a candidates’ forum Wednesday at the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center. The discussion spanned a wide range of topics: the future of Halifax County High School, improving career education and training, what to do about classroom discipline, achieving full accreditation for county schools, and myriad other matters.

Todd Moser in ED-6 and Monty Lowery in ED-7 are both running unopposed. Sandra Garner-Coleman and Clinton Boone are facing off for the ED-3 seat, in the sole competitive school board race. Roy Keith Lloyd, the lone trustee candidate in ED-2, did not participate in the forum.

“I want to be an advocate for the children, a voice for the teachers, and strengthen the bond between school, parents and community … this is my platform,” said Garner-Coleman, who touted her 40-plus years of teaching experience in remarks at the forum.

Boone, a retired local businessman with Boone Tractor, said, “I’m available 24/7.” Boone said he likes working with children and looks forward to getting to know the teachers.

“Collaboration” was a word that came up frequently at the forum, as candidates espoused the view — shared among all — that the role of the school trustee is to make policy, not micromanage the system, and to keep an open dialogue with teachers, principals, administrators and students and their families.

“As school board members we have to support his [Superintendent Mark Lineburg’s] vision to make our schools greater,” said Garner-Coleman. Lowery added a qualifier: “Everybody needs to be held accountable, even the superintendent.”

The issue of whether to repair or replace Halifax County High School drew the most comment from candidates in the short period they were given to address specific issues. Boone shared that he had taken a three-hour tour of the high school on Tuesday to draw his own conclusions about the condition of the dilapidated building, which is nearing four decades of use. Boone said he agrees that something must be done to fix HCHS, but unless there is structural damage, his preference would be to renovate the building, rather than build a new facility — an option that would come with higher up-front costs.

Lowery will not offer his support for any option until he sees more research conducted on the facility and the costs associated with either renovation or new construction. “I’ve been told the building is just wore out … I don’t buy that,” he said.

Moser chimed in by noting the school division needs to put a capital improvement plan in place, otherwise in 20 years, trustees will face the same issues again.

On other key issues:

» Classroom discipline: Garner-Coleman, Lowery and Moser each noted that discipline is a serious issue that must be addressed quickly. Garner-Coleman suggested a need for a therapy program inclusive of parents, because “I firmly believe that if you don’t change the heart and the mind of a child, that child is not going to learn,” she said.

Lowery observed that disciplinary problems harm accreditation of county schools, since teachers cannot teach effectively if 25 or 30 percent of their students are disruptive in class. He has heard from others who say the problem begins at home, but Lowery added that the only way schools can meet their objectives is if “every child gets up and comes to school with a willingness to learn.”

Moser said he would seek to address the issue by encouraging greater interaction between school resource offices and the School Board.

» School accreditation. All of the candidates cited the county’s lack of full accreditation as a major concern they will seek to fix. Boone pointed out that Lineburg has full accreditation for all county schools a priority, and said that with the cooperation of the school board, it will get done. Lowery was adamant that the problem lies somewhere else other than the quality of work by classroom teachers: “I dare you to blame the teachers, not one of them!”

Asked his priorities for the future, Moser said that raises must be given to teachers and principals to keep the best members of the staff in place.

» Academic offerings and career and technical education. Although the candidates did not speak in depth about curriculum issues, Lowery said he wants to see technology programs put back into the schools. Moser suggested working with Halifax County Industrial Development Authority and others to develop academic and career programs that target middle schoolers who don’t plan to attend college.

Garner-Coleman said the future looks positive and she can make a positive impact on children and schools. Boone said he looked forward to working with the school board and the new superintendent, and “if Sandra wins, that’s great, I’ll work with her too.”





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