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Meet the candidates

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SoVaNow.com / October 23, 2019
Mecklenburg County voters will head to the polls on Nov. 5 to elect local constitutional officers, members of the school board and board of supervisors and representatives to the Virginia General Assembly.

The Mecklenburg Sun reached out to candidates in competitive races to ask them a series of questions about their goals if elected to office, and issues of general interest in the county.

This week and next, The Sun is publishing these candidates’ responses. First up today are the contenders for competitive seats on the Mecklenburg County School Board.

The are five candidates running for seats in two districts, three in ED-2 and two in ED-8. The candidates for ED-2 are Gloria Smith, Latrisha McCargo and Peggy Fields. Running in ED-8 are incumbent Kenny Johnson and challenger Ricky Allgood

Here’s a look at each race and the candidates:

Election District 8: Kenny Johnson and Ricky Allgood

Kenny Johnson is the current trustee representing the Chase City area (ED-8) on the School Board, seeking his second full term.

Johnson said he first ran in 2015 out of concern for teachers, custodians and other school personnel who he felt were not being treated fairly by the school superintendent at the time. The issues that first brought him to the board “were resolved,” according to Johnson, and now he says he’s “invested in seeing the new middle and high school built and the primary schools refurbished.”

The three biggest issues facing the school division, Johnson says, are the lack of equal educational opportunities for all students, construction of the new consolidated school campus in Baskerville and finding and hiring qualified teachers for the division.

The solution to the equal education issue “is simple” and can be accomplished by simply offering the same classes to all students in the same grade regardless of the school they attend, according to Johnson. He acknowledges that the school division faces a shortage of qualified teachers available to offer dual enrollment classes at both high schools. In those instances, Johnson said the school should consider live streaming the classes instead of offering students AP (advanced placement) classes – a program that was recently eliminated by trustees.

As far as the current school construction project, Johnson said that’s a matter of staying on track. Which leaves what he says is the most complicated issue — finding qualified teachers. Johnson believes this can be done when and if the school division offers a competitive salary and benefit package to teaching candidates. “

Everyone wants to be compensated for their hard work,” he says.

Johnson says the school division is and has been successful when it comes to educating students and he supports plans to expand career and technical education opportunities for students who are not college-bound. He also has high praise for the teachers, staff, and administrators employed by the division, saying “they have an endless supply of heart and grit [and] their love for their professions and the students is evident.”

When asked about the possibility that Mecklenburg County might have to spend more than $184 million to build a consolidated secondary school and upgrade the three oldest elementary school facilities over the next 10 years, Johnson points out that the secondary school construction project is currently being rebid to hopefully bring down the cost. For now, he does not favor raising taxes to cover the cost of capital improvements or other expenses for the school division.

He promises to continue doing what is best for the students and faculty of the school division while putting the least burden on the taxpayers.

Johnson says he is “intimately involved in the community.” He graduated from Bluestone High School in 1978, his three children also graduated from Mecklenburg County schools and he currently has grandchildren attending school in Mecklenburg. He’s spent the past 30 years in law enforcement and 20 years preaching at churches in Drakes Branch and Chase City as an ordained minister. His prior public service includes time on the Clarksville Town Council and on the YMCA Board.

Ricky Allgood (ED-8)

Allgood retired last year from Mecklenburg County schools after more than 40 years as the band director for Bluestone high and middle schools. After spending time with his granddaughters, he said he was looking for a way to help build a better future for the younger generation, when he decided to run for school board.

As a former educator, Allgood said he knows the “ins and outs of how schools work.” And he hopes to put those skills to use while supporting the superintendent “in his daily operations, offering input when asked on issues, without micromanaging.”

The three biggest issues facing the school division, Allgood says, are the consolidated school construction project, the need for more qualified teachers, and equal class offerings for all students in the county.

The issue of equal educational opportunities will be resolved once the students are consolidated at the high and middle school levels, Allgood said, adding that until then happens he supports the steps that Superintendent Paul Nichols took to address the issue – moving a teacher from Park View to Bluestone High School and adding new courses to the Bluestone High School curriculum starting this semester.

Without criticizing the current board, Allgood questioned how the disparity in class offerings could occur under their watch. “We all pay the same taxes so should have the same opportunities.”

He disagrees with the recent decision of trustees, championed by current chairman Dale Sturdifen, to eliminate AP (advanced placement) classes in the schools. “I saw it with my own kids” — Allgood has three who graduated from Mecklenburg County Schools — “many dual enrollment credits are not accepted by the colleges and universities. For them, having an Associate’s degree did not speed up the process to earn a four-year degree.” For many students, that associates degree is a disadvantage when entering college. “These kids are not ready emotionally or academically.”

Allgood believes the school division will be better situated to attract more top teachers, including those qualified to teach dual enrollment, once the new school is built and the division has implemented changes to the curriculum with its multi-track focus on both college and career and technical prep.

He adds that improved pay and benefits would be helpful, but he would not advocate for a tax increase to raise salaries or pay for capital improvement projects. He would prefer the school division continue to work with the county and others to create a workforce that attracts more and varied businesses to the area to increase the tax base.

To that end, Allgood would like to see the school division reconsider how classes are scheduled – the division is on a 4x4 block system that has students in a single class for 90 minutes. “This is too long for kids to stay focused,” Allgood said. “Research shows that attention spans are shortening, so why do we want to lengthen class times?” He believes that shorter class periods will improve student performance.

When asked about the possibility that the county will spend $184 million to build a consolidated secondary school and upgrade the three oldest elementary school facilities over the next several years, Allgood said, “It was the wrong time to bid” on construction of the Baskerville facility. At the same time, he hopes the Board of Supervisors does not force school officials to make cuts to the building design that will have to be fixed down the road. “We need to build it right the first time even if that means increasing the budget.”

Allgood says his experience as an educator allows him to see both sides of every issue, and he will bring that experience to his decision-making process. He promises to always work toward implementing policies that are in the best interest of the entire county. He saw, as the leader of a multi award-winning band program, how success can uplift the students and the community.

“People know me. I was born and raised here and taught in the school division for 42 years. They also know my wife of 37 years, Jane, a bank manager for Touchstone Bank, and three children Brian, a band director in Appomattox, Maggie, a para-professional in the school division working on her bachelors in education, and Aaron who works for VDOT.” Allgood previously served on town council for Chase City.

School Board candidates in ED-2: 
Peggy Fields, Latrisha McCargo and Gloria Smith

Peggy Fields

Peggy Fields is running for School Board in ED-2 in Chase City because she believes the education of our children should be of utmost importance. She also has a personal interest in improving the quality of the school system as she is a product of Mecklenburg County Public School and has children and grandchildren who attend or attended school in the county.

“We must keep their needs in the forefront when making decisions that govern how our schools are run. I would also like to create stronger ties between the School Board and the community,” Fields explains.

If elected, she said her role would be to create a vision and set goals for the school division, offer input and approve the school budget, hire and evaluate the school superintendent and be visible in the schools.

Fields sees the three biggest issues facing the school division as lack of funding, excessive discipline and retention of teachers. While she does not profess to having all the answers, she said she would use her position to find creative ways to increase revenue for education.

She would also revise current discipline policies and procedures after receiving input from school employees, parents, students, and county agencies, and institute more program like “Teach for Tomorrow,” at the high school level, to encourage more interest in teaching.

Others suggestions she has for finding and retaining teachers include setting up a dialogue with colleges and universities to track education majors and encourage them to move to Mecklenburg County, or the dialogue could explore opportunities for local high school students to complete college entry-level coursework related to education before graduation from high school.

One area where Fields says the school division could do better for its students is the area of career and technical education. “The school system has been geared to preparing students for college as the next step, beyond high school graduation. However, all students will not attend college. I feel that more guidance should be available for students who will not take the college route.”

She would also like to see more opportunities for high school students to explore career options, and more investigation of the types of career-related certificates that students can earn during high school which are not currently offered locally.

Had she been on the board, Fields said she would have supported the move to eliminate (AP) Advanced Placement classes from the school curriculum. “Dual enrollment classes would be my preference over advanced placement classes.”

She also shared that she will stand her ground when it comes to paying for the construction of a new consolidated high and middle school, suggesting her openness to increasing taxes, if needed to pay for construction, maintenance and operations. “If we want our students to be educated in State-of-the-Art facilities, we must be willing to invest and to create 21st Century learning environments. We must also keep in mind, building costs rise daily; and besides, our children are worth it.

“Education has always been a top priority for me. I always stress the importance of a good education in my home, my church, and my community.”

Fields, 68, earned a Certificate of Religious Education from Evans-Smith Leadership Training Institute in partnership with Virginia Union University after retiring from Jonbil Industries and Hampco Apparel. She’s been married to James C. Fields for 47 years and the two have two adult children and seven grandchildren.

As a member of Greater Union Baptist Church in Chase City for over 40 years, Fields has been the church clerk, a member of the senior choir, Sunday School teacher, youth leader, president of the Missionary Ministry, and the senior choir. Her daughter Tonya Fields Hines is an elementary teacher in Portsmouth and her son James André Fields works in corrections in Lunenburg County.

Latrisha McCargo

A native and current resident of Mecklenburg County, Latrisha McCargo said she is running “to be a part of the voice for the students who are our future.”

Her role, if elected would be to work with other trustees, parents, students and educators to assist in making the most informed decisions regarding the education of the children of the county.

The three biggest issues facing the Mecklenburg schools, according to McCargo, are the concerns relating to the new consolidated school campus being built in Baskerville and the transition involved, special education in the school system and safety of the students, faculty and staff.

She would encourage the board and division to alleviate concerns regarding the new school campus by holding informational sessions. “Everyone needs to be well informed and show transparency.”

She would also encourage those involved with the project to seek out others who may have gone through a school consolidation. Their experiences “could provide a better understanding to our students, parents, educators and staff during this transitional period,” McCargo said.

With more occurrences of autism spectrum disorders and attention deficit disorders, McCargo would like the board to push for increased training and resources for educators and staff working with special needs students. She believes these tools will allow them to better assist children who may not learn through traditional teaching and learning styles.

“Safety in the schools will always be something we need to keep in the forefront regarding our schools. We need to remain diligent in ensuring the safety of our children. Active shooter drills, along with our fire, tornado, hurricane drills, should become regular occurrences. We have to keep our children informed and educated to keep them safe,” said McCargo.

On the issue of whether the school division is successfully preparing students for a future after school, McCargo said there is always need for improvement, but it is the responsibility of the trustees to assist with implementing new and innovative ideas, to handle old and new issues that may arise, including the issue of inequality of educational opportunity for current students in the school division.

Inequality among our students should be addressed and corrected as soon as possible,” she said adding, “No child deserves to feel as if they are being slighted.”

While McCargo did not say definitively whether she would support or oppose a tax increase to pay for current or future school capital improvements, she did offer that the board should revisit current cost projections for construction projects. She said any potential tax increase would be better received if the county took steps beforehand to educate the public on the costs associated with building and maintaining a school facility.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in human services from Old Dominion University and an Associate Degree in Business Management with a specialization in Accounting from Southside Virginia Community College where she also serves as an adjunct instructor.

Gloria Smith

Gloria Smith spent most of her life in education, and even in retirement, is interested in issues, trends, and preparation of graduates to meet global needs as well as the needs here in Mecklenburg County.

She says she is running for the open seat in ED-2 because she “would love to work with others on the School Board to help solve problems and help make our educational system the best possible, in order for our students to compete on a global level.”

If elected, she says her role will be to adopt policies for the day-to-day supervision of schools, to care for, manage and control the property of the school division, identify and address critical shortages of teachers and other personnel and to assure the schools operate according to the law with utmost efficiency. She also believes the board should be involved in decision relating to the length of the school term, the studies to be pursued, the methods of teaching and the personnel to be employed in the schools.

Smith sees the three biggest issues currently facing the county division as the cost of constructing the new consolidated secondary school in Baskerville, teacher pay and broadband access for schools and students. She also pointed to the need to increase technical training opportunities for students whose future does not include attending a four-year college or university, equip teachers with the tools needed to advance student scores on state-mandated tests, ensure that music and arts remain in the schools, increase diversity among the teaching and administrative staff, and forge a stronger working relationship with Microsoft and its TechSpark program to create more tech-related jobs and economic opportunity in the area.

Smith believes it is important for her to research all issues ahead of a School Board vote, and that includes seeking input from the people living in her district, as well as teachers, staff and if appropriate, students.

Smith says the school system is “doing a good job” when it comes to educating students for college and careers, but there could be improvement, particularly when it comes to the work of the guidance staff.

“Many students are going off to colleges and universities without having the knowledge of just what fields have more job openings. Many students get their degrees and end up working in the prison system or subbing in the schools. While we need subs, I am certain that our college/university graduates would prefer to be working in their field(s) of expertise. I feel the guidance programs at the high school level could perhaps have more materials, and/or connective programs with the community colleges and universities to help students choose careers where their chances of finding a job are greater.”

Any disparity in educational opportunities for students in Mecklenburg County Schools will be resolved with the new consolidated secondary campus, Smith said. She fears the latest cost figures for new school construction and upgrades to the elementary schools will force the board to cut aspects of the design that would benefit many students living in the area, such as a barn and greenhouse for students interested in agriculture or horticulture and an auxiliary gym for middle school students.

“I would like for those projects to be put back in the plan, so as not to shortchange our students. She calls those designs aspects an investment in the future of Mecklenburg County. “We have to invest in our children to reap the benefits in our future. “

Smith was the only candidate to acknowledge the county may have to raise taxes to cover future costs for maintaining the schools or investing in future capital improvements. “After Mecklenburg high and middle school are built, the county will still have ongoing maintenance issues and building replacement issues. Outsiders coming into the county could pay sales tax with I-85 bringing in many visitors. Sales tax would be beneficial to help in the maintenance of our elementary schools, as well as pay for capital improvements and infrastructure issues.”

Smith has worked with educators, school board members, parents and students for 38 years, including a 13-year stint as principal at Boydton Elementary School. She plans to use that knowledge base and her listening skills to serve citizens with honesty, integrity, compassion and empathy.

Smith graduated as valedictorian of her high school in Chatham in 1962 and earned a B.S. Degree in Elementary Education with a minor in English in 1966.

Returning home, Smith taught in Pittsylvania County for three years and ran the Head Start Program during the summer months until moving to Mecklenburg County in 1969 following her marriage to Kenneth Smith, who was also an educator and school administrator.

She spent the next 22 years teaching first at Chase City Primary School then at Boydton Elementary before being tapped to succeed Doris Hester as principal at Boydton. She retired in 2004.

Smith began a new chapter in her life after retirement, as a volunteer serving as president on the board of directors for Boydton Medical Center (later Healthcare on the Square), on the board of Historic Boydton Renaissance and as secretary for Tri-County Community Action Agency.

In 2012 she received the Mecklenburg County Citizen of the Year award for her dedicated service and outstanding achievement in the Community from the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. and in 2016 she received the Living Legend Award from the C.E.O. Circle for outstanding service and contribution to the community.

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