For the candidates running for the Newton County Board of Education District 1 seat, the primary election Tuesday will determine who serves. All three candidates, Ronald Hart, Jeffrey Meadors and Dale Thompson, are running on the republican ticket. The three took time to answer five questions from The News editorial staff.
1. In your opinion, what is the biggest problem facing the Newton County School System as a whole and in District 1 specifically?
Hart: “The reduction in force due to the lack of state funding. The cuts in personnel affect all of the schools in our county and the students in particular. In the future more has to be done to ensure that state funding is provided as it should be... I feel that we need to return to the basics in education and not worry so much about all the new programs that are always being offered. A return to prayer in the schools and the teaching of patriotism would improve our student's attitudes and give them more of a moral compass to follow. We have a great school system but it could be better with everyone's help.”
Meadors: “The greatest challenge facing us is accelerating student achievement, which is systematically linked to school system pride, the attraction of smart retail and industry growth, community engagement, school safety, a healthier tax base, and efforts at identifying the correct pathways for students after high school. All students will not complete college, yet with the Newton College & Career Academy, all will have unprecedented post-secondary options in the county. District 1 is the largest geographical district in the county and residents have a fairly thorough understanding of our schools. Residents value a well-rounded education yielding a rigorous high school transcript giving graduates many post-secondary options. The district overwhelmingly values graduate school completion in addition to a four-year degree. Residents do not want to see sports and arts programs cut and will work with reasonable solutions to keep them.”
Thompson: “The greatest problem we have is providing the resources for teachers to educate our kids. While we can reduce our discretionary spending we also need to work closely with our state representatives to increase local education funding. This problem affects all districts.”
2. Do you believe our current school system fosters mediocrity in teachers and administrators?
Hart: “No. Administrators are and should continue to evaluate teachers on a regular basis to avoid poor teaching. If a teacher is not doing their job, then the administration should help mentor the teacher with successful teachers and help the teacher to become a more productive educator.”
Meadors: “Absolutely not. Mediocrity is the result of poorly funded and insufficiently supported intrusive state and federal mandates, not local ones. Teachers are working feverishly. We have strong school counselors. From school cafeteria employees to graduation coaches to paraprofessionals, Newton should be proud of the work ethic, training, degrees, and certification of certified and classified staff. We can no longer fully trust the state of Georgia. They have shown us who they are by failing to send earned Quality Basic Education Act dollars to Newton. Yet, they will fund prisons at seven times the rate over our students. This represents a disconnected, tone-deaf legislature with a myopic vision. The federal and state governments have placed poorly funded mandates on our schools and our teachers at an alarming rate with the advent of No Child Left Behind. We have lost high quality teachers to the private sector. I would like to see greater local decision-making and less reliance on state and federal agencies.”
Thompson: “While we may have teachers and administrators who are viewed as mediocre, it’s not the school system that is responsible. How well someone performs lies in their own hands, not in an organization.”
3. Have you heard of any initiative programs in other counties/municipalities/school systems that could be implemented here that you think may help the NCSS?
Hart: “I think more should be done to improve the current programs and not always look for the newest 'fix for the day' type of programs. Only good teaching is going to make our students succeed no mater what "program" is being used.”
Meadors: “We have to be careful when embracing too readily the belief that a panacea exists in another county that we can localize to Newton. Having said that, there are programs that upon close inspection may make good sense for Newton. I have heard from many parents who want to see International Baccalaureate (IB) programs in Newton County. I would like to see Newton explore the creation of a cluster (elementary, middle and high) of IB programs phased in over time. These programs, like Dual Enrollment and Career, Technical, Agricultural Education, offer another good option for Newton students.”
Thompson: “I liked that Walton County was able to keep teacher pay and benefits intact by extending the day by 20 minutes and dropping 20 instruction days.”
4. When the middle school theme school reopens, what do you believe needs to be done in order to ensure its success?
Hart: “Parental involvement is the key to the success of the theme schools as it is with any school. If we were to support all of our schools with more parental positive involvement, all of our schools would be more successful. No matter how good the teachers are doing in the classroom, unless the parents are encouraging their kids at home to do their work, success will never be at the level it can be.
Meadors: “I taught language arts, social studies, and math at the middle school level for 13 years. This is a vastly different age group than elementary. So while it will be helpful to examine what has worked so well at Fairview, it is difficult to compare and contrast these two settings. That said, there are two critical components: the correct leadership and parent participation. The correct school leader serves as principle-centered leader, organizer of school programs and educational outreach, and ombudsman. This leadership role is unique as is that of a CEO of a college and career academy. This appointment should be made with careful consideration.
Thompson: “I would recommend a committee be formed to do a complete analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the previous theme school. This committee would be responsible for developing a plan that would address the weaknesses with cost effective solutions. The new theme school must be operated at a similar cost per student as our existing middle schools.”
5. Who is your personal leadership role model and why?
Hart: “Bud Ruffner who was a store manager for JCPenneys in Columbus many years ago. His leadership style was a positive style. He would encourage all of the managers and employees to be successful and do all he could to provide the resources and mentoring for everyone. He was honest and truthful about everyone's job performance and would let you know when you were doing a great job and when you were falling short. When he let you know of your shortcomings, he also provided suggestions for you to improve. Positive leadership produces positive results.”
Meadors: “Ronald Reagan was President of the United States when I graduated from high school, college, and graduate school. We were in the midst of a re-escalation of the Cold War and the Falkland Island crisis loomed. It was an uneasy time, yet Reagan emerged as a patriarchal icon for my generation of college students. He made us love the red, white and blue more than we already did. His conservative approach to economics, taxes and his strong support of our military made Reagan one of the greatest world leaders of my time.
Thompson: “My Dad; he always has time to listen, has a strong work ethic, and has patience through the most trying circumstances. He also serves others without bringing glory to himself. He is someone I have always looked up to.”