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Henry County School Board hopefuls address issues

Friday, November 1, 2013

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Candidates for the Henry County School Board in the Nov. 5 election have expressed their opinions on a number of issues facing or potentially facing the board.

Candidates were asked about the need for and whether they would support school resource officers for elementary schools, expanding New Tech, random drug testing for students in Virginia High School League-sanctioned extracurricular activities and enhanced recruitment of minority teachers and administrators.

Curtis Millner Sr. is running unopposed for a fourth term as Iriswood District representative on the board. Candidates for the Blackberry District board seat are Henry County Sheriff’s deputy Mike Hooper and pastor and retired teacher Tom Auker. Dr. Merris Stambaugh is conducting a write-in campaign for the Collinsville District seat.

School resource officers

Mentioning school shootings at Columbine, Sandy Hook and more recently in Nevada, among other places, Millner cited the need to have a school resource officer at each Henry County elementary school. Funding should be sought from grants and state and local governments to begin adding SROs at elementary schools, he said. The school division currently has SROs at the high and middle schools, he said.

Stambaugh said he would have to look into the issue.

Hooper said he wants to add SROs for elementary schools and revive the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program with special officers in elementary schools. He proposes doing that by having SRO/DARE officers (with each officer doing both functions). “If we can’t afford all schools, we need to start with one and proceed,” he added.

Auker said he hopes the system can put resource officers in the elementary schools. He added they might have to be phased in as funding is available, and grants should be sought. People tend to think school shootings happen in other places, he said, but “they could easily happen here.”

New Tech

The school division opened Warrior Tech at Magna Vista High School in August. It is the first New Tech Network school in Virginia. Project-based learning, integrated (multi-subject) classes and educators guiding students in learning rather than lecturing are among the techniques, officials have said.

On Oct. 3, the Henry County School Board awarded a $20,350 contract to RRMM Architects to conduct a feasibility study for a New Tech Center at Bassett High School.

Stambaugh said Warrior Tech has been “very popular. ... If it turns out to be a good model there, it should be offered at Bassett as well.” But he would have to see the costs and budgetary impact, he said.

Hooper said if Warrior Tech proves successful and funding is available, one should be started at Bassett High School.

Auker said he supports opening a New Tech Center at Bassett High School. “I think it’s an excellent way of teaching,” he said.

Millner said he wants to expand New Tech, but he has concerns about whether there is enough space available at Bassett High School for it.

Random student drug testing

In May, the school board voted to implement in the 2013-14 school year a program in which students participating in VHSL-sanctioned extracurricular activities have to sign a pledge not to use drugs, alcohol or tobacco during the season. VHSL-sanctioned activities include athletics and other extracurricular activities such as forensics and drama.

At the time, Cotton recommended that during the 2013-14 school year, the administration collaborate with available community resources, collaborate with parents regarding support of the pledge program and budget for potential implementation of drug testing for the 2014-15 school year.

School board candidates were asked recently if they would support implementing such random student drug testing.

“I’m opposed to drug testing students. ... I think it’s a huge can of worms,” Stambaugh said. He added that he hasn’t seen evidence “that we have a huge problem.”

“Students are not employees. Schools have every right to test their teachers (and other employees). ... They’re (students are) someone’s kids. As a father, I want to be responsible for my son and daughter. If they have erratic behaviors, I want them (school officials) to contact me.”

Auker said he would support random drug testing “100 percent. I think there is a lot more social drinking than we’re aware of; same with drugs ... marijuana, that sort of thing.”

“I really don’t think anyone would mind for that (random student drug testing) to happen,” he said.

Millner said he supports random student drug testing. “It’s a problem nationwide with athletes and drugs,” he said. “The best deterrent is that everyone knows that you have an active policy to prevent such.”

Hooper said, “I am strongly behind drug testing.”

“As a past athlete, I’ve seen things that go on in college and the school system. ... These kids don’t need to be on any kind of substance. If they are, they need to get counseling to get on the right path.”

Recruiting minority teachers and administrators

At the school board’s Aug. 8 meeting, the Rev. Thurman Echols, pastor of Moral Hill Missionary Baptist Church in Axton, cited a “great need” for more minority teachers and administrators.

Should the school division do more to recruit minority teachers and administrators?

“Most definitely,” Millner said. “I’m not just concerned with blacks but Hispanics, because the Hispanic population continues to grow. Students need to see positive examples of people from their own race that have advanced their education and status in life.”

Stambaugh said, “I think they should hire the most qualified people that are available for the job. We need to recruit teachers from all areas available to us, including traditionally black colleges.

“We do have some good minority role models (in the school division), including an assistant superintendent,” Stambaugh said.

“I ultimately think the most qualified person regardless of gender or race is going to do the best job for our students,” he said.

Auker said he thinks what the school division is doing “is sufficient,” but he added, “I think there is always room for improvement in anything.”

Hooper said, “If that’s what the community wants, we need to try to go to colleges and bring them to our community. I support anybody who is qualified.”


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