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School board candidates address issues

In the upcoming November 3 Middlesex County School Board election, two candidates are seeking a Pinetop District seat on the Middlesex County School Board, and one candidate is running unopposed for a Saluda District seat.

In Pinetop District, Garland Harrow of Deltaville is challenging incumbent Jim Goforth of Hartfield. In Saluda District, incumbent Dr. Richard Shores of the Urbanna area is running unopposed.

In a recent written questionnaire, the Sentinel asked all three candidates the same three questions. The candidates’ answers follow:

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Jim Goforth
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Garland Harrow
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Dr. Richard Shores

1. What do you feel are the two most pressing issues/concerns facing the Middlesex County School System now and in the near future, and what is your position/solution to these issues?

Jim Goforth: I believe that the two most important issues facing our school division are maintaining and recruiting quality teachers and improving student achievement. Because the two issues are so closely related, it is difficult to talk about one without mentioning the other.

Research has indicated that the most important factor in determining student achievement is the quality of teaching in the classroom. The effectiveness of teachers in the classroom is paramount in assisting students to become lifelong learners and contributing citizens of society. In order to maintain the quality of teachers that are currently employed, it is important that we provide effective professional development to our teachers and staff. Additionally, our salaries and benefits must be competitive in order to retain teachers and maintain high morale. Recruitment of new teachers is also important, particularly in the areas of math, science and special education because of their high demand in all school divisions across the Commonwealth.

The School Board needs to provide the necessary support and training for the teachers in the system so that they can succeed in the classroom. Through the development of policies and their implementation, it is important that instructional time is protected and interruptions are minimal.

In order to meet our division’s goal of improving school achievement, it is important that all children have access to the resources necessary for them to learn. By identifying achievement gaps and using data to track performance, we will be able to provide tutoring programs and remediation for lower performing students. Research also indicates that smaller class sizes, particularly at the early elementary grades, affects student achievement. As we set budget priorities, we need to recognize that technology, if properly used, can improve the achievement of students. The School Board has the responsibility of setting direction for the division, setting high expectations, and using data to direct our scarce resources and to track progress and performance.

Garland Harrow: Our first priority should be the quality of our education program. Because of the economic decline in the country we have been forced to cut our job force, including in our school systems. I would strive to find additional funds or methods to maintain the highest quality professional staff to see that our children get the best education possible. After all, they are our future.

Being in a small business in a small community, I have had to be as economically efficient as possible. I feel that there may be some opportunities to lower our operating expenses and still maintain quality in our school system. I hope, if elected, I can help find some savings and redirect those funds to better fund our education system. It’s easy to solve problems from the outside looking in. Therefore, I can make no assumptions until I am involved. I do assure you I will make every effort to support our teachers, administration and, above all, our children in this county.

Dr. Richard Shores: (1) The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is an awesome challenge. To accomplish this we need to keep and recruit the best teachers.

(2) We need a respectable sports complex for our students and the community at large. For this to become a reality, the citizens and county officials will have to make this a community goal. 

2. What do you feel is the role of a school board member? Should board members assume more responsibility in implementing specific rules at each school, or do you feel this is the job of administrators such as the school superintendent and school principals? Give reasons for your answer.

Jim Goforth: The Commonwealth of Virginia follows the Dillon rule, simply stated, the School Board only has the authority granted to it by the Code of Virginia.  In researching the Code of Virginia, one can find that it states that the School Board is a body corporate, meaning it only acts as a group. The authority of the Board is primarily limited to establishing policy, approving the budget and expenditures, and hiring of personnel based on the recommendation of the Division Superintendent. 

I believe that one of the most important jobs of the School Board is selecting the most qualified candidate as a school superintendent, one who can enforce and implement the School Board policies. On the other hand, the School Board would be remiss if it relied solely on the viewpoints of the superintendent to form policy. In the case of our School Board, if we are confronted with an issue, each School Board member is responsible for researching the issue, including gathering the opinions of the community and staff. Each School Board member is responsible for expressing his or her viewpoint and a consensus has to be reached before any action is taken. Our School Board only acts in the form of written policies, which are on our website. When a revision is considered by the School Board, it is placed on the agenda for two consecutive meetings before a final vote is taken. 

Regarding the principals that we hire, it is their responsibility to set rules for their individual schools and communicate these rules to the students and families in a timely manner. Their role also includes enforcing the rules uniformly and ensuring that their rules are in line with the School Board policies. Additionally, the teacher is responsible for setting the expectations and procedures within his/her classroom and ensuring that the rules are in alignment with the expectations set by the school principal.

Garland Harrow: I believe that if you have people in decision-making positions you have to let them work. The school board should be involved in policy, funding and hiring. If we do our job correctly then all will be handled correctly. However, the board needs to be available to help with any major issues, rule changes, or additions that may affect how our schools are run.

Dr. Richard Shores: The role of the school board is to employ a superintendent who is knowledgeable and informed about the needs of our students. Secondly, we need to be knowledgeable of the policies that govern the school system, editing policies when there appears to be ambiguities or contradictions.

The day-to-day operation of the schools is the responsibility of the superintendent, principals and teachers who, in turn, make us aware of the needs of the school.

We need board members who are pro-active in providing the needs of our students and our facilities.

3. What else would you like to tell the voters of Middlesex County with regards to the upcoming school board election, and the school system in general?

Jim Goforth: This past year was one of the most difficult budget years in my experience as a School Board member. In order to develop a budget that would meet the needs of the school division, we held public meetings to gather input from the public and the staff. Once a proposed budget was formalized, additional meetings were held to provide the public with the information before the School Board adopted a final budget. 

Because of the continued budget shortfalls at the federal and state levels and the predicted increase in our composite index, the next two years will be no different. If re-elected, I pledge to place the highest priority on protecting our instructional program and maintaining a safe and healthy environment for our students. Additionally, I will do everything in my power as an individual School Board member to get as much public input as possible as we make decisions in a tough economic time.

We are a small school division and therefore it is difficult to offer a variety of programs, particularly in the area of Career and Technical Education. I am currently serving on a regional board with four other school divisions to develop career and technical programs for students in our region by partnering with Rappahannock Community College. Although we currently have two programs in place, which will provide job skills that are in demand, I would like to continue with this effort so that other programs can be developed.

As citizens, we should be proud that all of our schools are fully accredited and that we have met 28 out of the 29 indicators for AYP for the most recent school year. Our school facilities are equal to most and we have maintained them to protect the public’s investment. We have an enthusiastic and talented administrative staff that will provide the school leadership necessary to improve academic performance for our students. With the help of the parents, teachers, and the community, our division stands on the threshold of becoming one of the best. 

Garland Harrow: We have a good school system, but I know that there are many areas that can be improved. As in any major organization or business—and the school system is a business—there is always the need to grow and improve.

I would like to see more school spirit with growth in our athletic programs. Sports are a very important part of our schools and in children’s development and social skills.  They also involve parents and the community in a positive way.  I would like to be a part of seeing that we offer the best we can in sports and coaching at all levels.

I know this county’s educational system is sound. I went through the system, my two children went through the system, and I have five grandchildren (three already) who will go through this county’s educational system. I have a heartfelt interest in seeing that things work for the better of all concerned.

The school board is a vital instrument in confirming that this county’s youth are well-educated, well-rounded individuals who will contribute to the “worth” of their community and be proud of their accomplishments. I would extremely enjoy being a part of seeing that their dreams are fulfilled.

Dr. Richard Shores: Whe-ther you have children or grandchildren in the school system or not, your participation in the election process is of the utmost importance. A strong school system contributes to a better and safer community.

posted 10.08.2009

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