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BYH, first they came for the immigrants, refugees and migrants, but I did not speak up because I was none of those....

Safety drives discussion at school board forum

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Amy Cole, left, candidate for District Two, gives an opening statement during a forum for the Board of Education candidates at St James United Methodist Church on Oct. 18, 2018. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By Tyler Stocks
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

School safety was at the forefront of a school board candidates forum last week at St. James United Methodist Church in Greenville. 

The event was held Thursday night and was hosted by Parents for Public Schools in Pitt County. It featured all of the candidates running for Pitt County School Board except District 2 candidate Shawan Barr, who was not present.

Dwain Cooper, community impact and communications director of the Pitt County United Way was the moderator for the discussion.

Each candidate was asked to answer the question: What is the most important issue facing public schools right now? Safety seemed to be on everyone’s mind.

“We really have to think about security not just from the outside but from the inside,” said Caroline Doherty candidate for District 7. “From those who are authorized to be on our campuses and those who are not, there’s a lot more that needs to be done in terms of safety and security.”   

Doherty said that finding funding for school resource officers was imperative but that there was more to the issue than that. 

“It’s really important that we find ways to fully fund our SROs for every single campus. But that’s not the end of the story,” she said.  “We also need to support our students inside our schools and help to identify those who are suffering from toxic stress, childhood trauma and who need to develop more coping skills and frankly, need to be helped.” 

District 5 candidate Levi Smith echoed some of Doherty’s sentiments.

“The safety and the security of our children is the most important thing,” Smith said.  “I feel like the board is responsible to make sure every child that leaves in the morning to go to school, comes home safely that afternoon to their parent.  That’s our No. 1 priority.  

Other issues that were raised included addressing parental involvement, recruiting and retention of highly qualified teachers and funding for schools. 

District 7 candidate Jackie Deloatch and District 2 candidate Amy Cole iterated the importance of communication between teachers, parents, students and administrators.

“We have to work together, Deloatch said. “We have to teach parents how to communicate effectively so they can be successful for them and for their child. A successful parent models what a child needs to do. Communication is the key.”

Cole said parental involvement is essential

“As a teacher and a parent, one of our biggest issues is lack of parental involvement,” Cole said. “The bottom line is getting parents involved. You have to have the relationship there and without it, I just don't think it's going to work.”

Recruiting highly qualified teachers was a priority raised by District  5 candidate Anna Barret Smith and District 1 candidate Robert Moore. 

“One of highest priorities is recruiting and retaining our highly qualified teachers,” Smith said. “And the reason that's important is it addresses a lot of the other major issues. Having highly qualified teachers, those teachers can formulate relationships which make it easier to identify mental health and emotional health issues before it escalates into a safety issue.”

Moore gave statistics of the number of teachers Pitt County has lost over the years and said the county needs to do more to keep them here.  

“The biggest issue facing Pitt County Schools is recruiting and retaining highly qualified teachers,” Moore said.  “If you don't have that, then you can't really have much below that.”

District 2 candidate Judy Dupree said teachers must do more to identify at-risk youth and the system should be more proactive than reactive when it comes to dealing with problems that arise. 

“We have highly qualified teachers, but I do think they need to be trained in cultural sensitivity, because you have to first understand the problem and identify the problem before you can initially tackle and resolve the problem,” Dupree said.

District 1 candidates Tracy Everette-Lentz and Gary Davis addressed funding and the lack of technology available for public school students. 

“The lack of adequate funding for public education has created so many challenges for us, particularly over the past decade,” Lintz said.  “The absence of this funding has negatively impacted recruitment and retention of highly qualified teachers.”

Davis said students in Pitt County Schools need better access to technology as they learn differently than those who came before them. 

“We need to be bringing our kids into the 21st Century,” Davis said. “Right now, we teach from a 1950s model. Kids today learn differently than we did growing up. They're more adapted to social media, video games; they learn a different way.” 

Melissa Adamson, chairwoman of Parents for Public Schools in Pitt County, said that as a parent, she wants to see others take an active role in advocating for public education because it affects all of us. 

“The board of education plays a critical role in determining policies and procedures that affect our public schools,” Adamson said. “Their decisions affect everything from budget to safety to quality.  High-quality public education is the cornerstone of a thriving community. High-quality education touches all of our lives.” 

To learn more about Parents for Public Schools in Pitt County, visit ppspittcounty.org

Contact Tyler Stocks at tstocks@reflector.com or 252-329-9566. Follow him on Twitter @TylerstocksGDR

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