Six Upshur BOE hopefuls meet the public

BUCKHANNON – Six candidates for three Upshur County Board of Education seats in the May 13 election had a chance to make their case to the public during a forum Wednesday.

District 1 incumbents Teresa Bellamy and Greenbrier Almond are both seeking re-election.

“I want to give the teachers, the administrators, the tools they need to make our schools better, to give our schools an opportunity to compete not only in our local community, but worldwide,” Bellamy said at Wednesday’s forum, held at Buckhannon Academy Elementary School and sponsored by the Upshur County Professional Educators.

“We have some kids who probably won’t stay here when they graduate. I would like to think all our kids would,” Bellamy said. “I want to be able to give our teachers the tools that they need in the classroom, outside the classroom, and our administrators. It takes all of us working together to give them these tools.”

Answering an audience question regarding her opinion on Common Core, Bellamy said that, in theory, Common Core sounds “wonderful,” but in practice she questions if it is going to work.

“I think the initial concept of Common Core was a good one,” Bellamy said. “The roll-out, however, I’m a little worried about that… The other thing that bothers me a little bit about it is you have the high achievers and you have those on the lower end. What’s that going to do to the kids that are in the middle and on that lower end?”

Answering another question about her opinion on building a new middle school, Bellamy said having a new building would become inevitable because of the technology demands on the current one. Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School is the oldest school building in use in the county.

“We saw some issues as we had to bring in more computers and make more computer labs,” Bellamy said. “It was more difficult for the electrical to carry all of that. When you start trying to make renovations to a school like that, at the time it was built, there was a lot of asbestos… We can do small modifications to that school and limp along, I think, but I think we’re going to have to look at some point at really seriously considering building another school.”

Bellamy said the building itself could still have uses, but that it no longer suits the growing needs of the middle school.

Almond also weighed in on the issue.

“A school board standing up together can do anything,” Almond said, adding that the newest addition to the current middle school is a single story add-on built in 1987. Almond said the school board pays about $1 million dollars a year on repairs for the middle school.

Almond also responded to the question about Common Core, saying students have to be able to keep up with the rest of the world.

“We should have common education throughout America,” Almond said. “Will it be implemented right? Who knows?”

Almond said there are a number of things he believes in and will “take a firm stand on.” Those include enhancing quality education both now and in the future, promoting safe education, seeking parental and community involvement in education, supporting the levy, emphasizing health in education, keeping up with technology and science for a 21st century education, reading, excelling in teaching, expanding bold initiatives and insisting on accountability.

“We just passed the levy,” Almond said. “That’s good news for five years, and we need to keep looking at ways to improve our school.”

Also running in District 1 is Keely Burnside.

“I decided to try for the Board of Education because I wanted to be proactive and really try to make a difference,” Burnside said. “I’m hoping that my experience as a teacher will make a difference. Although it was only two years, I feel like it really opened my eyes to what is needed in the community and I feel that I can help do that.

“I’m excited for the opportunity if I’m elected to really look at how we’re educating our youth. I feel like we need to be proactive, not reactive in how we educate our youth. I think we need to be able to give the technology that’s needed. How I was educated in the 90s is not how kids need to be educated today.”

When it comes to her opinion about building a new middle school, Burnside said technology needs are not met by the current facility. She said the school’s bathrooms and cafeteria are outdated.

“I think if we want to inspire our students and our educators, we need to give them a facility that they’re proud to be at,” Burnside said. “Am I proud of our middle school? 100 percent… I think that it does the best that it can do, but can it be better? 100 percent.

“I think that you’re putting gum on the dam. I think that you just keep putting money in a facility that is just not ever going to work the way it should. Our students deserve that. Our teachers deserve that. They deserve a room that can facilitate learning and inspire kids.”

Regarding Common Core, Burnside said, “I worry.” She added she did not feel she had enough information to decide where she stands on the issue.

“When you talk about standardized testing in a national type, I think that education in each area needs to be unique,” Burnside said. “Students in California can’t necessarily be educated the way students in West Virginia are.”

Two candidates were unable to attend: Patrick Martin, for District 1, and Carl Martin, for District 2. Carl Martin, however, submitted a statement to be read on his behalf.

“If elected, I would offer an open-door policy to students, teachers, administrators, parents and our community,” Carl Martin said. “I want our kids to be prepared for success whether they choose a skilled or professional pathway. I believe that proper education is key to a successful community, country and world.”

Candidate Tom Davis of District 3 also is on the ballot.

“I think that there’s too many times that we get caught up into some of the things like teacher pay, middle school bonds and levies and things like that, and we forget about the children,” Davis said, “and that is the main focus. It should be the main focus in trying to educate them, trying to make a difference in their life.”

Regarding whether or not he felt the county should build a new middle school, Davis said eventually it would have to happen because the building is not going to last forever.

“Go slow, don’t make a rush decision,” Davis said. “If you can’t afford it, you just can’t afford it.”

Regarding Common Core, Davis said students need to be able to keep up with other countries.

“In some cases, even third-world countries are above us in education,” Davis said.