The following are unedited responses to questionnaires The News Herald sent to candidates for the Burke County Board of Education Eastern District. They are listed in the order returned.
Candidate for: School Board (Eastern District)
Profession/Work History: Retired teacher and coach.
Education: BS History (Appalachian State); MA School Admin. Gardner-Webb
Family: Wife-Betsy; Daughter-Katie; Son-Coy
Community Involvement: Member and Deacon at Mount Calvary Baptist Church, Valdese, NC
Have you ever been convicted of a felony? No.
Do you currently owe back property taxes? No.
What do you think are the biggest issues facing Burke County Public Schools and how would you address them if elected? As a former teacher, I feel improving student achievement is always paramount. The best way to improve learning is to have a great teacher in the classroom. As a board member, I would stress to our administrators that we hire the best people possible and make sure we treat them as professionals by not micromanaging them. Also, fostering great relationships between schools and parents is immensely beneficial. We should strive to make sure that our approach and instruction within our schools matches the values and beliefs of our parents. With respect to student safety, we should strive to establish policies that promote student safety while, at the same time, address parental concerns. Funding is an issue that all school boards face. To ensure that our system has the funds that it needs to be successful, we would strive to have a great relationship with our County Commission.
What motivates you to want to become a school board member? I enjoyed a great career within the Burke County Public School System. I, as well as my children, received a great education from this same system. This is simply an opportunity for me to return the favor.
What skills and/or qualifications do you believe separate you from the other candidates? I have thirty years of experience serving as a teacher, coach and administrator. I feel that I could be an asset to the board due to my time “in the trenches.”
After seeing many families turn toward the Virtual Academy during the pandemic, do you think the program should be expanded for post-pandemic academic years? If so, how do you think it can be improved upon? I am a big proponent of in-person instruction. I feel that no other approach can match its effectiveness. However, I do appreciate a parent’s concern for their child’s safety. I hope that we can continue to ensure student safety and put our parents’ concerns to rest. At the same time, we want to provide online instruction that provides for our students’ needs.
What do you think Burke County Public Schools can do to recruit and retain teachers within the system? By providing competitive compensation packages while, at the same time, establishing a spirit of collegiality between teachers and administrators.
What is your definition of social justice and what role do you think it plays in public schools? In its most simple description, Social Justice is a strategy in which particular political demands are reframed as universal moral imperatives. It has no place in our schools. Education should be centered around facts, truth, and proven academic practices: not on theoreticals that are unproven, untested, and designed not to educate but indoctrinate.
Leslie Ritchie Taylor
Candidate for: Burke County Board of Education, Eastern District
Profession/Work History: Healthcare Administrative Professional/Financial Counselor-Emergeortho; Practice Manager, Office Manager, Insurance Supervisor-Carolina Orthopaedic Specialist; Insurance Manager-Carolina Rehab Center; Administrative Assistant-Mountain View Pediatrics; Insurance Manager-Reynolds Family Wellness
Education: East Burke High School Class of 99’; Bachelors in Business Administration from Gardner Webb University
Family: Spouse: Kaleb Taylor-Engineer for Hurst Jaws of Life; Son: Zane Taylor-8th grade East Burke Middle School; Daughter: Zoey Taylor-4th grade Icard Elementary School; Father: Danny Ritchie-Retired Principal, Teacher and Coach of BCPS
Community Involvement: Member of Hilderbran First Baptist; Recreational and Travel Basketball Coach for Youth Girls; Active Supporting Parent for BCPS
Have you ever been convicted of a felony? No
Do you currently owe back property taxes? No
What do you think are the biggest issues facing Burke County Public Schools and how would you address them if elected? One of the biggest issues facing our schools and public education in general, is the lack of and indifference to parental and community input in the educational process. This is especially true in the content within some areas of public instruction. I would address this issue by being open and accessible to the citizens of Burke County, to the parents of students, and to employees of BCPS. Transparency in decisions made, open communication of plans, as well as public involvement and engagement will always promote vested interest within a community. Within the last few years, we have seen more policies passed that look to keep the parents and the community out of the schools and off school grounds. I feel our board needs to look to opening opportunities for parental and community involvement in our schools while keeping student and staff safety at the forefront. Recently, many parents have voiced they feel shut out of the curriculum or supporting tools that is used to educate their student. Our district has a program called “Plan Book” it allows parents access to view lesson plans set for their student. I feel if parents were more informed on how to access and view programs like this one there would be less questioning from the parents, and less of a feeling of disconnect from the education of their child. Part of mending this disconnect also falls on the shoulders of parents; complacency, unresponsiveness and an absence of interest is directly linked to educational failure.
What motivates you to want to become a school board member? I was moved to run due to my belief that every school board needs the perspective a parent would bring to the decision-making process. I felt the need to provide this service to Burke County after many voiced concerns this last year from BCPS staff, students, parents, and community members. I decided to run for office to give the staff back their voice in the positions they hold, to ensure decisions were made with the student’s needs addressed first, to represent the held perspective of working families in our district, and to ensure that all stakeholders of BCPS had a voice in the decisions made by our board.
What skills and/or qualifications do you believe separate you from the other candidates? As a mother of two Burke County students, I believe I would bring a unique parental perspective to the board in the decision-making process. I see firsthand, how dependent our students are on Burke County Public Schools to provide the instruction and support needed for future success beyond high school graduation. Upon graduation from Gardner Webb University with a degree in Business Administration, I entered the field of healthcare management. I have a tenure of 20 years in the healthcare field holding various administrative and management rolls. Thus, giving me more than a fair understanding in how to professionally deal with the public and insight into the financial and business aspects of a large organization. I’m no politician. I don’t have any fancy initials behind my name like MD, PHD or DVM; just M.O.M. Within this last year this M.O.M. has proven that I shouldn’t be underestimated, dismissed, or ignored when it comes to the decisions being made for Burke County kids. If elected, I will continue to use my voice of strength, resilience, and endurance to speak up for all students, staff, and parents of Burke County Public Schools as well as all stakeholders within our community.
After seeing many families turn toward the Virtual Academy during the pandemic; do you think the program should be expanded for post-pandemic academic years? If so, how do you think it can be improved upon? It is my opinion that hands on in-person instruction is the most ideal learning environment for most students. The use of virtual instruction is a great venue of education for select students. Within the 2020-2021 Burke County Public Schools had approximately 1700 students enrolled in the Virtual Academy in the first semester. Throughout the year, this number declined due to challenges the parents and students faced and due to the option of in-person learning becoming available for our district. Some of the challenges that were voiced by parents during the last school year included:
The lack of timely communication from teachers to parents and students mainly due to the fact those teachers also had in person classes simultaneously.
Some students experienced technical issues with the online programs, internet and connectivity issues.
The increase of “busy work” assignments instead of actual instruction.
Parents and teachers reported kids “falling through the cracks” by not attending zoom meetings, and ultimately falling behind on their work.
Currently, for the 2021-2022 school year there are 443 students enrolled in the Virtual Academy. I feel that some of the issues from last school year have been resolved due to simple trial and error. As always “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” I believe that when best efforts are given in preparing for student learning, and when communication gaps are bridged, success is always achievable.
What do you think Burke County Public Schools can do to recruit and retain teachers within the system? The recruitment and retention of quality teachers is essential to the learning process. I believe emphasis should be given to students enrolled in the NC School of Education, preferably to prospective teachers that attended BCPS or had family in Burke County. That type of teacher would come into the school system with a built-in loyalty and investment. However, professionals in other fields looking to make a career change should not be overlooked; many would have life experiences that would be beneficial to our students. As always, an employee will be most likely to stay with an employer if they feel appreciated, their input valued, and hold a vested interest in their students, schools, and community. With the impacts of covid this last year, much like in healthcare, our school systems have taken a staffing hit. We need to start looking for opportunities to make BCPS more attractive to keep the employees we have and fill the open positions. Maybe future conversations with our county commissioners about funding could aid with additional supplements or sign on bonus for positions, or a bi-yearly retention bonus for classified staff. Burke County Public Schools will be obtaining monies from the sale of lots and properties from Rutherford College, the Kirksey Drive land, and in the future sale of the Old Morganton Jr. High Building. If those funds are not already allocated, maybe they could be directed towards those areas mentioned to aid in retainment and recruiting.
What is your definition of social justice and what role do you think it plays in public schools? My definition of social justice relates most closely to the Golden Rule, “So in everything, do unto others what you would have them do unto you” Matthew 7:12. I feel that this rule should not only play a role in public schools, but also in everyday life. This should be a guiding force in all decisions made by a school board. Ultimately, their decisions affect the whole community. I feel that all students should be afforded the same opportunities for success in their education, and that all BCPS staff should treated the same regardless of any social, ethnic, gender, or diverse backgrounds.