PRINCETON — Five candidates — two incumbents and three challengers — are running for two seats on the Mercer County Board of Education. Incumbents Mary Alice Kaufman and Lynne White are seeking re-election in a race that includes another former principal, an appliance retail associate and a Kegley father.

Mona Poling is a former principal in Mercer County, and Brandon Young is a graduate of Mercer County schools who works in a local appliance retailer. Harmon was not available for comment, but he pointed out during a series of recent forums that his experience as a parent makes him qualified to offer a different perspective on the board.

Due to the make-up of the current board members, only one candidate may be elected from District 3, in order to ensure all areas of the county are represented on the panel.

Recently, the Times posed the same questions to each candidate. Here are there responses.

Why are you running for the Board of Education?

• Kaufman: “I have a vested interest. Education is the future of our county and our nation. It’s been my life.”

• White: “It’s been a tremendous privilege to serve as an elected representative on the Mercer County Board of Education since July 2004. I am truly grateful that I’ve had this opportunity to contribute to the education and well-being of our children. I’m sure that I’ve expressed views or cast votes that not everyone has agreed with, but I always try to be open-minded and to keep learning about how my decisions really affect our children and school environment.

“There are a couple of guiding principles that help shape my decisions: 1) How can we place more teachers in the classrooms with our children for more minutes each day? And 2) How can we provide the best education for all the children in Mercer County, particularly those who live in the less populated areas of our county who sometimes have not had access to equal curricular and extra-curricular opportunities?”

• Poling: “I’m an educator. I want to continue to make a difference in Mercer County schools. I love working with parents and students. I’m committed to providing the best education we have to offer and to work with parents. I’m a creative thinker, and I keep abreast on what’s happening in the community and the state. I follow law and policies the board is considering.”

• Young: “I think it’s a shame children in rural areas can’t read or write at grades 6, 7, and 8. We need to do a better job of keeping drugs out of our school. I’m for drug testing all student athletes. We need fresh faces. I’d like to see tougher background check on teachers. I’d like to see a school uniform policy. It will put Child A, who has money, on the same playing field as Child B, who has no money. It would take bullying and fighting out of the school system.”

What is your background, and what district are you running in?

• Kaufman: “I’m in District I, the Bluefield area. I bring experience to the board. I’ve had experience in all areas of education. I’ve been a teacher and a principal in the county since 1970. I worked for the state department of education after my retirement to help low performing schools meet Annual Yearly Progress. I have a stake in education. My immediate family, my children are teachers. My son-in-law in a principal in the county. My granddaughter began her first year of teaching this year at Oakvale School. I bring knowledge and experience. I’ve had the opportunity to see all the facets of education from various perspectives.”

• White: “I’m running to be re-elected from District 3. I live in Athens with my husband Jim, a political science professor at Concord University, and our two sons, Tom, who is in eighth grade at Athens School, and Teddy, a fourth grader at Athens. We moved here 10 years ago from Durham, N.C., and I have been on the Board of Education since 2004. I am the mother of two sons, currently in fourth and eighth grades at Athens School. I have never been an educational professional myself. But, my father was a public schools superintendent, and my mother was an elementary music teacher. Before moving to West Virginia, I was a software engineer with IBM for 14 years, where my responsibilities included project management of complex, multinational development projects, technical team leadership, software development, technical support of products, and software testing. I currently work part-time for the Concord University Office of Student Affairs, helping out with diverse areas including technology support, intramural sports, Parents Club coordination, and student retention initiatives. I believe all this helps me bring a different and much needed perspective to the Board of Education.”

• Poling: “I’m running in District One. I was a principal in Mercer County for 25 years, two years at Ramsey and 23 at Memorial Elementary. I taught in Ohio. I’m a graduate of Ohio University. I came to Concord to do an internship, and I never left. I fell in love with the area. I live in Bluefield, but I lived in Athens for long time. “

• Young: “I’m running for District 3. I’m from Elgood. I’m a 2005 graduate of PikeView High School. I’m closer to what’s occurring in the school system. I work for Rex Electronics. I played soccer and baseball in high school. I haven’t been out of school long. I know what goes on in the school system. I’m a creative problem solver. It seems like we have the same problems occurring every year. Fresh, new ideas could solve the problems.”

What are your thoughts on racial issues in the county?

• Kaufman: “I don’t see an issue. When incidents occur, it’s a peer issue, not a race issue.”

• White: “I don’t think that asking or answering this as a yes or no question is particularly helpful because people of good will in our county could reasonably answer yes or no (for what it’s worth, as long as there are people of good will who think the answer is yes, then I believe the answer is yes). Rather than focusing on our differences, however, I think we should focus on that on which we all can agree: That we need to continually work to heal whatever racial differences still remain.”

• Poling: “Schools cannot tolerate any bullying, physical or oral. I’ve been dealing with these issues since I was a principal. The board has a zero tolerance policy out for comment on race, religion and ethnic groups. I’ve read the proposal, but we need to look at all age levels. Sometimes kids use words, but don’t know what they mean. As an educator, it was my job to counsel all involved. In 25 years, I never suspended someone for that, because the counseling did it. Depending on their age, we may not want to automatically suspend someone for five days.”

• Young: There are [race problems]. At Princeton, the way kids talk to other kids, that escalated into a racial thing. There need to be stiffer penalties for kids fighting in schools. Suspending someone nine days for it is clearly not working.

What do you think of block scheduling?

• Kaufman: “I have no problem with block scheduling. There are pros and cons. We’ve done extensive research on block scheduling, period scheduling and some of the schedules found at other schools. With any schedule, there are issues. With block, in some areas, there have been negatives in the limited choices for the arts. It’s been a big issue. There is the opportunity for academic classes to be greater. Students can get eight credits a year, if they choose. I’d like to see a modified block, with one block split into two 45 minutes periods for the year.”

• White: “There are reasons to support the current block schedule (it means less time lost in class changes and class administration; it allows teachers and students to focus on fewer subjects during a given semester; it allows teachers to concentrate their efforts on fewer students; and it affords teachers more planning time than a conventional schedule) and reasons to support changing it (90 minutes is a very long time for adolescent attention spans; it causes gaps in educational continuity and thereby increases “learning loss;” it means that teachers spend less time teaching students; and it causes scheduling problems, particularly with regard to courses like band, choir, and physical education). I think some modifications to the block schedule are necessary and overdue, and I’m inclined to support a change to a more conventional schedule, but my mind is open.”

• Poling: “There are some problems for students getting classes they need. I think we need to be creative in looking at schedules. Why do we have to have a class at the same time everyday? We could make some classes flexible and rotate them. There are lots of pros and cons. Ninety minutes is a long time to keep a student engaged. Maybe we could combine larger blocks and smaller blocks. We need to be creative in order to meet the students’ needs.”

• Young: “I like block scheduling. From what I’ve found, 45 minutes is not much time to teach by the time the students get settled down.”

What are your thoughts on the proposed PikeView Middle School?

• Kaufman: “I believe in the middle school concept. I will listen to what the communities have to say. We’ve yet to have hearings in the communities. I feel the children will have many opportunities at this school that some of them don’t have at the current schools, with a march band or choral opportunities. There will be more academic opportunities.”

• White: “I still have strong reservations about building a middle school on the PikeView property beside Interstate 77, removing 11-14-year-olds from their community schools, where their teachers and administrators have probably known them since they were four years old and can nurture them through critical developmental years. The academic and extracurricular benefits cited by supporters of the middle school can also be achieved without removing children from their current K-8 schools by the addition of some teachers and some support systems (for example, activity buses), but we still have not evaluated any of those alternatives. Many schools nationwide are moving away from the middle school format back to K-8 configurations. Given that Mercer County’s plan to move to the middle school format is nearly ten years old, I believe we should take the time to reassess it before implementing it (and indeed, the SBA process calls for a comprehensive, objective analysis of the CEFP in its eighth year – this year).”

• Poling: “It’s important that the board get input on this issue. I have some questions. I wonder if the cost for the building has gone up. The cost of materials has. It’s a big decision and one that should never be made without studying all aspects. What about transportation and the students’ time on the bus? Transportation poses a lot of expenses, and not just bus drivers. There are mechanics, the parts, and now oil and gas. There is no end in sight as to how high fuel prices are going to go. What will be the cost and effects on parents who need to be involved. A new school would be wonderful, but there is a lot to consider.”

• Young: “I think it’s a good idea. We need as much consolidation as possible. Some of the smaller schools don’t need to be open. We have to pay for all the schools out there. The money being spent could help schools become more energy efficient and technologically advanced.”

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