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April 30, 2013

AISD hopefuls tackle questions

School security, dress code among topics tackled during Classroom Teachers forum

ATHENS — Athens Independent School District Board of Trustees candidates answered another round of questions at a forum organized by the Classroom Teachers Association on Monday.

The candidates and audience squeezed into the Athens Middle School Library where they handled topics ranging from school security to the newly revised dress code.

On the subject of security, Place 5 Candidate Blu Nicholson suggested enlisting local law enforcement to join in the effort to make schools safer.

“If I was elected to the school board, I would take my position as a public servant in this community to try to do some joint training exercises with the local police departments and sheriff’s department,” Nicholson said. “They would have joint training with the local school district so everyone knows what to do in case we have an active shooter on one of our campuses. I think it’s very important that we prepare.”

Nicholson said AISD test scores can be raised by improving the recruitment and retention of educators. Stipends for educators might be a way of keeping good employees from leaving the district.

“We’ll never beat those test standards at AISD with as much turnover as we have,” he added.

Place 7 incumbent Bob Spears said the dress code is a difficult issue that the district has to be judicious in handling.

“My kids don’t have ear rings, but I don’t believe it’s an impediment to learning,” Spears said. “I don’t feel the teachers need to be refereeing an issue like that. If a kid’s shirt is untucked and the kid is spending a lot of time at the office, I don’t think that’s enhancing education.”

Spears said the standardized dress in the district has been effective.

“I think our standardized dress has been a great improvement to discipline and atmosphere in all our campuses,” he said. “It’s a moving target and sometimes you have to be reasonable and make modifications from time to time.”  

Place 7 challenger Jacqueline Solomon told the audience she is also concerned about student achievement.

“Even though the bar keeps going up, there’s no reason why our kids can’t learn,” Solomon said. “They can learn, they can be competitive with their peers in the state of Texas. The last graph I saw said the achievement has been constant for the past three years. For the last three years the achievement is going down and there’s no reason for that.”

Dr. Vance Vaughn, also running in Place 5, said the board’s job starts with selecting the superintendent to head the district.

“Once they feel like they’ve found the best fit, they’ve got to support that superintendent, but at the same time they’ve got to make that superintendent responsible for their governance policies,” Vaughn said.

Enforcing the dress code should fall to the administrators, as the policy states.

“Teachers can’t do their jobs if they have to concentrate on enforcing dress codes,” Vaughn said. “When they send students to the office, something is going to have to be done.”

Place 6 incumbent David Freeman said the board has to handle the difficult issues with flexibility.

“We set the policy and we expect the policies to be followed,” Freeman said. “But then, we can talk out of both sides of our mouths. We say, ‘We’ve got to keep teachers,’ but what if the teachers aren’t performing? There has to be some middle ground.”

MaryAnn Tyner, running in Place 6, said the district should look at curriculum and try to vary the courses offered.

“I think we should add more vocational classes, so maybe the kids who want to go into vocational training can have that opportunity,” Tyner said. “Prepare them for college, but give them a choice.”

Tyner said electricians, plumbers and painters make good salaries.

“It’s a pretty good job, if that’s what they want to do,” Tyner said.

Place 5 incumbent Raymond Williams and Place 6 challenger Niki Killingsworth did not participate in the forum.

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