Watch video of WFJA’s interview with Democrat Jamey Laudate, who is seeking one of four at large seats on the Lee County Board of Education. Voters can choose up to four candidates. Incumbent Democratic Chairman Patrick Kelly, incumbent Democrat Lynn Smith, and challenger Tom Frye, and Republican incumbent Sherry Lynn Womack and challengers Sandra Bowen, Eric Davidson and Todd Ashley Miller are also seeking seats. Below, read answers submitted to The Rant monthly in August, September and October.

Briefly introduce yourself and describe why you’re seeking election to the Board of Education.

LAUDATE: My name is Jamey Laudate, and I’m seeking election to the Board of Education because I can make a difference. I come from a family of educators and I’m a proud product of the Lee County School System. I hold a BS in Computer Science from NC State University, and currently work for SAS Institute as an R&D Manager. I have 3 children currently in the Lee County School System. Parents need a voice, teachers need an advocate, and I want every one of the 10,000+ students to be as proud of their diplomas as I am of mine. The road to improvement starts with transparency and accountability, from the board and administrators, to faculty and staff, all the way to parents and students. There needs to be a more permanent and continued commitment to technology – it’s not going away, and the job market even 5-10 years from now will not look like it does today. We need to prepare graduates for that future job market. Finally, as a parent, I think we need to continue to emphasize STEAM and year-round tracks through the public school system. I think parents want and appreciate having those options.

If you’re a challenger, what is the first initiative you’ll undertake as a member of the board and how will it work to the benefit of students in Lee County? If you’re an incumbent, which initiative have you taken during your tenure, and how has it been beneficial to students in Lee County?

LAUDATE: My first initiative will be a full evaluation of our approach to technology. This was my commitment when I announced my candidacy in December, and it’s even more critical and relevant now in the wake of the Covid pandemic. Students must have access to devices. Teachers must have access to Education Technology – software, cameras, smart boards, training, etc. – to teach as efficiently and effectively as possible. Funding for technology must be permanent and dollars must be maximized. Technological concepts need to be introduced earlier. These are all requirements to prepare for future job markets. With 20+ years of industry experience in Information Technology, I know what is needed and I know how to get there.

More than 1,100 new jobs have come or are coming very soon to Lee County, a factor which will almost certainly lead to some level of increased population growth in the next four years. What should the school board be doing now to prepare for this growth and the subsequent need for increased educational resources?

LAUDATE: When I announced my candidacy, I listed three parts to my platform: (1) Accountability & Transparency, (2) Complete Commitment to Technology, and (3) STEAM and Year Round School options in the public school system. Part 3 is a direct response to the economic growth in Lee County, thanks to forward thinking leadership and thanks to all our county has to offer. I firmly believe this school board will make decisions on one, possibly two new schools. I also firmly believe those schools need to be STEAM based and/or Year Round, preferably both. We need STEAM schools to meet the needs of the workforce these kids will be stepping into, and Year Round schools can serve 33% more children in the same building footprint when Tracks are done correctly. Plus parents want a Year Round school option and elementary school kids learn the best in a 9 weeks on, 3 weeks off schedule. It’s a win for taxpayers, for parents, and for students.

Do you support the passage of the $25 million parks and recreation bond to pay for the construction of a multi-field sports complex in Lee County? Why or why not?

LAUDATE: I do support the parks and recreation bond.

One of the biggest concerns I’ve heard from parents is that kids need something to do. It’s my understanding that the sports complex has football, soccer, baseball, softball, walking trails and a pond, with other amenities being discussed. This would be a great resource for locals.

Further, there are about 400 kids that currently travel with their families on weekends for travel ball tournaments. Sports tourism is growing exponentially. With this facility, other families could travel to Sanford, stay in our hotels, eat at our restaurants, and shop at our stores, generating $2 million annually in revenue by one estimate.

K-8 children will begin returning to school in person as early as Oct. 5, with high school students likely to return some time not long after that. What are your thoughts on balancing the safety of students, families, teachers and staff with the fact that many situations require parents to be away from their children for work?

LAUDATE: My first thought is to the teachers, staff and after school caretakers. Covid statistics show that older demographics are more likely to have severe symptoms than 5-18 year-olds. At the same time, as the question states, there are children attempting to navigate virtual learning alone while parents are at work. Additionally, there are children attempting to navigate virtual learning with no internet.

And finally, other school districts have been the guinea pig and have been able to resume in-person learning. Remote learning isn’t a substitute for in-person learning. Balance is the perfect word. The current A/B solution balances these factors with risk mitigation and lets parents keep their children in a virtual learning environment if they choose.

It’s a commendable start and I do hope the current A/B plan is extended to the high schools. But again, I do worry about teachers & staff who are not only more vulnerable but also teaching both in-person and virtually at the same time.

If a return to in-person learning led to a high number of new COVID-19 cases, would you be willing to consider going back to a more virtual setting?

LAUDATE: Let me preface by saying I am a parent of three children in Lee County Schools — one at Lee County High School, one at West Lee Middle School and one at W.B. Wicker Elementary School. There is nothing I want more than getting those three children safely back in the classroom.

However, I would absolutely consider a return to a virtual setting if numbers spike. We are not out of the woods. It would be irresponsible to say “we are sticking with in-person learning no matter what the numbers do.”

The responsibility falls on the entire community to keep numbers down and keep schools in-person. Don’t send your children to school with symptoms, reinforce the importance of wearing a mask while in school, maintain social distancing whenever possible, and wash hands religiously.