Watch video of WFJA’s interview with Democratic incumbent Chairman Patrick Kelly, who is seeking one of four at large seats on the Lee County Board of Education. Voters can choose up to four candidates. Incumbent Democrat Lynn Smith, and challengers Tom Frye and Jamey Laudate, 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.
KELLY: I was born and raised in Lee County and graduated from Lee County High School in 2003. I attended Western Carolina University and graduated in 2007 with an undergrad in political science and in 2009 with a master’s in public administration. I came home where I have worked for Lee County Schools, the sheriff’s office and Miller Boles Funeral Home. I work for Central Carolina Community College as the Assistant Director of Student Outreach and a Political Science instructor. I am active in my community through the Jonesboro Rotar, Masonic Lodge and more. I am dedicated to education, something I was shown by my parents who both worked for Lee County Schools. They showed me hard work makes a difference.
The next generation is depending on us to put their education first. Covid 19 has affected everyone and having an experienced board member and someone who is also an educator is vital. Remember that our charge from society is for all teachers, staff, parents and the Board of Education to be responsible for the learning process. This includes reinventing ways we engage with our students and helping them remember that school is about learning.
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?
KELLY: There are several initiatives that I wanted to focus on in 2016. With the laptop program I wanted to see how it could be improved and what works best for the district and for the taxpayer as well, and what is the best for our students and staff. We have learned through this pandemic that our laptop initiative needed to be reexamined to determine what best fits at that time. Our district was able to make changes that benefited students and work out a plan that helped set up our students to succeed in virtual learning. We went from learning in the classroom to the living room in a few days. Another initiative is the building of W. B. Wicker School. Wicker is full of technology and I am grateful to have been part of the process of restoring pride there. Wicker was and is a community project and I am thankful for all those who push this to reality. We have to work together, this includes each other on the board, elected officials in Lee County and beyond, with parents and the community. We all want to see Lee County succeed, but I understand that growth can happen too fast. Lee County Schools have to be prepared. I also understand relationships matter, whether it is with the teacher and the students, or the bus driver who checks on a student every day after school. Those bonds help our students succeed. I have been honored to be part of this board, whether it has been moving textbooks into a new W.B. Wicker school on a hot August day or shaking the hands of the graduates and seeing their smiles as they graduate from our high schools.
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?
KELLY: Lee County is growing and we are fortunate to see this growth. We must be ready to grow as well. With one new elementary school opening last year, the strain of crowded hallways and classrooms has decreased some, but we must remain focused and still plan for the future. We must be innovative and think outside of the box. I would like to be part of the team who designs a grade 6-12 school that focuses on Career and Technical Education. This middle/high school will serve as a school that focuses not only STEM and core classes, but heavily on career and technical education. Offering as many CTE courses as we can and in doing so continue to build our workforce locally and connect students with those industries. We would not take away from any of our current CTE programs, but build upon them and add others that are in high demand. Creating pathways for students to succeed. Students do not need to attend a 4 year college to earn a decent living and can do so by learning a trade. This will continue to build on the partnership we have with the CCCC and both would benefit from it.
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?
KELLY: Why does Lee County need a multipurpose-sport complex? Will it benefit our community? These are the questions I asked myself and through my research I was able to learn that it will be a big producer in economic development and certainly will create jobs and help others such our current restaurants and other tourisms venues as well.
While one focus is to bring others to Lee County, I see the benefits locally such as the community college in terms of facilities for sport teams. Other local organizations such as SASL, Sting, and our Semi-Pro Soccer Team San-Lee Futbol Club are also being included in the discussions as well for potential use. I understand and believe it will help Lee County succeed. The last factor I feel that is important is that it will help our local youth to continue to excel on the field, but also in life by learning valuable lessons such as sportsmanship and respect on the field and on the sidelines.
I agree that this complex will be a place to Come, Play and Succeed. Not for just those visiting Lee County, but for those who also call it home.
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?
KELLY: Balancing the safety and learning needs of our students, staff and families, along with the pandemic restrictions placed on our schools by the state is difficult. I also understand that remote learning is challenging for some families.
Throughout this pandemic I have led difficult conversations with the Board of Education about these topics. Consulting with our local Health Department officials and analyzing pandemic metrics are very important to making the right decisions about safely returning students and staff to schools. If possible, I also believe it is important to give parents a choice for their children about in-person or remote learning.
I also understand that no decision is going to satisfy everyone. The pandemic is not a problem with a perfect solution. However, I do listen to everyone’s viewpoint and try to do what’s best for students, staff and parents.
My experience dealing with the pandemic on a day-to-day basis for the last six months and making the difficult decisions about students and staff safety will be beneficial for our board and community in the coming months, whether we are preparing for students to return on a full-time basis or adjusting to another pandemic change.
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?
KELLY: I’ve already led our Board of Education through this decision making process. On July 20, the Board of Education voted unanimously to start the school year in Plan B. Ten days later, after learning from the health department that our positivity rate had risen to 16 percent, our Board unanimously voted to begin the school year with Plan C, remote learning.
Given the uncertainty with this pandemic, I believe every board member should be willing to shift course when conditions drastically change–that includes returning to remote learning.