Watch video of WFJA’s interview with Republican Sandra Bowen, who is seeking one of four at large seats on the Lee County Board of Education. Voters can choose up to four candidates. Republican incumbent Sherry Lynn Womack and challengers Eric Davidson and Todd Ashley Miller, and Democratic Chairman Patrick Kelly, incumbent Lynn Smith, and challengers Tom Frye and Jamey Laudate are also seeking seats. Below, read answers submitted by Bowen to questions asked by The Rant Monthly for publication in August, September and October.
Briefly introduce yourself and describe why you’re seeking election to the Board of Education.
BOWEN: My name is Sandra Bowen and I am a candidate for the Board of Education in Lee County. I am a professor of Communication at Central Carolina Community College, and the mother of three children attending Lee County Schools. My children are entering the 9th grade at Lee Early College, the 6th grade at East Lee Middle School, and the 4th grade at J. Glenn Edwards Elementary School. I am seeking a seat on the Board of Education, because I believe that one of the greatest gifts we can give to our children is a solid education. As an educator, I understand that every student desires future success. Whether the graduates choose post-secondary education, technical or career degrees, work, or the military, we need to prepare them for success academically, professionally, and civically. I will support students, staff, and faculty as we strive to provide the best education possible. As an experienced educator and a committed mom, I ask for your support and vote. Remember Bowen for Board of Education.
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?
BOWEN: As a candidate, I commend the Board of Education for its attention to the many stakeholders during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hearing the concerns of parents, students, and staff were essential, and I know their decisions were not easy. I feel that the very first item of business for the newly elected Board members is to study the educational effectiveness of the various approaches to re-opening, from INSPIRE Virtual Academy, to the various re-opening plans to determine whether they meet the educational needs of students, in a sustainable and effective manner. In addition to learning outcomes assessment, we need to evaluate teacher morale, and come up with creative solutions for compensating and rewarding our teachers for their willingness to rise to the challenge of pandemic teaching. Finally, we will need to develop a crisis plan, given what we have learned through this unprecedented time. While I hope COVID-19 is eradicated, and quickly, we would be remiss if we didn’t take the time to develop plans in preparation for future emergency. We must evaluate the past to prepare for the future.
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?
BOWEN: Lee County has seen a boom in investment from both industrial and residential sectors. As a result, the school board should focus on two things: capacity and quality. When the Wicker School was re-commissioned, we already knew that we really needed two elementary schools, and Wicker met the need for one. It was built as a super school, meaning it had a much higher capacity than most elementary schools. With the influence of charter, private and virtual schools, we may now have sufficient capacity, but we need to evaluate those figures. Almost more importantly, we need to focus on the quality of our schools. I believe that we need a proactive plan for measuring the performance of the Virtual Academy, to determine if it is a viable alternative for families. If the Virtual Academy is financially feasible, educationally sound, and desired by parents, then it should continue into the foreseeable future. Quality is the primary driver of families’ decision making. Families look at the performance of schools before they make the decision on where to live. We must improve our showing, if we want our community growing!
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?
BOWEN: I will encapsulate my answer with the phrase, Education First.
IF, we determine that we have sufficient capacity in our schools to serve the students of today, and the planned increase due to residential building, AND we determine that the quality of the virtual school is sufficient to warrant continuation into the future, THEN I would support a multi-sport complex.
I recognize that education is more than classroom learning and that students need something to do outside the classroom. For many students, athletic pursuits and academic diligence go hand in hand. From an economic development standpoint, such athletic facilities serve as a selling point in the community. It would improve property values, quality of life, etc.
However, if funding this complex puts a financial strain on the county or its taxpayers, who are just coming out of a pandemic, then I feel that the time is not right. We have other issues in our community that might be more pressing, for example, educational performance, mental health, drug addiction, gun violence, etc. If those funds are needed in other arenas more, then I would not oppose waiting for the desired sports complex.
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?
BOWEN: It is essential that we get our children back in school, as soon as it is safe to do so. While I don’t envy the Board of Education and their position in making decisions during this pandemic, I am one of the many working parents who have been put in a difficult position by the decision to remain virtual. I know there are families in far worse shape than I, and I feel for them, their children, and their situations. It is time that our children return to some sense of normality and routine.
I have seen the challenges that teachers are facing in the virtual environment, I have witnessed the children’s growing frustration, and the parental exhaustion. We have seen the COVID caseload in our county rise, plateau and then begin a decline, and we can’t wait for the case rate to be zero, because that will not happen until either a vaccine is ready, or herd immunity takes over.
In order to prevent learning loss and socialization loss for our children, let’s work together to have safe schools, now and in the future.
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?
BOWEN: As is the case with any emergency situation, we have to be prepared to adapt and overcome. We should continue to monitor the situation with COVID in our community, however, we must not overreact. If there was a substantial increase in community transmission, involving our schools, then of course it may be necessary and prudent to return to more virtual education.
From what I have read about COVID, it is the opinion of scientists that it may be a cyclical or seasonal illness, which means it may take a similar path as the yearly influenza strains. If this holds true, then our schools should use many of the same protocols that they use for any other illness.
If the numbers take a significant jump, then we will have learned from 2020, and move more quickly and effectively to limit the spread. Some students will never be able to perform in a virtual setting, as well as they would face-to-face, while others will thrive in a virtual setting. The best approach would be to offer choices, and let the parents be the final decision makers.