Watch video of WFJA’s interview with Democrat Tom Frye, 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 Lynn Smith, and challenger 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.

FRYE: My name is Thomas (Tom) Frye, and I am seeking a seat on the Lee County Board of Education. Having been raised in the Lemon Springs area of Lee County, I am a proud product of the Lee County School System. I completed my undergraduate work at Western Carolina University and my graduate work at North Carolina State University. Additionally, I was a member of the inaugural class of the Certified Educational Chief Technology Officers Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Government.

I spent my entire career as an educator with the Harnett County School system serving as a high school mathematics teacher, technology facilitator, various administrative positions and ultimately serving as superintendent until my retirement in 2014. Following a brief retirement, I joined the business world and continue to work for Liberty Tire Recycling.

Everyone should share his strengths with his community, and I bring a unique level of experience to the Board of Education: teacher; administrator; as superintendent, secretary to the board; business community member. I seek no political gain; I simply want to serve in my community where my passion lies – 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?

FRYE: The pandemic heralded a paradigm shift in Lee County Schools that was wrought with frustration and stress. In the spring, when schools were forced to shutter their doors, educators transitioned from the brick and mortar classroom to the virtual classroom in a matter of days; I stand in amazement of what educators accomplished. Lee County Schools, like many districts, struggled to ensure that any child who did not have access to a device at home, received a device, which is evidence that a comprehensive, sustained, one-to-one device initiative is lacking in the district. This is not a simple one-time purchase of devices; the initiative must include a continuous refresh plan and adequate support staffing.

There is nothing more powerful in the educational life of a student than a classroom with a well prepared, adequately resourced, fully supported teacher, who is passionate about the success of young people. Technology must be a ubiquitous resource for all, and unfortunately, it currently is not in Lee County Schools. Had appropriate technology been in place, the continuity of learning during the spring would have been more seamless, and the stress and frustration experienced by educators, students, and parents could have been minimized.

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?

FRYE: To paraphrase an Indian expression, it is too late to dig the well when the house is on fire. With that in mind, now is the time for the Board of Education to be planning for the anticipated student population growth that will coincide with increased job opportunities in Lee County. Projected student population growth as well as where that growth will actually occur must be analyzed now so that planning can occur.

An organization that specializes in data analysis for school planning should be employed so that the Board of Education can first, optimize all space available in current facilities, and then, plan for additional facilities. Having worked in a school district that experienced rapid and sustained student population growth, I understand the need to use an organization with a proven track record of effective school planning such as the Operations Research and Education Labs (OREd), which is a division of the Institute for Transportation Research Education (ITRE) at North Carolina State University. The forecasting provided by an organization such as OREd will equip the Board of Education with the knowledge of optimal areas for new school placement(s), if needed.

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?

FRYE: Absolutely!

Young people in Lee County will benefit greatly from the proposed sports complex. The most obvious benefit will be the actual facilities and the increased opportunities these facilities provide — specifically, more organized sports. As an educator, I saw the positive difference that sports made in the lives of countless students.

Facilities such as the proposed sports complex add value to the community. This added value will be advantageous as Lee County officials work to attract additional industry to the area. Often, Lee County athletes must travel to large sports complexes in other towns to participate in sports tournaments, which sends revenue to these other towns. The complex will benefit existing businesses in Lee County and may attract additional businesses to the immediate area — restaurants, hotels, convenience marts, etc., all of which will bring additional revenue into Lee County.

This investment by the citizens of Lee County now will yield great benefits for many years to come.

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?

FRYE: The safety and well-being of students and staff is always the primary consideration for education decision-makers. While the school district charters new territory as it develops protocols to mitigate the risk of infections during this pandemic; the well-being of students and staff is multi-faceted. Controlling the spread of COVID-19 among students and staff is certainly the top priority; however, another significant consideration for elementary children exists. In most homes, all adults must work to support their families, and many are not afforded the opportunity to work remotely.

For families without childcare resources (e.g., other family members, daycare), young children may have periods of time with little or no supervision, which is also dangerous.

With the district’s plan for a staggered return to the brick and mortar classroom in grades K-8, students will have an opportunity to acclimate to this new (hopefully temporary) normal in a controlled and planned environment that facilitates social distancing and sanitary practices with an ultimate goal of a complete return of all students.

For parents who are apprehensive to return their children to face-to-face instruction, the Inspired Virtual Academy remains as an option. Additionally, if warranted, a return to completely online instruction is possible.

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?

FRYE: Yes.

As I referenced previously, the option to return to completely online instruction remains, if warranted. Having this as an option (albeit a difficult and disruptive option) or perhaps an increased virtual environment, provides the plan with a safety net.