The 2022 race for the Lee County Board of Education features six candidates for three seats. The races are at large, so the top three vote getters will win seats. The candidates are Republican challenger Eric Davidson, Democratic challenger Walter Ferguson, Republican challenger Chris Gaster, Democratic incumbent Christine Hilliard, Democratic incumbent Pat McCracken, and Republican challenger Alan Rummel. Republican incumbent Pamela Sutton is not seeking re-election. These answers were published unedited and as received from the candidates in the September and October editions of The Rant Monthly.
In person early voting begins on Thursday at the Lee County Board of Elections at 1503 Elm St. or the McSwain Center at 2420 Tramway Road. Hours are 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Friday between Oct. 20 and Nov. 4. In person early voting will also be available from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 23, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 29 and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 5. Election Day is Nov. 8. For information about absentee ballots, click here.
Please introduce yourself and describe your qualifications for office:
DAVIDSON: Greetings! My name is Eric Davidson. I was a candidate for School Board in the 2020 election. My wife, Debbie, and I have resided in Lee County for 36 years. I currently own EDJE Consulting Group, a small business serving clients as a consultant, coach, trainer, and speaker. I also have 15 years of experience as a secondary school teacher and as an administrator, 13 years as a high school coach, and six years as an athletic director. For the past eight years I have served as an adjunct instructor in the Curriculum Department of CCCC. I am a two-time graduate of Campbell University with a BA, summa cum laude, and a MA.
I believe my previous and current experience as an educator and administrator, business owner, and as a substitute teacher in Lee County Schools since January 12th, provide me the skills and qualifications necessary to serve as a vital member of the Board of Education. I will be seeking student success through a cooperative effort among students, schools, and society. I will bring to the board a new voice and a new vision that puts students first and focuses on student achievement. Remember, “nothing changes if nothing changes”.
FERGUSON: Hello Lee County, my name is Walter R Ferguson, and I am a Lee County born, raised, and educated. My wife Charlene and I along with our three daughters all graduated from Lee County Senior High School. After graduation I joined the military and served in the first gulf war. I then returned home and continued my education and became a Licensed insurance and financial representative. Myself and my wife have deep ties in the community. In addition to owning a small business with my wife I also serve the county on the Sandhills Mental Health Board where I am the representative for the county, a member of the Lee County Planning Board and work as a reserve deputy sheriff all here in the county. So, as you can see with my board experience, law enforcement experience, financial experience and being a parent of three young ladies who have graduated from college and with 2 of them in grad school currently I think I am highly qualified to be a member of the Lee County Board of Education. Not to mention I am a brand-new grandfather who wants to ensure that when my grandchild starts school that there will be motivated and qualified teachers and staff that have the best interest to ensure that ALL the kids get a quality public education!
GASTER: No response.
HILLIARD: My family and I have resided in Lee County for the last 23 years. I have been married to my high school sweetheart for the last 28 years. My husband retired from the Army after 24 years of service and currently works for the DoD as a civilian. We have two children; both were educated by the county public education system. Our daughter still resides here and our son is active-duty Army in another state. I have served as the President of our local soccer league, a member of our local NC Juvenile Prevention Committee and on now our Board of Education for almost four years. I have a degree in Elementary Education and have served as an educator now for 14 years. I currently teach 1 st grade in a neighboring county. I have a fantastic relationship with our county administration staff and am well versed on all budgetary and policy issues currently facing our local school system.
McCRACKEN: I am Pat McCracken, a retired school teacher, assistant principal, and coach with 30 years of experience in education. I am a current member of the Lee County Board of Education. With these qualifications, I have an extensive knowledge of what it takes to make every student in Lee County Schools successful.
RUMMEL: I’m Alan Rummel. I’m a father of 2 boys that attend Lee Co elementary school so I have a personal and vested interest in having a well-performing school system. I’ve worked in industry for the past 18yrs in roles of increasing responsibility with no less than 10yrs focused on process and product reliability improvement. That experience has taught me how to use facts and data to make measurable improvements and then follow-through to ensure those improvements are effective…if they’re not effective, then a new solution is identified and implemented. I think that skill set is desperately needed on our board along with a fresh set of eyes with no ties to the school system that can compromise judgment. The children should be the top priority, period. With focus on doing what’s best for them, all other priorities will fall in place appropriately, especially support of our teachers who are the ones doing the work.
Enrollment in public schools has declined in recent years due to a number of factors including the COVID pandemic, an increase in charter school options, and more. Is this a concern for you, and if so, what will you do on the Board of Education to address it?
DAVIDSON: There have always been instances where parents/guardians decide to move their child from one educational setting to another IF the opportunity is available and they have the means and ability to do so. No doubt charter school choices and COVID-related decisions has had an impact on enrollment. I believe, in Lee County, we are facing a dramatic increase in student enrollment because of the nearly 10,000 homes and apartments being constructed or to be constructed. I am concerned about the current lack of space in some of our schools and what is being done NOW regarding this shortage.
I am most concerned about how the current and future Board of Education members will deal with major decisions facing the board in the next two years including an expiring Superintendent contract, leaning loss recovery, mental health and socialization deficits, expenditures of remaining COVID funds, just to name a few. This is what is at stake in the election of school board members.
I believe the challenge has been and continues to be, to provide the finest education possible so students will be sufficiently prepared for whatever path they choose to follow after high school graduation. I believe this is the measure by which Lee County Schools has been, and will be, judged. We cannot afford to do any less than our very best in this regard.
FERGUSON: I will like to start off by saying I believe charter schools have their place in the public education system. Not all students thrive in traditional public schools and the charter school system can meet the needs of these students. You cannot compare charter schools to traditional public schools. Charters have flexibility in their spending, in setting their school calendars and in their hiring. Charter schools serve a smaller percentage of students with disabilities, economically disadvantaged students, and English language learners. Although I strongly feel charters have their place, funding charter schools should not be at the expense of traditional public schools which are already grossly underfunded. I feel part of the success of charter schools is due to the fact they have to recruit their students.There seems to be more community outreach due to this. It is often easier for them to do this since they are a smaller ship to run but we can do this in Lee County Schools. There are so many in the community who have no idea we have an International Baccalaureate Program, AVID, the Career Academies, apprenticeship programs, and the Dual Immersion Program just to name a few. I think the way to address the allure of charter schools is to remind the public of the great things going on in Lee County Schools that are not available in charter schools. What we must do as a board is highlight the many programs mentioned above and make sure the public knows about them. I am sure if the parents here in the county knew of the programs and how they work enrollment in charter schools will decline and enrollment back into our public schools will increase.
GASTER: No response.
HILLIARD: The decline in enrollment is a concern for me since our funding is based on the ADM (Average Daily Membership.) Decreased funding could mean discontinuing programs designed to help bridge student learning gaps. I would analyze the data to understand trends related to the decline, to include which districts students are leaving and to where they are going. I would investigate relevant data including birth rate, immigration, and housing costs that have been shown to influence population fluctuations.
McCRACKEN: My job as a Board of Education member is to make Lee County Schools an excellent choice for a student’s growth academically, athletically, socially, and emotionally. I will do all I can to ensure that every student has the tools necessary to succeed in whatever field they choose.
RUMMEL: I believe that public school enrollment is falling because our public schools are being out-performed by other options and in some cases politicized as agendas that seek to teach skin color is a character trait and age-inappropriate sexual content are brought into schools. According to available data, Lee Co schools have been in steady decline in state rank for at least the past 10yrs and I don’t see where there’s any specific focus from leadership on improving the foundational duties of our schools; teaching reading, writing, and math. I plan to address these foundational problems by implementing data-driven accountability measures in the central office.
Every taxpayer is already paying for our school system and parents shouldn’t feel like they have to find another option to ensure their kids receive a quality education without the political agenda. I’ve made several public comments at the monthly school board meetings and encourage everyone to review those along with videos discussing those topics in greater detail on my YouTube page (Rummel for School Board). I’m also happy to have discussions with anyone who has questions. My campaign is focused on information because I want voters to know exactly where I stand. You won’t find a bunch of photo ops on my social media, you’ll find videos of me sharing information and discussing issues and some written comments.
Have you signed any pledges or promises to outside groups or individuals in exchange for an endorsement? If so, please describe them.
DAVIDSON: Due to the fact Lee County Board of Education elections are partisan, every candidate has implicitly agreed to their party’s platform. I believe, this in and of itself could be construed as their political party’s endorsement. This does not necessarily mean each candidate agrees with every single “plank” of their party’s platform.
Besides the potential party endorsement I have explained above, I have not agreed to, and will not agree to sign any document to obtain an endorsement. I will not be beholden to any person or organization that will attempt to undermine my thinking or my votes on the school board. I believe I am one of the most qualified candidates for election to the Lee County Board of Education, and I will serve the students, parents, teachers and staff, and community to the best of my ability! I will listen and I will act. You have my word!
FERGUSON: I have not signed any pledges to any one person or group. I have on the other hand done my homework for this position. What I mean by that is that I have reached out and met with some principals, teachers, bus drivers and custodians as well as parents and simply asked them how they feel the school system has been performing and what they would like to see improved, added or deleted. The most important people I met with were the students, they are the ones who we all do this for so their opinion is most vital. So, my only promise is to students and staff here in the county to do what’s best for them ALL and Get Back to the Business of Education. Please vote Walter R Ferguson for School Board on the November ballot.
GASTER: No response.
HILLIARD: I have not been approached by anyone to sign such a pledge nor will I consider one. But my pledge to the voters of Lee County is this, my decisions will always derive from my prioritization to ultimately keep children in class where they belong. It is a shame that some of my opponents feel differently about this matter. As a matter of fact, when one was presented with factual statistics from a neighboring county as to the negative effects of a policy decision he agreed with, he became angered and asked for my resignation. Imagine that. You have a neighboring entity put into action a policy that is largely driven by political ideology, it results in mass numbers of children being unable to attend class in person, and you become angered because it subsequently makes you look bad. My tenure on this board centers around making sure the children of this Lee County get the best education possible given policies dictated by the state and the decreasing money we get from the county. It will never be driven by a particular political ideology.
RUMMEL: No. My pledges and promises are to Lee County residents and are in my videos and written comments. I’m happy to listen and have discussions with anyone who wants to talk because I don’t have all the answers, but if someone else has a specific agenda that they want to see implemented on the board, they should run for the position. If I can’t win on my qualifications, thoughts, and principles, then I don’t want the job.
What specific policies would you like to see implemented that you believe will enhance student success?
DAVIDSON: First, how do we define “student success”? Is success graduating in the top ten percent of the class; achieving a high ACT score and GPA; acceptance into a prestigious university or program; acceptance into a military academy; the dollar amount of scholarship money awarded; graduate and prepared to enter the workforce? For some students, the reality is, success is the ability to sufficiently read and do basic math needed for life beyond high school. Student success must be underpinned by the educational opportunities afforded to students and driven by the student’s desire and effort to attain what they want life to be after their education. As a former teacher and administrator, I remember graduation ceremonies where a particular student or students had struggled in the classroom and them receiving their diploma was a highlight of the graduation ceremony. Every success story is different!
The purpose of public education is for EVERY student to receive a sound, basic education. This is going to be unique for every student. Therefore, we must continue to implement proven programs and strategies, as well as, continue to enhance the existing academies and augment specific disciplines where deficiencies exist. We cannot simply wish for success!
FERGUSON: I would like to see policies concerning at-risk students strengthened. Currently, a multi-tiered system of support is implemented when a student is identified as at-risk. But, it seems the interventionists in this plan are spread thin. Looks like more specialists (academic coaches, counselors, social workers, dean of students) have been brought in this school year at the middle school levels. If success is evident, I would like to see this expanded to other grade levels.
Secondly, I would like to offer free breakfast and lunch for all students, regardless of income.
In addition, I would like to continue the high school to work programs such as the Caterpillar program and expand to other apprenticeship and job shadowing programs with local businesses. Business growth has exploded in Lee and the surrounding counties. We need to make sure our students are the ones prepared to get these jobs.
GASTER: Lets start with Policy Code: 4301/4316 Student Dress and Appearance.
When you have students who are dressing up like animals, being led with leashes, barking or meowing to teachers or administrators without punishment, distracting other students in the school setting. Students wearing such little clothing as to show off everything God has given them, then this policy has not been implemented as it should be. This failure falls not only on the principles but the school superintendent who is to make sure the policies that are in place are upheld in all schools. How can a child be successful in this environment? They cannot, and that needs to change now!
This is one policy that demands re engagement and reform if necessary to make sure all children and staff are being held accountable for violation of this policy. Including up to dismissal for students and termination for staff and upper management for not upholding the policy set forth by the board.
Policy Code: 4000 Focus on Students
This policy runs head along with the one above.
school grounds, buildings and classrooms are safe, orderly, clean and inviting; students learn and practice responsible behavior;
This is being violated as (candidate reached word limit).
HILLIARD: As a local educational agency, the LCS BOE is not tasked with creating policies for our local school system. LCS board implements policies set forth by the North Carolina State Board of Education. NC State Board of Education sets policy and general procedures for public school systems across the state, including teacher pay and qualifications, course content, testing requirements, and manages state education funds. Policies are implemented to ensure student safety, student and staff nondiscrimination and proper board governance. The policies set forth are rigorously researched and implemented to ensure the highest rate of student success. I feel our policies are reviewed and updated in a timely manner to adapt as necessary to the ever-changing needs of our school system. Unfortunately, if one of my opponents contends that they can somehow establish policy from a position on the local BOE, that only demonstrates a lack of understanding on what their role would be.
McCRACKEN: Policies from the State School Board Association are usually required or highly recommended and are reviewed at the local level. One of the best ways to impact student success is to hire and retain the best teachers to implement instructional practices. This success includes advocating for better pay for certified and classified staff at the local and state level. As well, protecting learning and planning time for our teachers remains a priority.
RUMMEL: I think we have existing policies on the books that, if followed, could have a major positive impact on our school system. One in particular that I’ve seen that is absolutely not being followed is policy 3100 regarding curriculum development that states: “The committee also must seek input from parents, the community and experts in order to make fully informed decisions.” I’ve attended board meetings for over a year now and have been to several Curriculum & Instruction Committee meetings and more often than not I feel contempt from board members rather than feeling welcomed.
As a board member, I will work to encourage more Lee County parents to become involved in the school system both in the classroom and board and committee meetings that set policy and direction for the school system. It’s my opinion that parents should be specifically welcomed when they take time out of their day to attend committee meetings that are held during regular business hours and they should be specifically asked if they have any questions or feedback regarding information that’s shared. I don’t have all the answers to fix the problems we have and will HAVE to have community and teacher input in order to provide the best possible solutions to get us back on track to improving proficiency.
What programs in the schools do you think are working, and what ones would you work to change or eliminate if elected?
DAVIDSON: A program is a means to an end. Not readily having access to existing programs, I can not adequately and in good conscience comment on what is working, in great part because I do not know the “end” (goal) of the existing programs. Likewise, I cannot responsibly comment on what programs need to change or be eliminated. I can, however, comment on what I believe should be happening in the education of students in Lee County Schools. Our educational strategy must begin with a focus on student achievement and success! After the determination is made of what is to be specifically achieved, then “smart” goals, that will be measured and evaluated, are put in place. We then must eliminate anything and everything that does not assist in achieving these goals. Hope is NOT a strategy! I believe there are two major obstacles to student academic achievement. One is discipline and the other is the adverse effect of schools’ closure on students’ mental health (which doesn’t seem to be a priority). We must continue to address and mitigate learning loss, but until we succeed in returning discipline to the classroom and improving student mental health, academic achievement will continue to be difficult.
FERGUSON: I think the eight career academies are programs that are working. Any time you can combine academics with technical training and work experience you are best preparing our students for the future.
The fact so many of our students graduate with “more than a diploma” though all the opportunities Lee County Schools provides is amazing. I would like to see that all students are able to take advantage of these programs. Bringing in students who participated in these programs as ambassadors to talk to students who have not been encouraged to participate in these programs could be a great recruiting tool. Sometimes it is the student who could benefit the most is the one overlooked and needs additional encouragement.
GASTER: Food program is not where it could be. Look at Greenville County Schools in SC and how they are doing their food program. Fried fried and fried need to be done away with. Healthy food should be the staple for our kids. Let them enjoy some ice cream and chocolate on occasion. Its time to fire the stoves and ovens back up and provide these children with wholesome meals that fill there belly and let them take home some leftovers if they wish. Instead of throwing the extra in the dumpster. NO MORE BAGGED LUNCHES OR BREAKFAST OF DONUTS AND SUGAR FANTASIES.
Policy Code: 3210 Parental Inspection and Objection to Instructional Materials
Where to begin… How about the small lawyer text in the bottom left corner of the page your kid brings home to opt out of them being taught about sexual intercourse and same sex intercourse in middle school, or any age or grade for that matter!
Yet in the hectic life of a parent the wording on this paper suggests that their child may receive an F for not participating?
How about that? This policy needs a major overhaul. Why dont we put the indoctrination program in 24 (candidate reached word limit).
HILLIARD: Lee County is rich with high quality, effective programs throughout our schools. The dual-language immersion program kicked off at two of the elementary schools this year with the demand moving beyond the expected class size. Spanish is also an option as a resource class throughout the entire district. Both high schools now offer four career academy options for their students. Students have demonstrated remarkable success through competitions within their specialized academies. Offering these academies ensures students are college, career and future ready. The school system collaborates closely with community leaders to meet the demands of our regions growing increase for skilled workers in specialized fields. The program’s success is clearly evident by the excitement and engagement of the students enrolled in those academies.
McCRACKEN: I am excited to track the progress and success of the new elementary school Spanish immersion program, and the Science Academy at the high schools. Our model at Lee Early College is to be commended as their school scores are celebrated. Our More Than A Diploma program continues to offer a well rounded education and the CAT apprenticeship program and other academies offer exceptional choices in the workforce.
RUMMEL: Ss someone who doesn’t work in the school system and a parent of elementary school kids, I’m not very familiar, at this point, with a lot of specific programs in our school system, particularly those beyond elementary, but I have a couple of thoughts to offer here:
First, I’ve spoken to several teachers and TAs since I decided to run who have mentioned “programs” that come and go and some that stick that are not effective. I haven’t had a chance to dig into detail on that, but the topic usually comes up when discussing the budget, which is something I’m eager to review as a board member.
Second, as an adult I’ve found myself and others saying MANY times, “I wish they had taught THIS in high school instead of ______”. I’m really interested in finding a “life skills” program that would be mandatory to teach kids about things like practical finances, time management, thoughtful decision making, and how to think critically and have reasoned discussion with people who hold differing opinions (this is especially important in our current times of hyper-partisanship.)