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School Board will have a new look next year

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By Tom Wilmoth

    There will be a decidedly new look to the Bedford County School Board come Jan. 1.

    Last week’s election sent three new faces to the school board: Kevin Willis in District 7, Kelly Harmony in District 6 and Richard Downey in District 1. District 5 incumbent Julie Bennington survived a challenge from Ricky Wilkerson to win the other School Board seat up for election last Tuesday.
    “It’s exciting,” stated Willis about defeating incumbent Debbie Hoback, in what turned out to be a close election. Willis won the District 7 seat by 92 votes, garnering 1,293 votes to Hoback’s 1,201. “I knew full well what I was getting into and I willingly accept it,” Willis added about winning.
    Part of that responsibility will be hitting the ground running as the process to craft the 2012-2013 budget will be on the plate when he takes office. Willis believes his work experience will help him ask questions that cause the board to look at the budget differently. That will mean taking a fresh look at what is essential and what is non-essential in the budget, he said.
    “As an outsider, you’re not able to do that,” he said.
    Willis said a key will be working in cooperation with the Board of Supervisors, which determines the amount of money the county will provide to the school budget. He said both boards need to be transparent in that process.
    Willis said with both boards again facing a tough budget year, there will be a need to “think outside the box.”
    That could mean, he said, looking at sharing positions between the two governmental bodies.
    Willis supports community schools and would not favor closing schools—a hot button issue the past two budget years.
    Kelly Harmony agrees. She will be the new School Board member from District 6, taking over for Shirley McCabe who is stepping down from that seat. Harmony ran unopposed.
    The school closing issue two years ago prompted her to get more involved with school issues. At that time, the School Board was considering closing Thaxton Elementary School. She helped organize that community’s response to the board, including holding a community meeting attended by hundreds of the school’s supporters.
    “I’m excited to get started,” she said of her new role.
    She understands there are some differences of opinion on how the board needs to move forward, especially on addressing budget issues.
    That includes, she said, looking at possible cuts to the central office. “I’m not in favor of closing any schools,” she added.
    She also doesn’t favor the use of blended learning at the expense of the one-on-one teaching experience. Blended learning provides the ability for students to take online classes instead of through the traditional classroom method. That also became a hot-button budget issue last year as the school administration had asked for several hundred thousand dollars to get a blended learning program started. Though much of that money was eventually cut from the budget, the school system did utilize a blended learning approach to its summer school program this year.
    Harmony believes it’s important for students to develop their communication skills, something she said won’t be done through a computer-based learning approach.
    She also said it will be important for the School Board to look at possible ways to outsource work that could be done that way to save money.
    “I would like to look at any and all opportunities (for that),” she said. “That is the way industries are going.”
    Through outsourcing, Harmony believes funds could be saved to go back into the classroom for actual instruction.
    “I look forward to serving the parents and students of Bedford County,” she said, adding that the goal will be to provide “a place that everyone is proud to live and that is educationally sound for our children.”
    Richard Downey takes over the District 1 seat being left open by Joy Wright. He ran unopposed and is looking forward to the opportunity to serve.
    Downey also sees the need for the School Board and supervisors to work together.
    “I would like to see the School Board and the Board of Supervisors have a better working relationship than was shown last year during the budget negotiations,” he said.
    He opposes closing schools, and is not in favor of outsourcing work. “I would hope that would be the last resort that would be considered,” he said of those issues.
    He didn’t have any comments about the county raising taxes to support education, because of the uncertainty surrounding the county’s revenue at this point.
    “I’m excited,” he said of taking his seat in January. “I’m looking forward to working with the board and tackling these issues.”
    Julie Bennington also understands it’s going to be a tough budget year. As a veteran on the board, she’s been there before.
    “Sixty-five percent was pretty good,” Bennington said of her win. “I was very happy with that.”
    Bennington felt that being an incumbent gave her an advantage.
    “People know me, they know what I stand for, they support what I’ve done for Bedford County Schools,” she said.
    “I look forward to serving all of the kids of Bedford County for another four years,” she said. “I love doing this job. I’m looking forward to another four great years.”
    “Some of my friends think I’m crazy [for wanting to serve on the school board] but I absolutely love being on the school board,” she said. “I know I’m making a difference.”
    Debbie Hoback, who lost to Willis, said the county’s children are why she has served.“I’ve enjoyed serving and now I’m looking forward to whatever the Lord’s got for me to do next,” she said. “When I decided to run, I said ‘I’m going to do it for the kids in the county.’ That’s always been my focus.”But, she joked during last week’s board meeting, she’s also looking forward to being the one sending emails to board members about the issues.