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SCHOOL BOARD Q&A: Why are you running? What are your priorities?

Six candidates are running in the Republican primary to be their party’s nominee for the Henderson County School Board. The four winners of the primary will face Democrats Mary Ellen Kustin, Leslie Carey, Crystal Cauley and Rhonda Mountain in the Nov. 4 general election.

Michael Absher, 34, is CEO of Only Hope WNC. He graduated from Blue Ridge Community College in 2022 with degrees in public administration and leadership and from WCU in 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and law. He also serves the the Henderson County Library Board of Trustees, Juvenile Crime Prevention Council and Homeless Coalition.

Incumbent Robert Bridges, 77, earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, a master’s degree in guidance and counseling, and education specialist degree in administration from Western Carolina University. He and his wife, Norma, have been married almost 56 years and have lived in Henderson County 55 of those years. They have two granddaughters. “Serving God and the people of our church is important to me, and woodworking is a hobby I enjoy,” he says.

Tae Brown, 28, graduated from East Henderson High School. He is pursuing a master’s degree in social work from the University of Michigan. He works at Blue Ridge Community College as a success coach. “I have a blessed family that includes a loving mother and amazing siblings” and has several nieces and nephews attending Henderson County public schools, he says. “I enjoy reading, spending time with family and friends, practicing mindfulness, volunteering, swimming, mentoring, and gardening.”

Beth Campbell, 36, lives in Mills River with her husband, Trae, and their three daughters. A graduate of Henderson County schools, she currently works part-time as a pharmacy technician. “My hobbies include raising chickens, learning about herbalism, spending time with my husband and kids, hiking and growing our farm,” she says. “I enjoy volunteering at our schools and staying actively involved in our church.”

Amy Lynn Holt, 50, graduated from Miami Dade College in Florida. She and her husband, Ritch, own Champion Comfort Experts, where she serves as community outreach and major gifts officer. She and her husband have four children. Her hobbies include reading, flower growing and arranging, working with non-profits, following daughter Aliyah Faith’s gymnastic competitions and playing with her granddaughters Charlotte and Elle.

Incumbent Kathy Revis, 66, has been an educator for over 40 years. She earned her undergraduate degree in secondary math, has a doctorate in educational leadership and has experience as a teacher, principal and, for 17 years, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction for over 17 years. She worked part-time for WNCSource and served as a trustee for Blue Ridge Community College and currently serves as an adjunct professor in the master’s for school administration program at Gardner-Webb University. Elected to the School Board in 2020 she now serves as vice chair. She and her husband, Ken, have a son, Garrett, and three grandchildren who attend Henderson County public schools.

Why are you running for School Board?

Absher: I am running for the Board of Education again because I believe that our community needs advocates who are willing to ask questions, conduct research, and understand the board’s actual authority. I feel that the board’s responsibility is to improve the quality of public education in our area.

Bridges: I love and care for the children of our county and want to make decisions that impact them positively to be well-informed, contributing members of society. Being a former teacher, administrator and counselor in Henderson County and a current school board member has enabled me to have a wide range of experience that is an asset to developing positive policies for Henderson County schools.

Brown: To be obedient to the Lord. Also, I believe that I am qualified to run for this position and would ensure that all my decisions relate to the overall well-being of our school system. Additionally, I believe some new blood, like myself, on the School Board would serve our school system well — most especially in a time where public schools are exposed to forces that have not been present before. Most importantly, I would like to invest in the positive future of our students like Henderson County public schools once did for me. 

Campbell: I am running for School Board because I want to be the one helping to make a difference in our schools. I want to give Henderson County students the best opportunity for a quality education that opens doors for their future. I want to help provide them with quality teachers who are valued, taken care of, and given every tool and all the support to do the job they love. I want to make Henderson County the top choice in public education and help give our future leaders the best start in their education. 

Holt: I was previously elected to the board of education in 2010 for three terms: a total of 12 years. I did not run for reelection and my term ended in December of 2022. Since that time, I have missed it tremendously. We have a fantastic school system. I really want to continue to be involved to be a voice for parents, teachers and students. I still feel like there is a lot more work to be done and my job is not over yet.

Revis: I believe that the variety of my experiences in education have helped prepare me for the role of a school board member. I want to continue to contribute to our educational system and to serve our school community. We have a strong school system, but we can always look for ways to grow and improve to provide the best education possible for our students and families. I believe I can view issues from different perspectives and work well with others to find positive solutions.

What are your highest priorities for the Henderson County public schools over the next four years?

Revis: One priority we must have as a board is to restore the public’s trust and faith in public schools. I think we must be transparent in our work and encourage open and honest dialogue with staff, parents, and community members. Another priority is to continue to seek ways to keep our students safe at school. We have done a great deal over the past few years to secure our campuses, but we must continue to be diligent in this area. Another priority is to continue to strengthen our literacy program in our elementary schools and to focus on preparing our students for current, post-graduation career and college opportunities.

Holt: My priorities include working with HCPS staff and school board to come up with a plan for new construction and the expansion of some of our schools in our school system that are overcrowded. We have a lot of subdivisions going in and bringing a lot more families into our district. Another high priority is working with the N.C. legislature on the calendar law. I also want to work with the disconnected youth and try to find better solutions for out-of-school suspension. I would like to see some options explored into programs that can possibly serve as an alternative without so much time lost in the classroom.

Campbell: Over the next four years, I hope to tackle the issue of the State over-testing our kids. Obviously, some level of testing is necessary to see how they are doing but I believe that how many they are doing far exceeds what is necessary. We are stressing these kids more than helping them. We live in one of the most agriculturally rich areas and we need to be utilizing that all the way. We need to feed our kids food that is fresh, healthy and enjoyable to them. Most of the food now is thrown away. It is all pre-packaged, frozen or in a can. 

Brown: Keeping all students safe with advocacy for social workers in all schools and continual support of student resource officers. Resolving the issue of disconnected youth within our schools by emphasizing trade and technical schools post-graduation. Supporting development and care for kindergarten transitions and future students. Addressing the mental health and substance-abuse crisis through the power of gardening. Being proactive about the use of technology for our students instead of being reactive. Support school system students, staffs, teachers, and administrators as best as I can. Make Henderson County public schools No. 1 out of 100 counties. 

Bridges: During the next four years, we need to see our system maintain and increase reading and math scores for all students. Maintaining a safe and secure school atmosphere in all schools is always a priority. We continue striving to keep and recruit qualified personnel, with emphasis on providing top salaries and supplements. Finally, our county continues to grow. We need to keep abreast of population growth to determine future needs.

Absher: I believe that my main priorities should be to ensure that the staff and students have a voice. I will work with our local and state leaders to bring as much support and funding as possible to our area. Lastly, I will help to build and advocate for the best student service department in the state and fight to ensure that we keep all the school social workers, nurses and SROs.