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VOTER GUIDE: School Board

Nine candidates are running for three seats on the Henderson County School Board. Running for re-election are first-term incumbents Dot Case and Jay Egolf. Vice Chair Amy Lynn Holt is not standing for re-election. Three candidates — Shelia Dale, Alyssa Norman and Eric Parlow — did not respond to the Lightning’s invitation to participate in the 2022 General Election Voter Guide nor provide a biographical sketch.

Candidates who responded to the Lightning’s Q&A are:

  • Case, 74, is a retired teacher and current School Board member who lives in Hendersonville.
  • Egolf, 52, is owner/partner of Egolf Ford, Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, Ram in Brevard. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children have been or are currently enrolled in the public schools here. Residents of Laurel Park, the Egolfs have resided in Henderson County since 1972.
  • Mary Ellen Kustin, 38, was born and raised in Columbia, S.C. She and her husband, who grew up on his family’s farm in Rutherford County, have one preschool and one in elementary school. Currently a stay-at-home mom, Kustin works part-time as a youth coach and referee on the YMCA sports staff. She spent 13 years as a public policy professional primarily focusing on clean air and clean water issues. The family lives in Hendersonville.
  • Vance Mccraw, is president and CEO of Southeast Medical Services. He and his wife, Deanna, have four children. The family lives in Hendersonville.
  • Aaron Purcell, 34, is a paramedic and fulltime graduate student at Liberty University. He and his wife, Lysha, are parents of Eli, who is 11. They live in Hendersonville.
  • Heather Sowry Ray, 40, has been working in education since 2004 and in grades K-8th for more 15 years. She owns The Learning Center HVL, as well as the family construction company, SowRay Construction. She and her husband have three children, all graduates of Hendersonville High School. The family lives in Hendersonville. 

Why are you running for the School Board?

Case: I am running for Henderson County School Board because I have the experience of 47 years as a classroom, and the knowledge and passion to guide the decisions that affect the future of our students and our schools. As a teacher, I received multiple awards and served on several different education advisory committees at both the local and state level. In 2022, I was initiated into the Henderson County Education Hall of Fame. I have served on the School Board from 2018 to the present.

Egolf: I’m fully vested in the education of Henderson County children. I personally attended Henderson County public schools for 13 years, our three children attend/have attended HCPS since 2008 and I’ve been a board member since 2018. With some overlap, that’s 27 years of experience with HCPS. I’m passionate about the children of HCPS and want to continue to work for them. I also have personal relationships with members of Hendersonville City Council, Board of Commissioners and other municipalities. This is helpful with the communication that occurs to continuously improve our public schools.

Kustin: I’m fighting to put kids — not politics — first! Our very democracy depends on widespread access to high quality education, and every kid deserves that access. To that end, I strongly believe that every student deserves the best teachers free from burnout and overwhelm. Every student deserves safe and healthy learning environments. And every student deserves engaging materials to set them up for success beyond graduation in whatever their calling may be. If elected, I’d help craft fair policies and budget our tax dollars efficiently and effectively for the betterment of Henderson County.

Mccraw: During the pandemic, many parents witnessed the gaps in public education. Virtual school opened a window into our children’s day, and many parents felt their concerns were not being listened to when they voiced them to the board of education or the school administrators. I will be an advocate for all parents, and will listen to their concerns regarding their children’s education and safety. Our job as a board of education member is to ensure our children are in the safest environment possible, getting the best education possible.

Purcell: I am running for School Board because I want to first protect our children from outside influences that do not collaborate with foundational traditional education. Our students deserve the best quality instruction based on the fundamentals of reading, writing, mathematics, history, science, and classes that incorporate learning more life skills. I believe public schools are a place for learning how to think, not what to think.

Ray: I am running for school board to ensure that all children get an excellent education in an environment that is safe. Children are the top priority. I love our community, and I believe that a voice of a former teacher who is a true advocate for teachers and staff; parent; and business owner will allow me to use my talents in a way to benefit the community. I believe in public education and believe that it is the cornerstone of the community.

What priorities do you have if you are elected?

Ray: Keeping students safe is a top priority. Parents need to know that their kids are learning in a safe environment with the best teachers and the best curriculum for learning. Hiring and retaining our current teachers is also a priority. HCPS staff and teachers are the best of the best, and need to be treated as such. Being financially responsible within a budget and using our resources to their fullest is also a priority. Using taxpayer money responsibly is important when making financial decisions. 

Purcell: My main priorities if I am elected are to secure our schools with increased security measures to include a collaboration of more SROs at each school, or the hiring of former law enforcement and military veterans. Secondly, parents know what is best for their child regarding their education, therefore a policy must be written to protect these rights of the parents to include medical decisions. Furthermore, curriculum changes need to be made to incorporate a recovery review effort from the loss of educational instruction from the past two years.

Mccraw: Working to find viable solutions to recover from the learning loss that occurred during the pandemic. Working to develop tools within the curriculum to train young people to understand credit, how it works, and how to avoid debt as a young adult. Working with local state representatives to increase teacher pay. Working to find viable and lasting solutions for the students with behavioral problems. We should be protecting all staff and students, and working to help meet the needs of those students who all too often are put in a corner and forgotten.

Kustin: Kids come first! We must make sure students and teachers have the resources they need to succeed. We must keep kids safely learning throughout the year. And we need to come together to take Henderson County Public Schools from great to excellent! Unfortunately, our elected officials in Raleigh have refused to meet their obligation to our state constitution to guarantee every kid in NC a sound, basic education. I will urge my fellow board members to join me in getting our state legislature to relinquish surplus tax dollars that rightfully belong in our schools, according to the NC Supreme Court.

Egolf: I will continue working on a school calendar change. Our current school calendar has students finishing the fall semester in January, not December, unlike most postsecondary education institutions. If you graduate high school in the fall semester, you must wait until the Fall semester of the NEXT year to begin your postsecondary education. This doesn’t make sense. Also, having around 15 days off from education (Christmas break), coming back, spending days reviewing and then taking fall semester exams in January doesn’t seem like an efficient use of study time for ANY grade. Individual grades may suffer.

Case: Continue to improve the safety in our schools for students and employees; continue to support the needs of our schools with school nurse, SROs, and social workers; support our teachers as they work to empower students and as they fill gaps of missed learning which will help to regain the excitement of learning in all areas.

What do you believe the School Board could do to improve classroom learning, keep children healthy and safe and recruit and retain the best teachers?

Kustin: Teachers deserve to be paid like the professionals they are! Respecting teachers’ planning periods and hiring sufficient support staff is also crucial. Each school must have a robust safety plan in place. Let’s also work with law enforcement and other community partners to highlight the importance of securely storing firearms at home to keep them from entering our schools. Kids learn by doing! Let’s expand experiential learning opportunities. From getting kids outside more when learning science to partnering with local organizations for internships, we can foster more effective learning. We also need to address the damages the pandemic caused.

Egolf: We should make ourselves more available to get input from our great teachers and administrators. I volunteer weekly in the second grade at Clear Creek Elementary so I can personally see classroom learning and get ideas for improvement. Health and safety are paramount and that’s why the board has worked closely with the sheriff’s office to introduce an SRO at every school and is currently working on having dual secure entry points at every school. We should concentrate on programs like “Growing Our Own” to recruit teachers from within HCPS and keep working on retaining teachers with competitive pay/benefits.

Case: To keep children healthy and safe, the single entry to each school and the security cameras for all schools are needed. We are getting more and more children in this county with the explosion of housing developments; in the next few years we will need more personnel to meet the increasing needs of the growing population of children. To recruit and retain the best teachers, I would like to bring back Teaching Fellows, raise the salaries at the state level, treat teachers like professionals and continue the “Teaching as a Profession” program in our high schools.

Purcell: Stick to the basics of reading, writing, mathematics, history and science. Any deviation from the curriculum to include political indoctrination, gender confusion, sexual pandering or racial divisiveness or any other intentional ideologies will not be tolerated. Children are here to learn, not become social experiments. Secondly, having cameras and audio in every room, in every school can help keep our students and our staff safe as well as mitigating possibilities of bullying. Lastly, for recruiting and retention efforts, teachers and staff need larger increases in base salaries and allowed more time for planning periods.

Mccraw: I believe we need to get back to basics in the classroom. Focus on mathematics, science, language arts, history and civics. I would like to continue collaborating with them to find the best ways to keep our children safe. Recruiting and retaining teachers is a multifaceted response. I believe educators should be paid more. While this issue lies at the state level, we should always be looking for ways to ensure our educators are compensated adequately. We should also be working with our legislators at the state level to pull more revenue from the “NC education lottery” funds to help pay our educators what they are worth.

“In those (elementary school) grades, we don’t need to be teaching social studies,” Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson wrote in his memoir. “We don’t need to be teaching science. We surely don’t need to be talking about equity and social justice.” Do you agree? Why or why not?

Mccraw: In elementary school, we need to be teaching age-appropriate mathematics, science, language arts, history and civics. We need to be teaching our children they are all created equally, to treat each other like they want to be treated, and to love one another. If children of any background are experiencing learning loss, we should be working to bring them up to speed to ensure they are getting the best education possible and are not falling through the gaps.

Purcell: I believe that the fundamentals of history and science in elementary schools should be taught. But what I do not agree with is the progressive movements that includes CRT (critical race theory) and SEL (social and emotional learning) that should not be allowed in our schools. This creates division among students and staff as well as thoughts of selfishness and perversion that must be kept from entering the schoolhouse doors.

Ray: Elementary years are the years where the building blocks of education are vital. Schools should always provide what is needed for all students to ensure that they are being set up for their best future, as well as all students feeling safe and secure. As a former teacher, my favorite teaching moments happened while teaching social studies and science.

Case: As a social studies teacher of 47 years, I know that social studies is important because students need to know about their government and their country. Knowing this will help them become intelligent voters and decision-makers for the future. We should teach science because advancements are made due to scientific research and children need a background to spark their interest for the future. Our Constitution was set up on the basis of justice and promoting the general welfare for all. Our students need to learn these basic principles to help them be successful throughout their lives in our diverse country.

Egolf: (Tough to answer not knowing the entire context in which the statement was made by) but, I personally feel as I have stated at the School Board candidate forums and other campaign events I have been invited to —the Asheville Tea Party, Men’s Republican Club, Women’s Republican Club, Edneyville Grange, League of Women Voters candidate forums and League of Women Voters meet-and-greet— that from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. in school is where math, reading, writing, language, history, science and computers should be taught.

Kustin: I disagree. A well-educated population leads to lower unemployment, greater tax revenue and a more vibrant community. We need a world class curriculum that launches kids into a global market equipped with all the facts — old and new — and the latest science and technology to compete with the rest of the South and the rest of the country. HCPS should continue to build upon the successes our teachers have had in preparing students for life beyond graduation. We must ensure we’re offering a solid foundation for a wide range of career paths while simultaneously fostering empathy, reasoning and responsibility.

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Links to candidate websites:

Shelia Dale

Alyssa Norman

Eric Parlow (background from LinkedIn)

Dot Case

Jay Egolf

Mary Ellen Kustin

Vance Mccraw

Aaron Purcell

Heather Sowry Ray