This election season there are five candidates seeking three open seats on the Scotland County Board of Education.
They include incumbents Darwin Williams, Terence Williams, and Jeff Byrd and challengers Patricia Gates and Rodney Hassler. All the candidates are from Laurinburg and are seeking seats representing the Stewartsville Township.
While the candidates have diverse backgrounds, they all cited the equality of opportunity for all students as a chief concern if elected.
Incumbent Charles Brown of Wagram, is also on the ballot for School Board at large. He is unopposed.
Here are brief biographies and comments from the candidates in the contested race. The General Election is Tuesday.
A Laurinburg native, Gates retired this year after 31 years in the Scotland County schools. Her last position was as principal of South Scotland Elementary.
“Right now in Scotland County, we need to make sure that we continue as a community, and particularly as a school board, to make sure that every child in Scotland County recieves the opportunity to participate in the educational process,” Gates said. “Teachers are giving it everything they’ve got, 110 percent, but if we’re not helping and following up and providing what they need, everything’s happening so fast and there’s so much out there. The world of schools is changing faster than the economic times.”
Gates said that the school system should be providing an even footing for all students to reach their full potential.
“We need to make sure that if they want to go to college, it’s going to happen for them, that they can never say ‘it just wasn’t there for me growing up,” she said.
She is married to Allen Gates, with whom she has four children and four grandchildren.
Originally from the Raleigh area, Hassler spent 30 years with the Scotland County school system as a teacher, assistant principal, and principal. He retired in 2009 after serving as principal of the Scotland High School of Visual and Performing Arts.
If elected, Hassler hopes to bring more transparency to the school board’s regular activities.
“Whoever is on the school board should have to convince the community that they are good stewards of the money,” Hassler said. “That’s critical - we’re the only system that has this setup and I think it’s caused some to be kind of lazy. Whether or not it’s true, people are suspicious that there’s a lot of waste; which needs to be changed if it’s true - or change the perception if it’s not.”
He also takes a particular interest in curriculum and in school-sanctioned extracurricular activities.
“We need to put more emphasis on extracurricular activities for students, as that is what keeps so many students interested in school,” said Hassler. “We need to make sure that all students are being served through activities we provide for them… I’m also really excited abont the new Common Core curriclulm that’s coming down; that’s going to benefit so many students.”
Williams is seeking a second term on the Board of Education, on which he currently serves as vice chairman.
He is pastor of From the Word International Fellowship Ministries. Since his election to the school board in 2008, Williams has served as financial committee chairman and was elected president of the N.C. Caucus of Black School Board Members.
Wiliams intends, if reelected, to lobby for further hands-on technical education in the schools.
“I am proud to say that we are moving in the right direction and the future of Scotland County Schools is looking bright,” Williams said. “The new STEM labs in our Middle Schools, our classrooms converting into virtual learning labs, and a career and technical education curriculum which will allow our children to be certified in a cluster of technical trades will prove to be profitable for our students, their families, and this community.”
He added that economizing has been a priority for the school board in recent years.
“We have returned our assistants back to full staff, we have closed down duplicate programs and schools to save in cost, we have increased our graduation rate, lowered our drop out rate and our scores continue to move forward, all that with cutting our budget almost 10 million dollars in the last four years,” said Williams.
He is married to Tracey Dockery Williams, with whom he has three daughters.
Running for a second term on the school board, Byrd is a Laurinburg physician employed by the Purcell Clinic. He graduated from Scotland High School in 1994.
Byrd noted that the county’s current economic climate places additional strain upon the educational system.
“We don’t have any jobs and 80 percent of kids are on free or reduced lunch, kids are being raised by their grandparents, aunts and uncles, not their parents, so kids are coming from homes that may not put education first,” said Byrd. “It’s tough to worry about education when education is not the most important issue for today’s families, it’s having enough to eat and a warm place to stay.
If reelected, Byrd said that he would continue on a mission to place the best possible educators in Scotland County’s schools.
“We will continue to try to improve education for all kids in this county,” he said. “Kids are an important part of the future of this town, and education is the most important thing we can give them.”
Darwin “Duke” Williams
Williams is running for a second full term on the Board of Education for the Stewartsville Township.
Williams is a lieutenant in the Laurinburg Police Department, having served in law enforcement for 19 years. He was unable to be reached for comment, but prior to the May primary promoted the common interests of all children.
“The main reason I’m running is to give back to a system that nurtured me and that was instrumental in the development of who I am and what I became,” Williams said earlier this year. “It is rewarding to see children develop the right way and grow into productive citizens. I try to remember that I represent all children and that it’s important to treat all children fairly and make sure that they get a sound education.”
He is married to Latonya Williams, with whom he has one daughter.