Q&A: Candidate for Franklin School Board

Published 8:46 am Friday, July 10, 2009

EDITOR’S NOTE: Tidewater News staff writer Nicholas Langhorne has conducted e-mail interviews of candidates for the Franklin School Board. Today we feature a candidate for the board’s Ward 2 seat. Robert L. Meredith, 70, is a retired regional human resources manager from Union Camp, now International Paper Co. Tawanna Bernard, the other candidate vying for the seat, declined to participate but wrote in an e-mail, “I would simply like to state that I would like to be selected as school board member because I would like the very best for all Franklin City Public Schools students.”

Question: How are you qualified to serve on the school board?

MEREDITH: As a former high school teacher, middle school principal and director of instruction, I have some insight into the issues facing public education today. I have been a member of this school board for the last three years and was very much involved in the shaping and implementation of the selection process that helped identify and hire our current superintendent. I have previously served for many years on regional and state level commissions that helped determine educational policy and programs at those levels. I believe strongly in the critical importance of a strong public education system to the future of our democratic society.

Question: What would be your top priorities if appointed?

MEREDITH: To fully support and equip the administrative staff and teachers in successfully dealing with the issues identified above.

Question: What specific facilities improvements would you push for if appointed?

MEREDITH: Now does not seem to be the time to be pushing for major facilities improvements, but given the opportunity to do so, the replacement of the temporary classrooms at S.P. Morton would be at the top of my list.

Question: Do you agree with the school board’s recent decision to raise the minimum grade-point average requirement for extracurricular participants? Why or why not?

MEREDITH: Yes, I do, especially given that ample opportunity is being provided for those who might fall short to receive the academic help they need to raise their grades to become eligible for extracurricular activities. Those activities are important as an adjunct to the main purpose of our schools and do provide an incentive for some of our students to continue their academic pursuits, but they must be kept in perspective and be supportive of the academic purposes, not the other way around.

Question: What is the biggest issue you see facing the board right now?

MEREDITH: The biggest issue is a continuing one: To provide the best education possible for students at all levels in a small school division that has been getting smaller, and therefore receiving less state funding, and for a student population with a high percentage of at-risk children. Within that overall situation we must see that the necessary leadership, resources and teaching strengths are brought to bear especially at the middle school so that, at a minimum, state and federal academic standards are met.

Question: Would you support an increase in Franklin’s real estate tax rate in order to raise additional funds for public education? Why or why not?

MEREDITH: It is not the function of the School Board to raise taxes; that is a function of the City Council. The board’s function is to identify those expenditures that are critical to the education of our children, to seek in creative and cost conscious ways to expand and enrich the educational experiences of our children. It is our responsibility to lay out a compelling case to City Council and to the community for necessary and important additional investments in the public schools that might require more than current revenue sources can support.

Question: Would you support shared services or consolidation with Southampton County Public Schools?

MEREDITH: I believe there are cooperative opportunities that could prove mutually beneficial to the city and the county that would fall considerably short of consolidation. Those opportunities should be jointly explored and considered.

Question: In your opinion, what is the school board doing right?

MEREDITH: The existing board has achieved a positive working relationship that allows it to put primary focus on the needs of students and teachers and it has learned from recent past experience that this community and school division will be best served by a board that can act in the full confidence that the top administrative leadership is competently guiding us in the right direction. This board is moving strongly in that direction and away from the necessity of constantly second guessing and overriding administrative decisions.

Question: What are areas in which you think the school board needs to improve?

MEREDITH: The School Board should encourage and support our administrative and teaching staff in regularly and often publicizing the really astounding and positive things that are happening every day within our schools. I have mentioned the challenges that this school division faces because of its small size and limited resources, but there are also many positives to being small. The opportunity for teachers, administrators, children and parents to know each other and communicate with each other and to see and interact with each other in many ways in the community is extremely important to the well-being of our children. We should be making known to the community at large the advantages to our children’s education in our being a small school system.

Question: In your opinion, is the school board doing enough to ensure a high quality education to all students in Franklin?

MEREDITH: No, of course not. I cannot think of a truly responsible school board ever thinking that it is doing enough. The world is changing rapidly around us; information and technology is expanding exponentially; the requirements for business and industry to become and remain competitive in the worldwide marketplace are changing and becoming more complex every day. Our children must be prepared to succeed in a world that does not now exist. No school system can rest on its laurels. No, we must continually seek to improve the quality of education in Franklin.