Brice Altman, school board candidate, District 6

Brice Altman

1. What uniquely qualifies you to serve as a member of the Board of Education?

I am qualified for this position because I have the critical and analytical skills needed and the experience to back it up. I believe I am the most qualified for the school board because I have served many years as a parent, volunteer and served as an advisory council member. I am dependable and goal-oriented, and I work well with individuals that may have a different perspective than my own.

School board District 6 should be held by an individual who can actually bring solutions that will change the Public Schools of Robeson County for the better. This school system needs a drastic new approach before it’s too late. If we do things the way they’ve always been done, progress will not be accomplished. And that, at this point, means a continued decline in the quality of public education. Not meeting state standards is gross negligence. Don’t let it get any worse. Parents are unhappy about changes that are being made to public education in North Carolina. The incumbent is not standing up for the stakeholders — parents, students or the communities he represents. As a school board member, I will not let District 6 go another year at the bottom of the totem pole. We must demand continuous improvement and I will be that engine for District 6.

2. As a challenger, what do you see as the No. 1 failing of the current school board in general? What would you do to try and correct that failing?

School boards across the state face many challenges, but I believe that the school board for the Public Schools of Robeson County has challenges that are self-inflicted. School board members have to have a clear understanding of his or her roles and responsibilities and leave the day-to-day operations up to the professional educators who have been hired to move the district forward.

Another self-inflicted problem is that some current board members come with personal agendas that have nothing to do with children in Robeson County, but have everything to do with ensuring his or her personal agenda is carried out, with little consideration given to what is best for students. This personal agenda clouds their judgment when making decisions that impact the future of our children, as well as the future of the county’s economic development.

I believe that one of the most recent problems that have risen to the top is the classroom size. When this becomes fully implemented, where will we find enough teachers to teach and where will we put them.

There will continue to be problems to address regarding funding, but I believe there is an issue that I really don’t hear discussed often, is the problem of equity. All schools, just like all students do not require the same things, which I refer to as equality. Our students and our schools are very different, therefore require different types of things. For example, if a school is low performing, why are we not doing more to recruit better teachers and administrators who have a proven record of success by paying them more money?

I believe that once roles and responsibilities are truly understood, we leave personal agendas at home, demonstrate actions that demonstrate what is best for students instead of just saying what is best, the board will get along and the district will move forward.

3. Safety is always a concern for our schools, but more so after the killing of 17 people at a Florida school in February. What would you recommend to make our schools more safe?

School safety — put students first by making schools safer. Schools need to harden up with better security, locks, cameras, doors and more resource officers. One of the more popular reactions after the Parkland, Fla., school shooting was that we needed to put more cops in schools. Or to put in armed guards, or retired soldiers, who would in all likelihood be given the same powers as police.

While educators do the work of teaching our youth to think critically, responsibly and humanly, they are also asked to go above and beyond to meet their students’ needs, from making sure they’ve eaten breakfast to helping them apply for college. Now society is asking teachers to put their lives on the line.

As a school board, we must work collaboratively with our local and state legislatures to provide funding for preventive measures that will deter violent individuals from entering our local schools because of the openness most of the Public Schools of Robeson County deal with daily. We have to secure our buildings like the former central office was secured. If it was important for our district personnel to be safe and sound, what about the children, faculty and staff, and support personnel assigned to these vulnerable educational settings?

4. Our local school system is one of two in North Carolina that allows the use of corporal punishment, resulting in an embarrassing statistic, that most children who are paddled in North Carolina are minority and from Robeson County. Do you favor its use? Why or why not?

Corporal punishment is probably one of the most effective ways to discipline a child. It’s definitely the quickest way to get a positive change in behavior. I believe we have reached the point in society where corporal punishment is no longer acceptable. Some parents may agree corporal punishment is a great deterrent in reducing discipline problems in schools as others may disagree. Currently, the policy in Robeson County is school administrators and teachers have the right to use corporal punishment with parental consent. I believe there is a cultural factor behind the persistence of corporal punishment in some parts of the county after it has been completely done away with in other areas of the county.

5. Our schools have been in short supply of textbooks in recent years, with some arguing that more books need to be purchased, and some saying that books become dated quickly, and arguing instead for greater use of E-books that stay current. What do you favor?

As I travel around District 6, I hear pros and cons for the need of textbooks in classrooms. I think schools shouldn’t use text books as much as we used to. The reason why is because we have all this technology and we are able to look up anything fast through our daily devices so why settle for flipping through pages in a textbook when you could look up anything instantly on a cell phone or computer with web access.

In my personal opinion, I think schools should stop using textbooks as the primary means of teaching a particular objective. They constantly change and schools don’t always have all the money in the world to keep updating them, and don’t get me started on all the paper we’re wasting. It would be a lot easier to get students an inexpensive piece of technology. Kids wouldn’t have to carry around tons of heavy books and they would have access to all the latest information. We should take advantage of the technology we have today and use it for the better. I think it would be a very good investment as we prepare our students for a more advanced, technological world.

6. Our school system ranks next to last in the state for local funding by the Robeson County Board of Commissioners, about $1,000 short of the state average. How would you work to overcome that?

As noted recently in The Robesonian, the Public School Forum of North Carolina’s most recent report on school funding shows Robeson County finished next to last in per-pupil spending for all of the state’s 100 counties, about $1,000 less than the state average, for the 2015-16 school year. Robeson County’s government provided $525 per student for the school year in the report, while the state average was $1,568. What a shame when our county commissioners receive one the largest salaries in the state of North Carolina. When are we going to begin doing more for our public education system and stop allowing politicians to “rob” our most precious resource?

As District 6 representative, I promise to collaborate with our county commissioners and address the concern the district is encountering on a daily basis. We have to “Make the Public Schools of Robeson County Great Again.”

7. Our school board has a reputation for micromanagement, and not satisfying within its jurisdiction of being a policy maker and allowing administrators to implement the policy. Do you agree with that assessment? What would you see as your role as a board member?

As a resident of Robeson County and not having been a school board member when the last two superintendents were hired, there is a great deal of information I am not privy to. However, there was a great deal of information out there about the last superintendent not having applied, nor interviewed. I am certain the current superintendent applied, but I would imagine she did as she was already the interim when the position was posted.

It also seems to me that when Mr. Tommy Lowry was hired, and according to the board conversation in March, that there were other applicants who interviewed when Dr. Watkins decided to refuse the position, that were on the list in rank order, yet none of them were considered.

School boards across the state face many challenges, but I believe that the school board for the Public Schools of Robeson County has challenges that are self-inflicted. School board members have to have a clear understanding of his or her roles and responsibilities and leave the day-to-day operations up to the professional educators who have been hired to move the district forward. Let the superintendent “run the school system — day-to-day operations” and the school board members “set policies” since the current ones are outdated.

Another self-inflicted problem is that some current board members come with personal agendas that have nothing to do with children in Robeson County, but have everything to do with ensuring his or her personal agenda is carried out, with little consideration given to what is best for students. This personal agenda clouds their judgment when making decisions that impact the future of our children, as well as the future of the county’s economic development.

I believe that once roles and responsibilities are truly understood, we leave personal agendas at home, demonstrate actions that demonstrate what is best for students instead of just saying what is best, the board will get along and the district will move forward.

8. The school system is currently without a central office. There has been much conversation about the new one, where it might be located, and should an existing building be used or one built from the ground up. What are your thoughts?

The Public Schools of Robeson County Board of Education voted to move forward with purchasing property to erect a new district office, but the county commissioners interjected with an under the table purchase of Native Angels Exchange in Pembroke after written and verbal communication from BOE in objection to such an unwanted plan. The BOE bus pushed back against the commissioners’ plan for months saying the central office building should be centrally located in the county. I would want to know how much money is available for building a new, central office and move forward because the current BOE location is not feasible for the personnel currently employed.

9. Our school system lags far behind those across the state in every education metric except the graduation rate. Do you think this is something that can be significantly improved, and if so, how would you work to achieve that?

In today’s public education woes, we face an enormous amount of challenges with a decrease in funding for educational programs, a shortage of school personnel and a lack of adequate funding for improving facilities. As a candidate for the Public Schools of Robeson County, my primary goal is to support appropriate funding for programs that will increase academic achievement, improve high school graduation rates, decrease dropout rates, and improve the morale of all school employees.

As a strong proponent of low dropout rates and high graduation rates, I will make sure that the district develops and implements a strategic plan to address dropout rates and high school graduation rates.

When I was a child, our school system was actually renowned for its stellar schools, so what changed over the last eight years? For one thing, school administrators are not allowed to be school leaders. Too many times, the current school board members have bullied and strong-armed school administrators in hiring friends, family, or church members to fill positions when there were more qualified applicants to fill these positions. Ask your elected board member, “What have you done for District 6 over the last 28 years?” We have to let principals be principals and let board members be board members. School board members set policy, not recommend employees. Enough is enough. It is time for change in leadership at the board level, especially District 6.

10. Question to myself: What positions, ideas and issues would I like for the constituents to know about myself and my candidacy?

The transfer policy needs a major overhaul from its current regulations. In fact, there should not be a transfer policy if school administrators are not allowed to approve or disapprove an out-of-district transfer. Since the current school board approves 99 percent of the out of district transfers with or without the principal’s approval, why should there be such a liberal policy? This is a policy that needs major work. I will work with my colleagues to conduct a study of parents.

As the representative for school board District 6, I will work hard to improve the athletics, facilities needs at Red Springs High School that have been grossly neglected for too many years. Our students deserve much better and I will fight for Red Springs High and all the other schools for better facilities.

Another goal of mine is to be visible at all schools in District 6, so I can hear what stakeholders are concerned with and address their concerns in a timely manner. As a school board representative, it will be my job and pleasure to listen to my constituents. Each quarter, I will host a public forum to keep the constituents abreast of what is taking place with the school board and address concerns, needs, etc. … for all the people of District 6.

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