Early voting in area city and school elections will get underway Monday, April 19, and residents of the City of Whitney and the Whitney Independent School District will have decisions to make at the ballot box with multiple candidates seeking positions. Whitney ISD will require an election to fill three school board positions. The seats held by Jill Hall, Annette Ayers and Jason Sneed are expiring, and Sneed was the only candidate to file for re-election. He will be joined on the ballot by Ramey Branscum, Donna Brunson, Charles Buzan, Matthew T. Copeland, Anne Green, Stephen Hunt and Ray Watson. Four candidates filed to seek the mayor's position in Whitney. Mayor Trey Jetton did not file to run for another term, but Ken Scales, Jerry Barker, Ronie Lerma and Brad Slaten all filed as candidates. There were also two City Council seats available, currently held by Brian Burkhart and Robin Sliva. Neither incumbent is seeking another term, but Jason Ince and Sam Pierce filed as candidates. Locally, Covington ISD will also need an election after four candidates filed for three available spots on the board. Incumbents David Shane Johnson and Kevin Ray will be joined by Cody Nickell and Joe Reitz on the ballot. Early voting in both the City of Whitney and Whitney ISD elections will be held at the Whitney ISD Administration Building Board Room, located at 305 South San Jacinto in Whitney. Voting will be held from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. Monday, April 19, through Friday, April 23. Extended hours will be offered on Monday, April 26, and Tuesday, April 27, from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. On election day, Saturday, May 1, voting will be held from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. in the same location. For Covington ISD voters, both election day and early voting will be held at the City of Covington office, located at 402 Gathings in Covington. Hours will be from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. weekdays during early voting, with extended hours on Wednesday, April 21, and Tuesday, April 27, from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. Election day voting will also be from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. The Lakelander submitted the same questions to all Whitney ISD school board candidates and gave them the opportunity to respond. The questions and any responses we received follow, and the order of the answers was randomly selected by the drawing of names in our office to ensure fairness.
Why are you running for school board?
Buzan: I am running for school board because I want to help contribute to the educational future of the students of WISD and the safety of all who attend, work or visit our campuses.
Watson: My wife and I, along with our three sons, have been a part of the Whitney community for 14 years. Our family has been active in the community since our oldest started second grade at Whitney Elementary in 2005. I’m running for school board because I believe making a difference in our community starts with our children and their education, and I want to be actively involved in decisions that will continue to make Whitney ISD great.
Sneed: I have a heart for serving, I always have, from my career in the Marines through my current time as a youth pastor. And there is no better place to serve for an impact than with our youth. Additionally, I have a vested interest in ensuring that our schools do well with my own kids, their peers and those I pastor to.
Brunson: I am running for Whitney ISD because this is the perfect opportunity for myself to contribute to the community and hopefully improve it, as all communities begin with their children.
Hunt: First, as a retired teacher, I want to continue to contribute to the future generations. Second, as a taxpayer in the Whitney Independent School District, I want to represent my fellow taxpayers to ascertain that their tax dollars are funding the best education their tax dollars can buy. Third, as a resident of White Bluff, I believe there needs to be someone on the school board who represents the taxpayers who reside in that subdivision. Finally, and most important, I believe that the students who attend WISD schools deserve an education that prepares them for life in the real world. The challenges they must face after graduation are becoming more complicated than those faced by past generations. The traditional system of education does not always recognize those modern challenges.
Green: Because I see and hear the roar of the world’s lies coming for our youth, their future and our America as we have known it!
Branscum: To be a part of our children’s and the community’s children’s future. There are board members stepping down and I feel it’s time for my generation to step up and do our part.
Copeland: I have children in the school district, and I really believe that they have a voice and need to be heard along with their educators.
What experiences or skills have prepared you to serve as a board member?
Buzan: My experiences of being a father, business owner and part of the community for the past 40 years helps me appreciate and understand what the community’s needs and concerns are for our children.
Watson: An important part of being an effective school board member is communication. For the past 14 years, I have run my own business. In building that business, I have learned how to talk to clients, bid jobs, manage expenses, and learned the true value of customer service. This experience has made me a great communicator. I am comfortable talking to anyone and asking the questions that need to be asked.
Sneed: I have served on the WISD school board for three years now through many tough processes such as hiring a new Superintendent, new AD and implementing new reforms from the Texas Legislature. Further, leadership and serving has encompassed my whole life as has furthering my education. I believe a combination of those qualities makes me a great candidate.
Brunson: I have vast experience in nurse management. I have managed a 220-bed hospital, as well as a psychiatric emergency room. I provide care to children and adolescents as a Nurse Practitioner who specializes in mental health. I have skills to work as a team player. I have the skills to manage stressful and difficult situations. I possess the skills to make necessary decisions even if they are not popular. I have had to make decisions that deal with life and death. I also have the nursing ability to listen emphatically to parents. To listen to their concerns about their children and the school in which taxpayer funded education is provided to those children.
Hunt: My undergraduate degree is from the University of Colorado with a major in economics. I have studied at Louisiana State University to earn a classroom teachers certificate. I have a Masters Degree from a leading online university in Education Curriculum and Instruction. I have taught civics, history, economics, and geography in both a private and public school environment. I have been associated with the WISD as both a substitute and full time instructor. My Texas teachers’ certification is still current.
Green: My experiences/skills have been life itself – ups and downs, being a parent/grandparent, citizen, the job force, but mostly by reading the Bible, which is truth!
Branscum: I have lived in Whitney for over 30 years. I am raising six boys here. I have owned and operated a family-owned business here for 15 years. I have been a coach for the Whitney Youth Association for several years, and I am currently the athletic director for the Whitney Youth Association.
Copeland: I have served on both youth athletic boards. I have also served as vice president of our local Union Pacific IAM Union.
How do you believe a district should help prepare students for the future?
Buzan: I believe the district should be prepared to help all the kids with their future by giving them options. Options to go to college, options to serve this wonderful country we live in, options to attend a technical college or work as an apprentice for someone learning their job/trade.
Watson: One goal of our school district should be preparing kids for the next level, whether that be attending college or entering the workforce. One way to do this is by continuing to partner with local community colleges to offer dual credit courses to college-bound students. Of equal importance, however, is emphasizing basic life skills like managing personal finances, saving or utilizing a 401K, encouraging teamwork, and teaching actionable skills for persevering through tough situations.
Sneed: The job market is rapidly changing, and our district needs to stay on top of that. We can do a disservice to our students by providing one size fits all education. Thankfully, our district has been doing a wonderful job at tailoring credits to meet specific goals. We need to embrace that, and grow it to best serve our students to succeed beyond the walls of the school.
Brunson: A good education of course. I also think it would be an asset to offer real world skills in the last year of high school such as how to look for a job, how to find an apartment. How to get utilities turned on. Understanding paying taxes and rent, understanding how to budget, how to open a bank account. Work more often in groups to solve problems, as once you start a job you will need to work well with others. How to apply for college how to get funding for college.
Hunt: The schools of the future need to recognize the individual student. The current system of education classifies students by age, rather than by interests or ability. Some students do well with mathematics, but lag behind in language. Other students excel in the subject of history, but need special attention in science. The current system places all students in generic classrooms based upon their age. The existing system assumes all students have the same ability to learn at the same age level. Logically, this is not the case. As a classroom instructor, I found I had students in my classes who were capable of honors level instruction sitting next to a student who was struggling with the material. A generic lesson plan prescribed by the Texas Education Agency provided neither student with the tools to learn the subject matter. This needs to change. Students’ learning proclivities need to be addressed and each child needs a classroom instruction environment that applies to their natural capacity to learn and to think.
Green: By education that is truth but also about their home life and soul that can produce a whole person not just an intellect!
Branscum: One thing I would like to see put back into our school to help these kids for the future is more trade classes and less standardized testing.
Copeland: It all starts with education. The children’s education, the teachers’ education, as well as the school board’s education.
Do you have specific ideas for improvement?
Buzan: As far as specific ideas for improvement, I honestly do not have any at the moment because I believe our current school board has done a wonderful job. There are things that I would like to change but first I feel a person should get involved before trying to reinvent the wheel.
Watson: One area for improvement is communication. This includes communication between parents, kids, teachers, and school administration. Communication can often be a challenge for any organization. Pride, advancement potential, false senses of accomplishment, and personal grudges are just a few human faults that hinder our ability to make proper decisions. This tunnel vision mentality needs checks and balances to ensure that progress is at the forefront of all individuals mind rather than personal gain and satisfaction.
Sneed: All improvement is tethered to providing for top notch educators and parental involvement. Without either one, the system fails. We should continue to focus as a district at acquiring and retaining the best teachers and facilitating open and frequent communication with parents. In addition, seeking partnerships with local businesses to produce the kind of workforce they are looking for is crucial moving forward in a market that isn’t just looking for college graduates.
Brunson: Specifically, the way to improve any school district is to collaborate with other board members as well as the Superintendent and keep children /students as our ultimate focus, regardless of the issues.
Hunt: We are facing a “Brave New World” where technology has application in our everyday lives. In my experience, virtually every child in my classrooms had a cell phone. They had, in their hands, access to more information than exists in every library in the world. Yet, the first thing we tell our students is to put their cell phones away. As children, they are tempted to use their phones to text their friends or to play games – thus the reasoning for denying them their phones while in class. It would seem logical, however, to use these devices as part of their instruction. Why can’t we teachers develop lesson plans that require them to research the information available on their phones? Lessons that are intended to simply fill the student’s head with information should no longer meet the requirements of education. No teacher in the universe has stored in their memory the amount of information cataloged and available on the world wide web. I believe it is time for schools to move out of the 18th century and into Huxley’s “Brave New World”. Afterall, the role of the teacher should be to teach students how to think, not just to recite data, isn’t it?
Green: Specific ideals for improvement is getting the government out of our school system to start. Then teaching the constitution would be another great start.
Copeland: I would have to see the resources available before I can make a statement on that topic.
School board members often have to vote on controversial topics. How would you gather input and make a decision when emotions are running high in the community?
Buzan: As a school board member and dealing with controversial topics I believe a person should do their research on the subject, get the facts and make a logical decision that serves best for everyone involved.
Watson: The best way I know to gather input from community members, regarding controversial topics or otherwise, is simply by being approachable, being a good listener, and by doing my best to help people separate their emotions from the facts of the situation. When emotions are running high, what people really need is for school board members to take the time and effort to listen to the facts and represent their interests in a meaningful way.
Sneed: I am an open book; I believe the community knows who I am and what I stand for. However, if there is ever question or concern, I also have an open ear/door. I have a Facebook Page specifically for School Board issues and my phone number is published there. I am also completely open to conversations at church, at the restaurant, the gym…it really doesn’t matter, I am always open for the community’s input.
Brunson: First, gather input from the parents and the people in the community. Also do any necessary research and do not make decisions emotionally. Always have facts and figures to back up your decisions and recommendations. As a nurse, as a manager and as a nurse practitioner I have always had to utilize facts figures and results when making decisions. (clinical evidence)
Green: Each one of us have our opinion on what is right and wrong, but the beauty of the word of God equals choice and truth!
Copeland: High moral values that I will not compromise. Simple as that.
What do you view as the biggest current challenges for public education in our area?
Buzan: For me, personally, I believe our biggest challenge is keeping our schools safe. With all that comes at us in this day and age from threats to viruses to evil people this challenge is a full time job. Most of us had the privilege of growing up in a school when our biggest worry was deciding what to buy out of the snack machine at the 10am break. Unfortunately that’s not the case today and it is our challenge as a community to keep our kids safe. I believe if we do this our faculty and administration will do the job they were hired to do and the job that they have a passion for which is educating our children of the WISD community.
Watson: As a result of the pandemic, students and teachers alike were forced to adapt to a whole new method of teaching and learning, a challenge which has now resulted in some students being left behind. I believe that in moving forward, we should focus on ensuring that this challenge hasn’t created a gap in opportunities from one student to the next and that equal education practices have been administered to every student of Whitney ISD.
Sneed: There are two big challenges: acquiring and retaining the best teachers is tough in a rural district. There are location issues, and financial issues. This isn’t just a school board issue; it’s a community issue and we have to work together to get the type of community that draws the best educators and retains them. Secondly, because we are rural, we have values that often don’t match with federal and state mandates. We have to stand up where we can to push back on issues that don’t match with the community’s values.
Brunson: Long term effects of Covid -19 (academically and mentally). Strongly feel drug use is also a huge challenge for public education in this area (more education about the long- and short-term effects of drug use is needed). Lack of funding and resources in technology in our community.
Green: The challenge I see in any area, is being in unity and working things out for the good of all. And that starts with prayer! Something for all to think about regarding our precious youth is to re-call what was stated by two Socialist/Communist leaders: “Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted.” By Vladimir Lenin “Let me control the textbooks and I will control the state.” By Adolf Hitler God help us all!
Branscum: Our biggest challenge right now is COVID and these lockdowns.
Copeland: Going from virtual to in-person school has helped with the children getting back to normal. We still need to listen to our teachers and administrators and consider any input they may have. They are the ones dealing with day-to-day problems.