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Election 2012: Questions for School Board District 6 candidates
By Charles Swenson
Born: Knoxville, Tenn.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in engineering, University of Tennessee
Family: Married with a daughter, 12
Career: Air Force officer; 35 years in metals industry, the last 20 with International Metal Co. where he was president and CEO
Public office: Ran for school board from District 6 in 2008; withdrew from 2010 at-large race for family reasons
Born: Earls, Williamsburg County
Education: Bachelor’s degree in early childhood education, University of South Carolina
Family: Married with two children and two grandchildren
Career: Taught at First Baptist Church, owned and operated Happy Time preschool for 33 years
Public office: First run for office
Q: Tell me about a teacher who influenced your life.
Kerr: My high school math teacher. I had him basically for four years; algebra through trig and geometry. Those basic instructional things that he had us do carried on as I went to college. I was always good at math, basically because of him and the way he taught math.
Wheeler-Cribb: I don’t remember his first name, but probably Mr. Smith in the ninth grade. He just expected the best out of you. He was very easy to communicate with and you wanted to please him.
Q: What about a time when you were frustrated in school? How did you deal with that?
Kerr: It was when I was playing football and broke my leg and was not able to participate for a year. You still spend time with the football team, learn what’s going on, learn the procedures, let the coach know that you’re going to be there eventually.
Wheeler-Cribb: Fourth grade, and probably the sixth. In the fourth grade, I forgot to do a line of homework and was punished severely for it. My parents dealt with it, which got them involved and all parents should be involved.
That’s my goal, to have more parents involved and to advocate for children. I do that right now at Grace Church [in Georgetown] and am advocate for another child that’s been expelled and needs to be back in school. I think all children need to be in school if at all possible.
Q: What’s a book you read in school that made an impact?
Kerr: This book was one that I read in grammar school. I can’t remember the name of it. It was a book about a man and his dog, an Alaskan husky, and his endurance of the winter in Alaska. I’ll always remember the many things he did to survive. I admired his courage, and the dog’s courage too.
I thought I’d never forget the name of that book.
Wheeler-Cribb: You’re going back a long way. I’ll have to think about it. I loved to read. Probably back then it was Nancy Drew mysteries.
Q: During her term on the board Teresa Bennani pressed for additional resources for preschool programs. What should be the school district’s role in preschool education?
Kerr: The pre-K years and the kindergarten years are very important in a child’s education. It’s one all school systems should stress. Learning starts very early. One of the problems with kids is if they haven’t picked up in pre-K and in kindergarten basic learning tools, and also learning the alphabet and numbers, they start out behind in the school system. By the time they reach the later part of the elementary system, they’re behind and they have trouble catching up.
I’m a big supporter of a better educational system in the pre-K years. Every child should be give a pre-K education.
Wheeler-Cribb: I think it’s vital. That’s what I did at First Baptist. I taught kindergarten and they had 5 year olds, so I did 3 and 4 year olds. I think the earlier we can get them the better.
That’s the biggest reason I decided to run when I found out Teresa wasn’t. That’s what she was working on. It was now or never. This is my field and I can help. I taught over a thousand kids in preschool. A lot of the teachers, I’ve taught them and their children.
Q: Should additional funds be allocated to pre-K? If they had to come from existing resources, what would you cut to fund pre-K?
Kerr: I certainly think they should be. That’s a problem with our budget. I don’t see that this shouldn’t be a state requirement. If you look at school systems across the world, the ones that are best have strong pre-K and kindergarten.
There’s always money that can be changed from one program to another. I’ve got two programs that I want to put in, both of them are additional money. Pre-K has got some funds today. Maybe it means distributing teachers a little differently in our system. The teachers are what’s the most expensive in pre-K.
Wheeler-Cribb: I think we probably have the money. I’m not for raising taxes by any means. I think we have money. I would try to find it.
I feel like having a classroom and a good teacher is vital. If we do pilot programs, we need to do them long enough to know that they work. I did the pilot program with Character First. I brought someone in from Oklahoma City to train our guidance counselors. They used the pilot program that I did until this year.
Q: What is the appropriate role of technology in the classroom?
Kerr: In today’s environment, it’s a necessity. The earlier the better. A lot of people would say, “Well, I did not have that when I was in school.” True. I didn’t either. They didn’t have computers.
They are tools that help you learn. I don’t think they replace the basic principles of learning, and the theories that go along with that. Computers help students see that and see how to do that better.
Wheeler-Cribb: I think it’s good to a certain extent, but again I think that a good teacher is vital. A good teacher can take a book and teach.
I’d like to see every child have an iPad, but I want to see them have direction and supervision. I don’t want them just to be entertained. I want them to have instruction.
We have iPads in our Grace Church ministry for special needs. But they work to earn it. And it’s limited.
Q: How do you think its effectiveness should be measured?
Kerr: I hate to say test scores, because test scores can be skewed so bad, but that’s one way. The other is teacher evaluations of how proficient students are in these classes. You can’t take the teacher away. They have a very important role in how they get a student interested in a subject and take them through that subject. Some students don’t test very well.
Wheeler-Cribb: It’s going to have to be over a period of time. Like I said before, any pilot program needs to be there long enough to know if it works. If we know a school that’s had it and it’s worked go there and find out.
Q: Standardized tests are increasingly driving decisions on school policy. How much importance do you place on these tests?
Kerr: You’ve got to have tests to tell how people are doing. The thing I don’t like is how you use those tests; to give funding for instance. What happens then is that our system seems to change the test to where people are able to pass at higher grades and they may not be learning any more. The No Child Left Behind issue is part of that.
We’ve tried to get those test scores where everybody is doing the same. So we’ve either changed the way we give the test or changed the content of the test. Everybody passes, but is everybody really the same? They’re not.
Wheeler-Cribb: That’s a tough one because I’ve had people talk on both sides. I know we have to have testing, but I don’t think all our instruction needs to be geared to the testing.
It’s very important, but we need other things too. There’s always going to be testing. Some students just don’t test well. We need to take that in and adapt to whatever the child needs.
Q: The state has begun using student test scores and overall school performance on report card ratings as a component in evaluating teachers and principals. Is this an appropriate use of this data?
Kerr: That’s one component. I don’t believe that should be the only component of how a teacher is doing. You still have to have the administrator. The principal is responsible for deciding how well these teachers are doing.
Student tests is one measure. Observation and evaluation by a principal of a teacher’s performance is the best way. If they evaluate right, the students those teachers are teaching will be doing OK on the test.
Wheeler-Cribb: It’s about the same as it is with students. I think it would have to be used over a period of time to see how it works. We need to have some way. In South Carolina you just can’t fire a teacher. We need to have some way to get rid of teachers that aren’t performing.
They might test real well.
Q: What is the most important issue facing the Georgetown County School District? How would you deal with it?
Kerr: The things that I think we’re going to have to do in the future are going to be a big burden on the budget. The budget is still going to be the biggest problem we face. We haven’t had any increases in revenue for the last several years and the schools have managed to balance the budget. I think they’re to be commended for that.
It’s going to be a challenge how we put in the programs we want to and not have to increase our tax rate. You’ve got to review the whole budget: here’s the things we need, here are some things we don’t need.
I just don’t believe in raising taxes in times like this. When the economy begins to do better our budget revenue will do better.
Wheeler-Cribb: They would probably say money. But like I said we have money. I just think it’s having teachers that put the children first, that want them to succeed. Every child needs someone at school that they can relate to, because that may be the only place where they have someone to relate to. Every child needs to feel special and wanted.
I would certainly like to visit classrooms and see. I will continue to advocate for children whether I’m on the board or not. I will go where I’m needed.
To learn more about Tuesday’s election, there is a sample ballot online.
To check your voter registration information, go to the state Election Commission website.