Leader Blues

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

TOP STORY >>School candidates face off Tuesday

Leader staff writer

For the first time in 12 years, the Pulaski County Special School District Zone 6 school board seat is being contested.
Bill Vasquez is challenging incumbent Dr. James Bolden, III, for the seat he has held since 2003.

Voters across PCSSD, as well as Cabot, Lonoke and Beebe school districts, have the opportunity to elect their next school board representatives from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, at area polling locations.

To better inform residents of their choices for local school board candidates in this year’s election, The Leader posed questions to those facing opposition. The following information and answers are from candidates in the Pulaski County Special, Cabot, Lonoke and Beebe school districts.


On the PCSSD board, Dr. James Bolden, III, who is seeking his second term, is running against Bill Vasquez for the Zone 6 seat with a four-year term.

Bolden, 49, has lived in his district for 13 years and has two children, a seventh- and ninth-grader.

He is a retired combat veteran with 24 years of military service and is the founder and senior pastor at Evangelistic Ministries Church in Jacksonville and also owns Lil Motivators Childcare. Vasquez, 50, has lived in the district for 20 years and has six children who have all attended PCSSD schools in his zone; his youngest is a sophomore at Jacksonville High School.

Vasquez has 22 years of military service with the Air Force and spent his final years as an instructor/evaluator pilot for the Arkansas Air National Guard here at Little Rock Air Force Base with the 189th Airlift Wing. He currently works for Lockheed Martin as a C-130E flight simulator instructor pilot at LRAFB, is the volunteer soccer and golf coach at Jacksonville High School and is a member of the booster club there.


On the Cabot School Board incumbent Jim Coy is facing opposition from Arthur Evans for the Position 3 seat, which has a five-year term.

Coy, 45, has lived in the Cabot district for 13 years and is the father of a Cabot High School junior. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in sales and marketing and is a sales executive for Acxiom Corporation. He has served as chairman of the policies, personnel and curriculum and instruction committees of the Cabot School Board during his five years on the board.
Evans, 58, has lived in Cabot for 14 years and is the father of a senior at CHS. He attended the University of Arkansas majoring in accounting with a minor in economics and is the assistant facilities manager at Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock.


On the Lonoke School Board, incumbent Richard Pennington faces Darrell Park for the Zone 3, Position 2 seat, which has a term of five years.

Pennington, 54, has lived in the Lonoke School District for 15 years and is the father of twins in the eighth grade. He has a Bachelor of Science in pharmacy from the University of Arkansas for Medical Science , is a pharmacist and owns Lyons Drug Store.

Park, 45, was born and raised in Lonoke, graduated from Lonoke High School and has lived there all his life. He has two children in Lonoke schools, a senior and an eighth grader, and works for the United States Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency.


Running for the open seat on the Beebe School Board, with a term of five years, are Christopher Mark Goss and Brenda K. McKown.

Goss, 34, has lived in the Beebe-McRae area all his life and graduated from McRae in 1991. He has three children, a ninth and sixth grader and one in Beebe’s new pre-kindergarten program.

He is self-employed; he and his parents operate Goss and Son Meat Company in Romance and with the help of his children, operates Goss and Sons Lawn Service.

McKown has lived in the district for 27 years and served on the McRae School Board for 10 years, serving as president of the board when that school consolidated with Beebe three years ago.

Her youngest daughter is a senior this year and her oldest daughter is a graduate of McRae High School.

She is the director of administration for Catlett and Stodola, PLC, a law firm in Little Rock; Catlett Tower Partnership, an office building in downtown Little Rock and Catlett, Inc., an international business company; she is also a legal assistant to Mr. Catlett, prepares budgets, accounts receivable and payable and reports.


Q. Why did you decide to run for school board, or if the incumbent, run for re-election?

Bolden: I am seeking re-election for the PCSSD Zone 6 seat because the children are my major concern in the Jacksonville area and the Pulaski County district with major emphasis on Jacksonville area students.

Vasquez: I decided to run for the school board because, as a concerned parent, I want the best for my children and the children in our community. I believe that the tax dollars from Jacksonville need to be used on the children in Jacksonville – we have been paying taxes for too long to see our students continually left out when it is time to discuss school improvements and new construction; also running because some of our campuses are still not yet fully handicapped accessible, and because the bathrooms in many of our schools seem less than satisfactory.

I am also running because concerned parents asked me to; we are not pleased with the direction we see the district going and the lack of interest and resources being directed to schools in the Jacksonville area – we see our children as being equal to and just as deserving as any other child in the district.

Q. What do you feel you would bring, or do bring if the incumbent, to the school board?

Bolden: If re-elected, I will bring the very presence of the community’s concerns, hopes and visions as I have always done at every board meeting I have attended. I have always, even before getting on the board in 2003, fought for Jacksonville’s vision.

Vasquez: I bring a lifetime of experience as a professional educator; what is taught and how well it is taught and learned by our children is critical to their success or failure as they begin life’s journey on the road to achieve their dreams.

As a military pilot and officer for nearly 22 years, I have learned to tackle the hard problems and choices of life head on and to seek solutions to problems, not to turn my head away and hope they will disappear. I have also dealt with large programs concerning large amounts of money and am not intimidated by the financial decisions of the $131 million Pulaski County Special School District budget or the challenges of facing our school district in the 21st Century.

Q. What are the areas that you see as needing to be addressed in your district?

Bolden: First, getting unitary status so that we can proceed in the process of getting our own school district here in Jacksonville. Second, while doing this, always making sure that we get what we deserve in the Jacksonville area of more advanced placement courses, better facilities, and quicker response to our area needs while ensuring that every child in PCSSD gets the same opportunity.

Vasquez: Pulaski County has to address both the academic achievement gap between majority and minority students as well as substandard benchmark test scores and accelerate the use of modern technology in the classroom. The answer to the achievement gap and test scores is the same – student literacy. It stands to reason that regardless of race, a student’s academic success more than ever before is tied to their literacy skills; we simply must ensure our children learn to read and read well.

To accomplish this we must take full advantage of educational technology in our classrooms, particularly in the core subject areas. The district needs to immediately seek to invest in Smartboard technology in all core subject classrooms to facilitate the use of Internet and interactive technologies in math, science, history and English.

These technologies not only enrich the learning experience for our children, they allow our teachers to be more efficient and effective in the classroom. We must make a commitment to help our children succeed by ensuring our educators have the tools they need to reach and teach our children.

Q. What do you hope to accomplish if elected or re-elected?

Bolden: I will continue my support of my fellow board members while also pushing for our own district that will give us better opportunities in our Jacksonville area. Remember: Proven leadership with proven results.

Vasquez: I hope to bring education in Pulaski County into the 21st Century. Today’s student is technologically savvy and is not afraid of being challenged intellectually in the classroom. Today we know more about teaching and learning than ever before and with modern technologies we can help even the most severely challenged students find success. But, we cannot successfully educate our children if we choose to retain the status quo; we must continually change and improve to be successful.

Our schools are entering a new era in education; we must empower our students with the learning skills they will need for a lifetime, not just to get to the next grade level. Our children must become lifelong learners to meet the challenges of the workplace, at home and in the community as technology advances in the future.

Q. What are your views on a Jacksonville district?

Bolden: I am 100 percent in favor of it and it is long overdue.

Vasquez: Jacksonville cannot become an independent school district soon enough to satisfy the citizens of our city, but we are up to the task. We believe we have the most to gain or lose from the success or failure of our schools and are ready to go the extra mile to ensure our students succeed.

Q. What are your thoughts on Jacksonville opening a charter school in the future?

Bolden: I believe the two will complement each other.

Vasquez: Without an independent Jacksonville school district, as well as a major commitment to new school construction in Jacksonville, a charter school is inevitable and may come regardless of whether we become an independent district.

However, as an American, I don’t see the competition from a charter school as a threat to education but as an enhanced educational opportunity for those seeking an alternative to the traditional public school setting.


Q. Why did you decide to run for school board, or if the incumbent, run for re-election?

Coy: I am running for re-election (to the Cabot board) because I feel that I have the competency and servant attitude to be a great board member. I also feel it is a great way to give back to the community.

Evans: I want to be on the school board because I desire to see the kids continue to get the best education possible.

Q. What do you feel you would bring, or do bring if the incumbent, to the school board?

Coy: As an incumbent, I would continue to find ways to improve the processes already in place. In my current role as a sales executive for Acxiom Corporation, my main responsibilities include solving complex problems, resolving conflict and negotiating large multi-million dollar contracts. Most, if not all, of my skill sets have been used in my current roles as a Cabot School Board member.

Evans: My management and abilities and the understanding of the budget process. I also have the ability to see both sides of any issue.

Q. What are the areas that you see as needing to be addressed within your district?

Coy: The No Child Left Behind unfunded mandates – state mandates that require additional paperwork for teachers with an already jammed-packed day. To resolve this, I will work with our state senator and state representative to minimize the paper- work and give back more time for instruction.

Evans: The need to stay ahead of the growth curve financially. I will closely monitor the budget and try to plan years ahead for new facilities and teachers.

Q. What do you hope to accomplish if elected or re-elected?

Coy: I will continue to find ways to save money in our budget in order to fund raises and save money for future growth.
Evans: I will help make the Cabot School District even better than it is today.

The Cabot Teachers Association also submitted questions for Coy and Evans:

Q. How do you feel about the salaries/benefits provided by our district in terms of recruiting and training the best possible employees?

Coy: I feel our benefits are competitive with other districts our size. We have done a great job of recruiting top talent from other districts and new college graduates.

Evans: They are low, especially for experienced employees who have “topped out” in step increases.

Q. What priority do you believe needs to be given to efforts to significantly increase employee salaries in the district?

Coy: Top priority is we need to continue to find ways to improve the current process and save money for additional raises.
Evans: They have to grow as the district grows.

Q. If our district were to receive unexpected funds, what would you list as the top three priorities for these monies?
Coy: Teachers’ salaries; benefits; teachers’ salaries.

Evans: Buy new equipment (copiers, computers, etc.); new facilities and upgrades to old facilities and needed supplies for teachers.

Q. What types of things do you believe the school district can do to improve community relations and build more community support?

Coy: Continue to engage the superintendent with all the different civic organizations in the community and when a major decision faces the district, we need to form community groups to help drive that specific decision.

Evans: Doing more of what the district has been doing.

Q. If you wish to obtain information about the condition of the school system regarding student, teacher and support personnel morale; the physical quality of the environment that exists for learning; the curriculum or any other school related issues, to whom or where would you go?

Coy: I would interact directly with the person responsible for that information. If you did not have access to the people responsible for that information, I would go directly to central office and ask for direction on where to find the data.

Evans: While surveys would be a good starting point, going to each school and talking to the employees would be the best way of getting firsthand knowledge.


Q. Why did you decide to run for school board, or if the incumbent, run for re-election?

Pennington: I have been on the (Lonoke) board for 15 years and will run for one more term only.

Park: I am running because I think any parent should be concerned about and interested in their children’s educations. What better way than to be involved in the decision-making that pertains to that education?

Q. What do you feel you would bring, or do bring if the incumbent, to the school board?

Pennington: I bring experience and a concern for a quality education to the Lonoke board.

Park: An open mind; I’m willing to listen to all concerns.

Q. What are the areas that you see as needing to be addressed within your district?

Pennington: Lonoke High School facilities and expanded vocational offerings.

Park: I love the Lonoke School District. We are fortunate to have good administrators, teachers, students and board members. I want to see that continue.

Q. What do you hope to accomplish if elected or re-elected?

Pennington: I hope we can expand our vocational programs, decrease the number of students who require remediation in college and improve our facilities at the high school.

Park: We have a good school system and I want to continue this trend and have Lonoke School District known as a quality school district that does an excellent job of preparing its students for furthering their education and preparing them for life.


Q. Why did you decide to run for school board, or if the incumbent, run for re-election?

Goss: I’ve always been involved in my kids’ educations and with their different school functions. My kids will be in Beebe schools for the next 14 years; being on the school board is another way to get involved.

The schools we have now are second to none; they’ve done a really good job with our facilities and it’s something I would like to be part of. Running for school board has been on my mind for a couple of years now and with my youngest in school now, I can take a more in-depth step in their education and have more than a spectator position in their education.

McKown: Our district is experiencing constant growth. I believe my past experience on the board, along with my knowledge of the educational process, can contribute to continuing the program. I have been involved with building programs, the annexation and other aspects of school management. In addition, my background in law will provide another perspective to planning and progress.

Q. What do you feel you would bring, or do bring if the incumbent, to the school board?

Goss: I’m not out to change the world, but just want to have a deeper and more active role in Beebe schools.

I think we are better off after consolidating McRae with Beebe; being from there and graduating there, I felt both sides of the spectrum, but I see the benefits of what we have now.

McKown: I bring experience and knowledge, as well as numerous hours of school board continuing education.

All board members are required to obtain continuing education hours each year; over my ten-year period, I was fortunate enough to attend many training sessions to help me in the role of a board member.

Q. What are the areas that you see as needing to be addressed within your district?

Goss: There are not any areas I feel need addressed. We’re at the onset of the gas industry now and there are a lot of decisions that we will have to make once we start seeing that county income. We’re having growing pains right now, but that’s a good problem to have; we purchased land and a building, but we need more.

I look forward to seeing the schools develop more. I think we are one of the top in the state for academics, our campus facilities are out of this world and I look forward to the growth we will experience in the next five, 10, 15 years.

McKown: It is my desire to continue to push for higher education for our district. Although our district continues to exceed state and federal standards, we must strive to educate our children with higher levels of education at an earlier age.

For instance, there are universities and hospitals in our state that cannot find enough qualified employees to fill positions requiring higher levels of education; these companies look outside of our state and in many instances, out of the country, to fill these positions.

Concurrent credit and advanced placement classes, which I support, give our students opportunities to fill this void.
In addition to providing increased educational opportunities at the secondary level, the district has also implemented the pre-K program on our campus. Successful programs and curricular offerings such as these are examples of what I would like to see continued and expanded in our district.

I would also like for the EAST Lab to continue expansion for every grade to ensure every child has the opportunity to be a part of this program while a student at Beebe schools.

Q. What do you hope to accomplish if elected or re-elected?

Goss: I would like to see our students have the tools and resources that can help them prepare for their future and college. I think a lot of the time we let them down by not giving them the tools they need. I want to see us provide all we can to get them (the students) able to meet the challenges that come with graduating.

McKown: We have a quality education system of which I am very proud. I believe our teachers and administrators are some of the best to be found.

If elected, I hope to be a part of the continued improvement toward a better education system for all students in the Beebe school system.