Candidates for trustee weigh-in on challenges facing school, college

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Candidates for office campaigning for May elections met on Sunday at the Texan Theater to field questions about important topics in Kilgore and issues relevant to voters.

Hosted by the Kilgore Chamber of Commerce and the Kilgore News Herald, the forum gave candidates for mayor, Kilgore ISD school board and the Kilgore College Board of Trustees a chance to voice their opinions on how best to handle issues in the community.

Moderator Jerry Pye, publisher of the Kilgore News Herald, directed questions to Jason Smith and Dana Sneed, both vying for the Position 7 seat on the KISD board and Janice Bagley, seeking re-election for her Place 7 seat on the KC board. Bagley’s challenger, Charles Robinson, was not present at the forum.

Smith grew up in Kilgore and graduated from Kilgore High and Kilgore College before attending Texas A&M. He is an assistant safety manager at Tyler Pipe.

Sneed was a teacher and school tennis instructor for 30 years and now, in his retirement, continues to work as a substitute teacher at Kilgore campuses. He also graduated from KHS and KC.

Bagley graduated from Leverett’s Chapel High School and has worked for the Overton Police Department since 2006, earned a degree in criminal justice from KC in 1996 and holds a master’s degree in psychology from the University of Phoenix.

The first question for the school board contenders focused on STAAR testing and how, as a board member, each candidate would commit resources to help Kilgore students succeed and move on to the next grade.

“The first thing would be to equip the teachers,” Smith said.

“The teachers need to have all the resources they need to be able to provide what the students are going to need to try to pass a standardized test. There’s a movement right now, I believe, and a renewed spirit in our school district, and I know our school district along with our superintendent and principals have put in an effort into trying to build these students up. It’s not as much as trying to build them up as far as their educational background; it’s trying to build them up as a person and instill the confidence in them so that when they start to build that confidence up inside of them, it helps them when they get ready to take these tests.”

Smith allowed Texas students and teachers can easily get fatigued by the demands of the STAAR test and the strenuous studying it requires but said the district and community could come together with special events – such as math and science fairs – to help students become more confident with the material they were being tested on and their ability to apply it on standardized tests.

Sneed, a KISD teacher for 21 years, concurred that teachers and students are overburdened and community outreach is a good way to involve parents and family members in a greater capacity.

“I believe that, in some cases, the students are just overwhelmed with so much testing and so much practice testing and sometimes it has its positive aspects to it but sometimes it just almost drives you in the opposite direction. I know the teachers are a bit frustrated from having to do so much testing and this is not Kilgore, this is statewide. I think they need that support in the background and I also think you need to get the parents involved that don’t normally come up and get active with what’s going on in the school. It’s not so much the ones that come to every event that you have to worry with, it’s the ones that don’t show,” Sneed said.

Bagley was asked to describe the greatest challenge facing Kilgore College and what she would do if re-elected to address it.

“I believe one of the greatest challenges at Kilgore College is making sure that the students are successful in their careers. Some students don’t think that they are capable of going to college and, at Kilgore College, we want to make sure that every student that attends Kilgore College are getting what they need to succeed so they can be successful in society and go out and start his or her own business,” she said.

Pye asked the KISD board candidates about one of the biggest school issues in recent years: the issue of homestead property tax exemption. KISD repealed the exemption they had offered for decades after receiving what they said were unclear directions from the state about making the exemption mandatory.

“Being a homeowner myself, I want to support the students but I don’t want to pay anymore than is absolutely necessary to really get the job done effectively. There were a lot of questions on what was done a few years ago as far as homestead exemption and it was unsure whether it was clear or not. My philosophy has always been, when you’re unsure, don’t. When in doubt, don’t. I know we need it and I don’t want to do anything that would take away from education for children but I think you ought to research it very carefully and decide just what amount we need, where can we look at other areas where we might could save here and there and what we could do to make the best use of the tax funds that we have,” Sneed said.

Smith said he had faith that the KISD board made the right call to repeal the exemption.

“I believe that our school members at that time did what they believed was the right thing. I know that the litigation continues on, that the appeals are still being made, that the money still exists and is still sitting there. But I know there’s plans, talks of projects, things that will tremendously help our schools, help our district, help our kids. I think that the decision that the school board made to continue on, that they’re doing because they feel that’s right and I trust them that they’re doing that,” he said.

Pye asked Bagley to assess the relationship between KISD and KC.

“As long as Kilgore College and Kilgore ISD is working together in unity, helping each other out, that’s going to be the best outcome. If you’ve got Kilgore ISD working against Kilgore College, it’s not going to work. It should be family. Unity, strength, courage, working with each other to make a difference with the community and with the students and the faculty. Lastly, teamwork,” she said.

Smith and Sneed were also asked to comment on student discipline at KISD, an issue broached by concerned parents at a board meeting last summer.

Smith said outreach on behalf of the district could help get discipline implemented where it was needed for most for district students – at home.

“The easiest way to make it less of an issue is to continue to get a better hold of it,” he said. “It started a couple of years ago when I was beginning to notice that our schools – I began to feel like it was not the safe environment that it was when I was in school. It wasn’t as safe for our kids, it wasn’t as safe for our teachers. There were incidents of attacks on students, attacks on teachers. The easiest way to get it under control is to try to prevent it before it happens. One, increase the training for teachers that are able to see these problems before they can happen. When it comes to discipline, it does have to start before they get to school.”

Sneed said encouraging students to respect the rules of the school and to respect themselves could go a long way to reining in disciplinary issues.

“One of the best ways to work on student discipline is to get the student to have self-respect for themselves and then respect for others. I know that’s been something that we’ve had to work on through the years. I have subsituted the year before last and I’ve substituted this year. I have noticed improvement in the schools. The students are a little bit better well-mannered but there’s still room for improvement. It varies from campus to campus and from grade level to grade level. Once again, you need to get the parents involved in this, that’s the key, it has to start at home. Guidelines – here’s what we expect you to do, here’s the consequences,” he said.

The election for these races will be held May 4.

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