Sep. 29—NEW ALBANY — A recent event allowed the community to learn more about candidates running for school board in Floyd County.
The New Albany-Floyd County Education Association presented a candidate forum for school board candidates Wednesday at New Albany High School. All 15 of the NAFCS candidates were invited to the forum, but only nine attended the event.
At-large candidates Elaine Murphy, Tim Harbison, Thad Neafus, Misty Ronau and Randall "Randy" Stumler were in attendance at Wednesday's event. At-large candidates Connie Baugh, Brian "BJ" Foster and Kevin Skinner did not attend.
Voters will select two at-large candidates in the election.
For the District 1 race, J.R. Drummond, Melanie Stumler Northrup and Trent Rufing were in attendance, but Stephen Wayne Keenan did not attend.
Lee Ann Wiseheart was the only candidate for District 2 to participate in the forum. Her two opponents, Jason Fulton and Ryan Topping, did not attend. Wiseheart did not attend in-person Wednesday as she recovered from a surgery, but she participated in the forum virtually.
In the first question, candidates were asked to introduce themselves and explain their interpretation of a school board member's role. Throughout the forum, candidates discussed topics ranging from their plans to work with the teachers' union to their thoughts on outsourcing of school services.
The forum concluded with a question about how each candidate would make decisions as a board member.
Murphy is currently serving as president of the NAFCS board, and she is running for a second term in the at-large seat. She has served in the district for 45 years as a teacher, counselor and administrator, and two of her sons attended NAFCS schools.
She emphasizes that a board member's role involves addressing the budget, policy and strategy for the district.
"We are here to support public schools, and we are here to support our children," Murphy said. "We are here to support educators, work with the superintendent and find a new superintendent."
Murphy said to make decisions as a school board member, it's essential to listen, gather information and be nonjudgemental. Maintaining integrity while making difficult decisions is also important, she said.
"It's so important to listen to everyone who comes to the meeting," she said. "Listen to everyone that calls or emails. Listen to all of the educators involved. Listen to fellow board members and really hear what they're trying to tell you."
At-large candidate Harbison grew up in Floyd County and graduated from New Albany High School. He has taught for 41 years — he has taught at Floyd Central High School, and he is currently teaching in Jefferson County Public Schools.
He sees the role of a school board member as "managerial" in nature, and as a school board candidate, he feels it is his time "to do some stewardship to give back to the community."
"As I see it, our goal is to hire a good superintendent who hires good principals who hire good teachers — kind of a top-down situation," he said. "The main reason I'm running for office is because my wife, my kids, my parents are all products of New Albany-Floyd County schools, and having taught there, I've seen good teachers save hundreds of kids."
Harbison said he is listening to concerns from community members as he runs for office.
"As a school board member, I realize that I'm only going to have a certain amount of power, but at the same time, I think I have to have an ear to the community in what we're lacking," he said. "That's the way I intend to operate if I'm elected."
At-large candidate Neafus is a sergeant with the Floyd County Sheriff's Department. He graduated from New Albany High School, and his children have gone to NAFCS schools.
He believes the school board needs to "reestablish good relations with our parents and families."
"I get the sense that there's a lot of distrust and disconnect between average people and our school system for different reasons, and I think the most important thing we can do right now is to reestablish that trust," Neafus said.
He said he plans to use common sense in his decision-making while also gathering feedback to inform his decisions.
"I'm not going to check my common sense at the door when I talk to people, but I'm definitely going to use that experience and advice to add what I bring to the table," he said. "The other thing is to never sacrifice your principals in whatever decision you make, even if you're the lone yes vote or the lone no vote."
At-large candidate Ronau is a mother of a student at Scribner Middle School, and she has experience in nonprofit advocacy with a focus on youth-serving agencies. She is the founder of NAFC Community Connections, an organization connecting schools with community partners to address needs.
She said in addition to oversight of the superintendent, the board needs to select a superintendent "who's capable and treats others with respect and allows our administrators to do their best work."
"It's also, as with most boards, to look ahead into the future and manage the strategic planning for our schools — that includes things like budget, policy and capital projects," she said.
Ronau said to be a good leader, she believes in making "space for everyone to do their best work." She said there will be a "long road of battling COVID recovery" in academics, and providing a quality workplace for educators and staff will be a priority to combat shortages.
She also believes in "bringing all stakeholders to the table to foster and build those relationships."
Stumler is a science and math teacher at Fort Knox High School, and he has six children who have gone to NAFCS, including a Floyd Central High School graduate. He also teaches virtual school to military children.
He said he believes in "strong public schools," and he will listen to concerns from the community when making decisions.
"You have to be able to work with everyone — school board members, administration, employees, parents, taxpayers, but most importantly, children and always have at the forefront of your mind what's best for our kids."
Stumler said he wants to work with the school board to "find real solutions."
"I don't claim to have all the answers, but I have experience, and I have ideas that I want to bring to the table," he said. "I think that broad amount of experience I have outside this school system can help us and strengthen us."
Drummond, a District 1 candidate, teaches in JCPS and serves as president of the Kentucky Association for Career and Technical Education. He has been an educator for 21 years, and he has three daughters in NAFCS.
He feels there's a "disunion between what's accomplished by the board and the community and their requests and their wants and needs," and he feels that "working together is imperative."
"I think my role would be, as a school board member, mending that relationship," Drummond said.
He said it is important for teachers to know they are valued, and he wants students to have the opportunity to be successful no matter who they are.
"I want them to be successful when they leave the doors of their high school," he said. "If we retain the best teachers, our students win. And if we build a culture in our buildings where our teachers are valued...and they have the autonomy to do their job, our teachers will win."
Northrup, a District 1 candidate, works as a mortgage loan officer. She is a Floyd Central graduate with four kids attending NAFCS.
She emphasized a need to support teachers in NAFCS.
"I've always been supportive of my kid's teachers — I highly believe in our district," Northrup said. "We have such a high level of quality already here, and I've always had great pride in our schools. I think that's something we've lost a little bit in the last couple years, and that's something I would love to help regain in our community and across our schools — to get that pride back."
Northrup said she makes decisions by asking questions, and she feels it is important to listen to and consider many different perspectives.
"Honestly, it's hard to come to a good decision without understanding each different set of perspectives within the group," she said.
Rufing, a District 1 candidate, runs and operates a real estate agency in Floyd Knobs. He is a Floyd Central graduate with two kids in the district.
His main reasons for running include focusing on school safety and "having equal opportunity for our kids to learn no matter what the level of their learning capabilities."
"I looked back and reflected back on my life and thought, what am I doing for the community," Rufing said.
Rufing said teamwork is vital to making decisions as a school board member, and he wants to understand the strengths of other board members.
"Teamwork and collaboration — finding other people's strengths and weaknesses — that's basically part of how I would personally make any decision, especially if that's not my strength," he said.
LEE ANN WISEHEART
Wiseheart is a NAFCS board member running for reelection for District 2, and she is a leader with the Indiana School Board Association. She has served on the board from 2006 to 2010 and from 2014 to present.
She views the selection a new superintendent as "one of the most important decisions to be made by the next board. She wants a leader who will help guide the district into a successful future, she said.
"It's just a critical role that I want to be a part of," she said.
Wiseheart said it is important for school board members to ask questions and to stay true to their convictions.
"If you say to me, this is a recommendation that we need for our students, then I'm going to say three things to you," she said. "I'm going to say, what are we doing now, how is this recommendation better for students and staff, and what is the financial impact."