Most candidates running for Washington County Board of Education seats agree that online distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic will help students meet an uncertain future.
In the spring, students met the challenges of going from in-person to virtual learning, the candidates said during a Thursday forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Washington County.
The candidates said students continue to meet those challenges.
“We’re experiencing it now because we’ve had to make a major shift due to COVID,” incumbent board member Pieter Bickford said. “It wasn’t perfect in the spring, but we’ve certainly made some major improvements in the fall. I think we’re going to see some benefits once schools get back to normal. The things we’re doing today will never change.”
The seven candidates running in the Nov. 3 election for four open seats on the school board shared their views on several subjects during the forum, which was held Facebook due to the pandemic.
The moderator for the forum was Eric Schwartz, assistant professor of political science at Hagerstown Community College.
The first question went to board President Melissa Williams, Vice President Stan Stouffer, challenger William “Bill” Donahue and Bickford. The candidates shared their vision for keeping pace with changes and innovations in education.
“I would like to have every graduate of Washington County prepared to be successful in the workplace, in the armed services, if that’s the route they chose, in a trade school or in an institution of higher education,” Williams said.
Stouffer said change is necessary, but only if there is a purpose.
“I think sometimes we make changes in education just for the sake of change, and that’s not always good,” he said. “We do have to change with the times. I’ve been involved in changes through the years. I’m a little cynical about change sometimes because in my 42 years, I saw things come and disappear and come back again under a new name.”
Donahue said students today have the technology they need to carry them through the 21st century.
Other candidates were asked the importance of attracting and retaining teachers.
Challenger Benjamin Forrest said it is important to provide an adequate salary to prevent teachers from leaving the school district.
Challenger April A. Zentmeyer said providing teachers a safe working environment is critical.
“Also, empowering teachers as professionals,” she said. “They’re on the front line. They know the problems. They know how to brainstorm solutions, and we need to look to them, sometimes more often, as the source of the solutions for problems.”
Challenger Ladetra Robinson was asked how to increase the number of seniors leaving high school for college or a trade school.
“We have to mentor the students,” she said. “We’ve got to teach the students that there’s more to just graduating from high school. We need to have classes where they’re teaching the kids what else is out there. We’ve got to keep the kids focused, and let all kids know if possible to go on to higher education.”