Highland School Board Meeting Follow-Up – The Board Weighs In

As the final part of my follow-up on last week’s Highland School Board meeting, I spoke with the Board members.

Kenny Hodges:

“Well first off, I’d say I’ll do a caveat of this is me speaking as Kenny Hodges, one school board member, not as a whole school board.”

“When we went into the meeting, we had not discussed this as three school board members sitting down to have a discussion about it. I had made the comment that, as things were, I had a problem with voting for it, as it was. After going into the meeting, and seeing the positive effect that this has for the students, not only the Highland County students, but the out of state and out of district students, and that is that we’re getting paid the same amount for each one of those students. We’re only increasing our numbers in the classrooms very little, and sometimes it’s even a positive increase, so that you don’t have too low numbers. We also, when we listened to the fact that we had two sports teams that were going bite the dust, if we lost the students, then that’s another motivator. Sports are important, clubs are important – they all affect the overall growth of a student. So, after looking at all this, to me, it was a no brainer on how I had to vote for it. And that was that we were doing a positive thing.”

He continued, “Now, with that being said, I made the comment that you had two new school board members, and these two new school board members are asking a lot of questions. We came on board right in the middle of a budget session. We came on board right in the middle of this decision, and we’re told that we need it to make decisions immediately on these things. And sometimes it’s hard to get all the information and your facts together, so you can do that.”

“When I was running for school board, I had made the comment that I was against the out of state students coming. Part of that was on being approached by several taxpayers in our community who had this same concern. I hope that after looking at the positive aspect of this, that maybe we’ve answered some questions for them.”

“We, as school board members, have to do what’s best: number one for the student; number two for the teacher, and we want to keep and nurture good teachers; and number three, we have to look at the taxpayers, because I’m a taxpayer too. And all these things play into every decision that we make. We’re probably not ever going to please everybody. And we have to live with that. But our main concern is doing what’s best for the student.”

I asked Mr. Hodges his thoughts on the circumstances leading to the public interest and turnout, including the Superintendent’s meeting with parents and social media discussion.

“The only thing that I could say about that is, that the information that went out to the parents was put out on the assumption of what he thought was going to happen with the school board members. And as I said, a moment ago, we had not had time to sit down as a board. You know, a lot of times when you sit down and have discussions, your mind can be changed on somebody else’s feelings. They may point out a good point that you haven’t seen. I mean, we don’t always see everything from every side. So I hope that the type of school board meeting that they saw the other night will be something that we continue to do and that will be bring this stuff out in the open, discuss it in the open and vote on it in the open – to be transparent with our taxpayers, and if they have questions, let them come to these meetings, so they know how we operate.”

“And I’ll say this about what happened on social media with this situation was a good thing. It was not a bad thing. And the people that were on social media were very nice in what they had to say, they weren’t being slanderous – they were trying to find out the truth. And that’s a good thing. I think we could have made some phone calls to some of the school board members, and maybe had some fears alleviated before all this happened. You know, you hate to stir up controversy, and fear. Fear is one of the worst things that you can have. And I know from when I was a school teacher, no school teacher wants to hear the words ‘school jobs are going to be cut’. No parent wants to hear the words ‘my student’s not gonna be able to go to school there anymore’.

I asked Mr. Hodges his thoughts on the circumstances leading to the public interest and turnout, including the Superintendent’s meeting with parents, and social media discussion.

I also had conversations with the two other Board members. Joe Neil expressed the opinion that he would like to see the out of district policy remain in perpetuity until it could be shown that is was a burden versus being beneficial. And Board chair Sherry Sullenberger indicated she was not pleased with the circumstances which led to public concern, but having said that, she was pleased with the public interest and turnout, and with the conclusion. She did say “In a personal conversation with just myself and the Superintendent, I have said to him, you will have to earn the trust of the new Board, that’s not a given, and we will have to earn your trust, that’s not a given. And it doesn’t happen overnight.”

Story By

Scott Smith

Scott Smith is the General Manager for Allegheny Mountain Radio and Station Coordinator and News Reporter for WVLS. Scott’s family has deep roots in Highland County. While he did not grow up here, he spent as much time as possible on the family farm, and eventually moved to Highland to continue the tradition, which he still pursues with his cousin. Unfortunately, farming doesn’t pay all the bills, so he has previously taken other jobs to support his farming hobby, including pressman/writer for The Recorder, and Ag Projects Coordinator for The Highland Center. He lives in Hightown with wife Michelle and son Ethan. In his spare time, he wishes he had more spare time, especially to ride his prized Harley-Davidson motorcycle. scott@amrmail.org

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