The three candidates for superintendent in Lauderdale County agree that a high voter turnout next Tuesday should be a positive factor in their race for the seat.
They also share similar thoughts that not having an incumbent in the race has been a game-changer, since Superintendent Bill Valentine is retiring and not seeking re-election.
But aside from those two factors, the similarity between the three ends.
Candidate Jennifer B. Gray is a Democrat running on her lengthy education career in Lauderdale County and her expertise in fiscal matters and dealing with the big budgets of the system’s federal programs.
Scott Jones is a Republican who heads the party in Lauderdale County and is likewise a longtime educator in the Lauderdale school system.
He is in his third year as assistant principal at Waterloo and Central schools.
Marty Mosley is seeking the post as an independent with strong convictions about allowing the public a choice to vote for an individual instead of a political party. He is in his eighth year as assistant principal at Lexington School.
Gray said she has focused on getting her message out to voters in hopes that candidate qualifications will win over political party affiliation.
“I have goals and a vision for the system and I want the public to understand that those are characteristics that are important to the system,” Gray said. “Communication is vital. We’re trying to do a better job system wide of presenting to our employees and the community what the state is requiring of us. We have to communicate better from the central office throughout the system and from within the communities.
“We’ve got a really good school system but I don’t think the people throughout our communities really realize it and that’s our fault. We have to communicate better and that will be my priority.”
Gray said her question to the teachers in the system as well as to the communities served by the school district will be, “What can I do for you?”
“Our people need to know that we’re here to help them in the classroom,” she said. “That question must be asked in our communities, too, because that’s the only way to improve.”
Gray listed growing programs like dual enrollment among those that must continue to thrive while focus continues on first generation college students and adding career technical courses.
“We’ve got to build stronger partnerships with businesses,” Gray said. “It’s an opportunity we’re missing. I’ve talked with some business groups that would love to work with our schools, it’s just a matter of putting that into play.”
Gray said getting additional school resource officers will be among her priorities early on if elected.
“We only have one in the county now and more officers would not only provide greater safety in our schools but allow us to take more preventative (safety) measures.”
For Jones, a large voter turnout could signify that various segments of the population are taking a position in the election, perhaps because of strong opinions on national races.
“I think there’s going to be a segment of the population that’s never been politically active that will vote Republican this time,” Jones said, adding that it should benefit him in his bid for superintendent. “The whole political climate has changed and not running against an incumbent changes things.”
Listening to the public is crucial, Jones said.
“The general public wants to see our trade program enhanced and I’ve been preaching that for years,” he said, listing the addition of electrical, plumbing, heating and air conditioning, drafting and masonry as some must-have offerings for the district. “If we’re going to grow this economy, we have to have all those programs. The culture and the mindset has to change. The key to getting students in those programs is marketing them well.
“As an education system, we’ve tried to run all our kids through a narrow scope and that doesn’t work. I don’t want our kids to get a four-year degree and still have a low standard of living.”
He said he’d strive to improve technology in the system also, because “it’s very limited.”
“Everything is technology driven today and we’ve got to get on top of it,” he said.
“When we improve the very things, like technology, that make teachers’ lives easier, we will see morale improve in the system. The low morale in the system isn’t all indicative of (local) leadership, but the economy and all the state cuts and mandates.”
Mosley said the campaigning process has generated a lot of positive feedback for him but some have questioned why he chose to run as an independent.
“I looked at how I vote and how I believe and I’m thinking other people do that, too,” Mosley said.
As for the issues facing the system, Mosley said hiring practices throughout the system, the policy regarding internal transfers and the lack of raises for employees are all concerns.
“I think morale is low primarily because of the lack of raises and increased class sizes,” he said, adding that enrollment drives state funding. “We’ve lost people due to retirement and they’ve not been replaced. That puts additional strain on teachers.
“We’ve got to get busy promoting our school system well so we can increase enrollment and get more state funding. We’re losing students to private and home schools, but we can turn that around if we promote our system properly.”
He said his eight years in school administration has provided him the experience in working with students and parents that would give him an advantage as superintendent.
Mosley holds a doctorate in education administration. Gray is a candidate for her doctorate in instructional leadership.
Mosley said the fact that he has two children in the school system also gives him special insight into issues in the district.
“I’ll be hearing from them regularly about what’s going on in the schools,” he said. “I’ll set a tone, get out in the schools and be seen. Students need to know who I am and the principals need to know they have the superintendent’s support. We’ll set the tone for the classroom and hold a high expectation for students and have them prepared for college or a career, produce good citizens and good workers. I want employers to know that when they hire a Lauderdale County school system graduate, they have a good employee.
Lisa Singleton-Rickman can be reached at 256-740-5735 or lisa.singleton-rickman@TimesDaily.com.
Annual salary: $112,000
Term: 4 years
Occupation: Lauderdale County schools director of federal programs/ elementary curriculum
Occupation: Assistant principal at Waterloo/Central schools
Occupation: Assistant principal at Lexington School