Newcomers vie for GOP nomination for at-large school board
Murphy – The Republican nomination in the race for the at-large seat on the Cherokee County Board of Education will be contested by two candidates in the Tuesday, May 8, primary.
Political newcomers Keesha Curtis and Tylor Dockery will vie for the chance to oppose incumbent school board member Tim Coffey in the fall. Independent Steve Coleman also has announced his intention to run in the general election.
Curtis and Dockery discussed issues facing the school system on April 11 at a debate co-hosted by the Cherokee Scout and WKRK radio.
Curtis, a native of Polk County, Tenn., and resident of Ranger, has three children in the school system. She graduated from Tri-County Community College in Peachtree with a nursing degree, and also is a parent volunteer and substitute teacher. Curtis is a volunteer firefighter as well.
“We need to be a voice for our kids and support our teachers and students,” she said.
Curtis said she did not think it was financially or logistically feasible to consolidate schools right now.
“Right now, consolidation is not a good idea,” she said. “You’re going to have more transportation, more kids on the road. We have to get our kids to school safe, get them home safe.
“It would take $80 million to fix everything wrong with all the schools and get three activity buses, which we need. … If you try to build three different schools from kindergarten to 12th grade, that will be $180 million, and that’s just not feasible.”
Curtis added that larger classes in potentially consolidated schools would have less attention for students and more stress for teachers. Building a new facility for Tri-County Early College, as has been discussed, would not be a priority for her if she is a school board member.
“Murphy and Hiwassee Dam are two of the oldest schools in our county, and that’s what we need to focus on,” she said. “We need to focus on these structures for our kids.”
Curtis said teachers here need incentives to stay in the county rather than going to Georgia or Tennessee for more pay. She also stressed the importance of resource officers and nurses at each campus.
“There are so many medical challenges for kids where they have to bring medicine to school and they depend on that medication,” she said. “For SROs, maybe we can get retired veterans to come in and protect these kids.”
Curtis also stressed policies that help students prepare for real-life situations would be beneficial.
Dockery is a 2014 Murphy High School graduate and recent graduate of N.C. State University. The Unaka resident works as an engineer and also is a firefighter and emergency medical technician.
“We need a long-term plan for the school system,” he said. “We have kind of gone year-by-year lately.”
Dockery said he supports the community school model.
“The voters and Cherokee County like their community-based schools,” he said. “We’re going to have to spend more money on the schools to keep them up. …
“The small schools we have now really serve the student, so I would like to see that kept, but we will have to work with the commissioners to get money to support them.”
Dockery has mixed feelings about a new building for Tri-County Early College High School, saying it will be difficult for the county to find the $5 million match.
“If we are going to treat the Early College like a real high school, I do think they need a proper building,” he said. “They have been stuffed away in trailers for a while. … If we are going to have four high schools, they all need to be in a permanent foundation building.”
Dockery said keeping qualified teachers will require bonuses of some kind. He agreed with Curtis that more SROs and nurses are needed, but it will be tough financially to go from four to 13 in one year.
“We could progressively expand SROs and nurses, maybe two this year and more in the future,” he said.
Dockery said test scores are not the be-all, end-all of judging a student’s education.
“The test doesn’t always represent the education,” he said. “You have to take it with a grain of salt. You have to take a holistic view of what the kids are learning.”