SSISD board candidates say students deserve quality education

By BRUCE ALSOBROOK | News-Telegram Managing Editor

Apr. 27, 2007 - Students in the Sulphur Springs Independent School District need and deserve the best chance for a quality education, school board candidates said during a forum held Tuesday.

Three of the four candidates — incumbent Foy Williams and newcomers Clay Johnson and Mike Nordin — running for three seats attended the forum, presented as a non-partisan event by the Hopkins County Democratic Women's organization.

The fourth candidate, incumbent Carolyn Malone Thomas, is in Washington, D.C., where her first grandchild was recently born, but sent a statement that was read to those who turned out for the event.

Clay Johnson has a vested interest in the Sulphur Springs school system. Johnson, a local attorney, said his daughter, Emily, is a second grader at Bowie Elementary School, while a son, Matthew, will attend Early Childhood Elementary Center in the fall.

But there is another reason, Johnson said, looking around the room at educators like Jack Chubb, Patsy Bolton and fellow candidate Foy Williams, recalling how they helped him receive a strong education in Sulphur Springs.

"I want to be like these people," Johnson said. "I want to make a difference in a child's life."

If experience in school administration and teaching were the only requirement, Foy Williams would win hands down. He has bachelor's and master's degrees in education, taught for 17 years and was assistant principal at Sulphur Springs High School and principal at Sulphur Springs Middle School for some 9 years. He is currently a probation officer for the Eighth Judicial District.

"I believe in doing everything I can to help our students receive a quality education," he said. "They should have the very best education."

That includes hiring "the best people we can," giving them the best possible education facilities, and maintaining a safe, secure learning environment.

"They deserve that," Williams said.

Nordin said his ties to Hopkins County go way back — he said his family has been in the county since 1891. He has already seen two children graduate, and now has a 10-year-old in the fourth grade.

"I believe all of our children deserve the best opportunity for education we can give them," he said.

One of the few questions posed to the school board candidates was a familiar one: "Are all the coaches in the district necessary?"

"It seems like I have heard that before," quipped Williams, eliciting a chuckle from the audience. "When I first came here, it was the same thing."

But times have changed since Williams moved to Sulphur Springs in 1979, he pointed out, with many more programs for far more students, not to mention more activities, such as soccer, softball and volleyball.

And don't forget, he said, that "these coaches are also teaching in the classroom," spending two-thirds of their day as academics instructors.

"The majority of coaches I've heard about are great teachers," he said. "And if we didn't have them, we'd have to hire someone else to teach in the classroom, as well."

Johnson said he didn't know if the number of coaches was "out of whack" compared to other schools, but he did mention a friendship with one coach.

"One of my friends is John McCullough, who gave up a lot of his nights and weekends to teach honors classes," Johnson said. 

McCullough was recently named principal of Sulphur Springs High School.

Nordin also recalled the value of coaches who can also be capable instructors.

"They provided me with just as good an education as any of the other teachers," he said. "I think they're necessary."

When asked if they had any special qualificiations for the job, Williams was quick to point to his experience, while Johnson noted the legal process has many similarities to the way school boards conduct business.

Nordin, however, may have been the most candid.

"I, unfortunately, have no qualifications for the job," he said. "More than anything else, I just want to serve this community."

Carolyn Malone Thomas has bachelor's degrees in education and a master's in social service administration. She is active in several ministries at East Caney Missionary Baptist Church. She is also vice president of the local NAACP chapter.

In a prepared statement, she writes that she wants to "continue the process of learning and performing the unique responsibilities of serving as an SSISD trustee after serving three years on the school board."

�"It�s an awesome responsibility of managing the academic, financial, structural, and character building elements that prepare our students to live responsibly in the world and stand out as leaders," she wrote. "I want to continue working with our 'Team of 8 (seven school board members and the superintendent)� to make sure that every person working in this district is affirmed and rewarded for high performance in their job positions so our students continue to excel."

One of the most pressing issues facing the board, she wrote, is maintaining a curriculum that fits every student and helps them choose their life path after finishing high school.

"Another pressing issue is that we continue to educate our community mindset about the totality of the educational experience, where academics are teamed with the arts, athletics, specialty areas and technical offerings as the total package, and not one taking precedence over the others."

Finally, Thomas wrote, Sulphur Springs is growing and the school system is an important element in economic development in our area. 

"We must seriously make plans to build more schools as we grow," she concluded. "That means looking at various financial sources to pay for expansion."

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