CoastLine Candidate Interviews: Brunswick County Board of Education Candidates -- Democrats
On this edition of the CoastLine Candidate Interviews, we’ll hear from the two Democrats seeking seats on Brunswick County’s Board of Education.
There are five members on the Board – one representing each district in Brunswick County. The four-year terms are staggered, and elections are held every two years. In 2016, Districts 1, 2, and 4 have open seats. No Democrats filed for District 1, however, which means that Republican Ed Lemon has no formal opposition. Write-in candidates are permitted.
In District 2, Republican Incumbent Catherine Cooke faces Democratic challenger Sharon Woodard Crawford.
And in District 4, Republican Ellen Milligan edged out long-time board member Shirley Babson who had served on the Board for 24 years – albeit during two different time frames. Milligan faces Democrat Marty Mentzer.
Nearly 82,000 residents in Brunswick County are white, almost 9,000 are black, less than a thousand are Hispanic and about 3300 fall into a category called “other”. The majority of registered voters, 35,000, are Republicans. Unaffiliated voters make up the next largest category – at 32,000, and registered Democrats make up the third group at just shy of 27,000 people.
Segment One: Sharon Woodard Crawford, Democratic candidate for Brunswick County’s Board of Education, District 2
Rachel Lewis Hilburn: Sharon Woodard Crawford, welcome to CoastLine.
Sharon Woodard Crawford: Thank you for having me.
RLH: Tell us why you’re running for Board of Education in Brunswick County. What do you bring to this that other people don’t?
Sharon Woodard Crawford: I don’t have any experience when it comes to politics. When I say the slate is wiped clean, it is truly clean. I think, in a sense, that’s a good thing because it means I can be objective. I can see things with a new mind, new sight, new vision. I’ve been a parent in the Brunswick County school system since my oldest was in pre-school. Back then, they actually had pre-school in Brunswick County, some of the schools had it. The majority of my kids though went through Longwood Head Start. I think that my son, there are things he struggled with while he was attending Brunswick County schools that could have been avoided had we had the assistance of the school system. Many times, a parent in Brunswick County schools feels left alone, like you don’t have any support from the administration, and I think that’s sad when you have a parent calling out there for help and trying to seek resources and can’t find the appropriate resources to help your child.
RLH: And what kind of resources do you think should have been available to your son at the time?
Sharon Woodard Crawford: Not only my son, my daughter as well. First of all, I want to say that I adopted my children. Many times when you adopt a child, I refer to it as a cake, but you don’t know what all the ingredients are, and you want to give your child all the love and support that you can, but sometimes there might be mental illnesses or behavioral problems that you aren’t told about when you first get them, and you just have to try to figure it out as you go along. With my daughter, there were some behavioral issues. I contacted the administration, the principals, the teachers with no avail. Instead of them trying to help me with my child, they wanted to penalize the parent or say, “Maybe you didn’t parent that child appropriately. Maybe you didn’t do this appropriately.” Instead of trying to figure out what it would take to help my child comprehend the lesson plans. We’re going to get into it a little later, but sometimes we want to treat each child as if it’s a cookie cutter system, and you can’t do that. You have to look at each child as an individual and figure out how that child comprehends and learns.
RLH: So if you were to be elected to the school board, how would that observation that you just made about each child needing its own approach and the school system providing resources based on the needs of the child, how would that translate into policy?
Sharon Woodard Crawford: One thing we’ve done in the past is we’ve taken out the TAs from the classroom. Back in the day, teacher assistants were great resources for the teachers. If that child needed extra help with reading, the teacher can tell the TA what the child needed and that TA could sit one-on-one with the child while the teacher continued on with the lesson plan with the other children that didn’t need any help, that were able to comprehend, and meanwhile, that helped that child that was having trouble continue to catch up with the rest. Nowadays, we don’t do that. If that child can’t get it, oh well, we’re using Common Core, and this is what the structure says, and that’s what we’re going to do, and we’re moving forward.
RLH: So you’re saying that child is going to be left behind.
Sharon Woodard Crawford: Exactly, even though we teach No Child Left Behind.
Pat (caller): When the candidate referred to resources not being available to help her children, is she referring to the school principal, the central office staff (superintendent, etc.), and/or the school board? Which group did not provide your children with the resources you say they needed but didn’t get?
Sharon Woodard Crawford: I think a lot of times, the principals can’t do any more than the administrative staff allows them to do, first of all. I think that sometimes principals’ hands are tied. I know that they have a hard job ahead of them. I mean, look how many students are at West Brunswick. I want to give them that benefit of a doubt. However, when you come to a child that has behavioral issues and that kind of sort, instead of taking on that child and looking to see why that child is having so many disciplinary problems and issues, you ship them off to another school called BCA and you set them in the corner as if that’s going to fix the problem. It doesn’t. All it does is move the problem from one school to the next instead of trying to figure out what that child as an individual needed.
RLH: Pat asks a very good question about what you ran into when you said, “Hey, my son needs help.” So who kind of shut the door?
Sharon Woodard Crawford: The teachers shut the door. All they did was write that the child couldn’t understand, has behavioral issues, and they couldn’t deal with him. They cut it off because— I understand they have a job to do. Their job is to teach the student population as a whole, but meanwhile you have this one child that was having issues. Instead of trying to figure out what that child needed, you ship them off to BCA, and I didn’t think that that was appropriate.
RLH: Tell us about what it’s like on the campaign trail for you. This is a race that’s fairly far down the ballot, which makes it hard to raise money and probably hard to get the word out about who you are and what you’re doing. Are you out at early voting sites these days, meeting people? What is it like campaigning in a district that is primarily Republican?
Sharon Woodard Crawford: I have been to some churches. I have been to a few events. I have been involved with the debates. I’ll be honest, it’s been scary.
RLH: What’s been the scariest part of it for you?
Sharon Woodard Crawford: This is new to me. I guess I was scared as to how I’d be perceived because being that I don’t have any political experience, I do have a voice, and I do have opinions, and I do have ideas that I think would work for the school system. There have been many times when I have talked to different candidates and the administration, and instead of them listening to me, I feel like they pushed me aside, as if I didn’t know what I was talking about, and I don’t think that’s fair. I think the school board ought to be able to listen to the parents. I know that they do have a parent meeting once a month. From what I understand, only one of the school board members attends that meeting every month. I think that they need to be more involved in that to hear what the parents are saying. That’s what we’re there for. We’re supposed to support the students as well as the parents, but I feel like the school board is falling short on that.
RLH: Tell our listeners a little about your background. What do you do for a living? How long have you been living in Brunswick County?
Sharon Woodard Crawford: My mother was born here in Brunswick County. My father was in the military, so we retired back here. I graduated from West Brunswick High School. Back when I was at West Brunswick High School, there were teachers like Mrs. Winfrey, Mrs. Aldridge, and Mrs. Williams. I will never forget these instructors because they made a difference in my life. I remember one teacher told me, “Whatever you do, always be a lady. Always present yourself as a lady.” That’s something I took to heart. Mrs. Winfrey got me involved with FBLA, [Future Business Leaders of America]. She got me hooked up with, at that time it was the Shallotte Women’s Club. I was doing public speaking back then. I didn’t really know what public speaking was, I just loved to talk. [Laughs.] But Shallotte Women’s Club sponsored me and took me from the district to the state. I went national. I went all the way to New York with Shallotte Women’s Club. We as women of today need to reach back and support some of those young girls at the schools and let them know, “You can make it. You can be somebody.” I have two degrees. I graduated from Brunswick Community College. At BCC, it was in general education, but at Miller-Motte College-Wilmington, I got my business administration and my medical assistant degrees, and after that, I went and got my certification in nursing home administration. And I did that for the past fifteen years. The last position I had was in Greensboro, and when I moved back home, I couldn’t find a job. So I got back on the school bus. I drove the school bus for the high school, and I never thought I’d have to get back on that bus again. But you know what? It was a challenge, and I’m kind of glad I did because it helped me see things that needed to be changed at the school, and it let me know that the bus drivers need to be supported and the teachers need to be supported. [Support] starts at the head and trickles down. We have to show that we’re concerned about their issues.
RLH: What do you think needs to be done about the low-performing schools in Brunswick County, such as Leland Middle, Cedar Grove Middle, Supply Elementary School, and Jessie Mae Monroe Rowe Elementary School?
Sharon Woodard Crawford: I mentioned earlier about considering each child as an individual. I do not support Common Core because Common Core is set up so that every child is taught the same. You have some children that are audio learners. You have others that are visual learners. That’s why I think we need to do what’s best so that that child can comprehend. If you’ve got a child that isn’t doing well in math, then we’ve got to figure out how that child learns. My sister went to school for education. She graduated from UNCW with a finance degree, and accounting as a minor. So, when my children have trouble in math, she’d do their homework with them. Well now, math has changed, so even though the answer still comes out the same, she teaches them the old method, so they do the homework the old school way, but then when they get to school—get this—I’ve seen them get marks off of their homework assignment because they came up with the answer the old school way versus the new way of learning. Now you help me understand that because one plus one is always going to be two, no matter how you add it up.
RLH: Do you support or oppose the proposed $152 million school bond, which is on the November ballot?
Sharon Woodard Crawford: I do support it. Since I’ve been out here on the candidacy and going to different sites, I’ve learned so much more about it. I do support it, but I think the funds need to be utilized appropriately. I want to make sure that the funds aren’t spread out to cushion administration.
RLH: Is that a concern of yours?
Sharon Woodard Crawford: That is a concern of mine because if you go up to the Board of Education, you’ll find that the administrator has an assistant, and then the assistant has an assistant. I don’t understand that concept. To me, that is a position that could be phased out and those funds can go towards the school system, can go towards putting a TA to work. Actually, at the price that they’re being paid, it could pay for two TAs. There was a time when TAs couldn’t make a lot of money in the school, but we allowed them to drive buses. That helped with the bus shortage. What did we do? We took the TAs off of the bus. We made the TA choose: You can either drive the bus or work in the school. And then after that, we got rid of the TAs, so we totally phased them out altogether. I mean, we defeated the purpose.
RLH: So you think there could be cutting when it comes to administration and management but there needs to be beefing up of the actual teaching staff?
Sharon Woodard Crawford: Yes, definitely. I think that’s where the shortcoming is. If we support these teachers and give them the pay they should have, we wouldn’t be losing good teachers to South Carolina. I’ve seen teachers that go across the state line to work. I remember there was a chorus teacher, Mrs. Leanne Smith, and Mrs. Leanne took West Brunswick Chorus all the way to Nationals, and they won. When she came back to West Brunswick, she asked them for a pay raise. They declined her pay raise. After taking them to Nationals? Really? So then she went to South Carolina, and they gave her a bonus and a pay raise because they appreciated someone of her caliber. I think that’s where the problem is. We don’t appreciate our teachers.
RLH: What would you do then? Is it just a pay question? What would you do to decrease the teacher turnover rate in Brunswick County?
Sharon Woodard Crawford: I think pay is part of the problem, but I think they need assistance in these classrooms. Teachers are having to deal with behavior issues, and they have no TA to help assist them. Therefore, they’re losing control over their classrooms because you have so many children that have mental illnesses and behavioral issues. I mean, the number of kids with ADHD is remarkable. I just can’t believe it, but that’s what’s going on these days. We have to make adjustments for that in order to educate our children.
RLH: How are you different from your Republican opponent, and why do you think you’d make a better fit for the Brunswick County Board of Education than she would?
Sharon Woodard Crawford: We are totally different.
RLH: How, specifically?
Sharon Woodard Crawford: One thing is, she opposes the bond. She thinks we ought to pay off the current debt first. From what I understand, the current debt will be paid off in the next two or three years. My thing is, we’re going to make children that are in the system right now suffer from a debt that’s getting ready to be paid off anyway. Even if we incorporate that debt, it’s only going to raise the taxpayer $80, I believe, that’s what I’ve heard—
RLH: It depends, but for a $200,000 home, that homeowner would be paying around $75-76.
Sharon Woodard Crawford: Yeah, so you’re going to have children neglected in their educational experience because of $80. Really? I don’t see—it’s like comparing apples to oranges. I think we need to go ahead and take care of this matter while we have it instead of saying that these children need to go ahead and suffer these next two or three years until this debt is paid off. I think that’s uncalled for.
RLH: The school voucher program allows parents to use state funds for the school of their choice. Do you support that program?
Sharon Woodard Crawford: I understand there’s a reason for the school vouchers, and I think we ought to have a choice in where we send our children, but I think that those schools ought to be held accountable for the resources they receive. I think that we ought to make them accountable for how they spend that money, and I think the pubic should be able to look at that. It shouldn’t be private because if you’re going to receive public funds, then I want to know where you’re spending my money. That’s the way I feel about it.
RLH: How do you think the school system should be handling HB2?
Sharon Woodard Crawford: Um, HB2? Is that—
RLH: That’s House Bill 2, the bill that was passed earlier this year that LGBT proponents say stripped protections for that community, and it also requires people in public buildings, which would include the school system, to use the bathroom according to the gender on their birth certificate, not the gender with which they identify.
Sharon Woodard Crawford: Oh, yes. I understand now. I’ll be honest. I think that boys need to be boys, and if you’re a boy, you need to be going to the boy’s bathroom. I don’t like the thought of my daughter or my granddaughter going to a bathroom with a man beside them, using the same stall. I do know that when we go to airports, they have unisex bathrooms all day long, but they’re going to the bathroom by themselves. So maybe if we did that at the school, and we had those bathrooms that were set aside for unisex, and if they went into that particular bathroom, I think that would be okay, but I don’t want them to be going into the same stall, so that you have a man urinating beside a woman. I hate to be blunt, but I think that they ought to be separate. But I think that if you had unisex bathrooms set aside for them, then that’s fine.
RLH: In this particular election, even if both Democratic candidates are elected, you will still be a political minority on the Board. There will be three Republicans.
Sharon Woodard Crawford: I know.
RLH: So what would you say to voters who say, “Well, there’s no point in me voting for a Democratic candidate because either way, if there’s ever a partisan split on an issue, the Democrats are never going to win the point?”
Sharon Woodard Crawford: That is one of my biggest fears: that I’ll win and not be able to make a difference. With that being said, that’s a risk I’ve got to take. I’ve got to let my voice be heard. If I sit back and I don’t say anything, then I’m not even trying. We need to try. If we don’t try and things don’t go our way, then it’s our fault. I think that we ought to step out there, and that’s what I’ve done. I said earlier that this is kind of scary, you know, because this is virgin land that I’m walking on, I’ve never been through this before, but at the same note, I’m excited about the opportunity.
RLH: We hear so much about the polarization of the electorate—especially right now, twelve days out from Election Day. What will you do on the school board to unify the dialogue and change the tone in this country, in this community, in the county?
Sharon Woodard Crawford: I think it takes one voice. I cannot believe the support that I’ve received since I said I was going to run for this. It kind of makes me tear up. It only takes one person to make a change, but it has to start with one person.
RLH: And how do you make that change? How do you change the tone of the dialogue?
Sharon Woodard Crawford: I was at the school today, and I was asking different folks if they were going to vote, [and they said,] “No, it doesn’t matter.” Of course it matters. Our forefathers died for us to have that privilege to vote, so how dare we sit back and say that our vote doesn’t matter? To me, that’s a disgrace. That’s like saying everything they worked for is in vain, and we can’t do that.
RLH: So when you think about your top priorities, if you are elected to the school board. You’re wrapping up your first term. It’s the year 2020 and you’re looking back. What has changed on the school board? How have Brunswick County schools improved because of your presence?
Sharon Woodard Crawford: Oh, I like that question. [Laughs.] One, we would have taken some of our decrepit schools and remodeled them. There are school that still have trailers. Now, they had trailers in 1986 when I was there, and here it is, 2016, and my children are still sitting in those same trailers. We need to change that. I think we need to build classrooms. I think we need to buy new buses. I will say this, they did buy new buses this year. Kudos to the school board for that. We need to add TAs to the school program. We need to give the TAs the option to drive the buses to help with the shortage of bus drivers. We need to give our bus drivers benefits. I’ll tell you something else: The schools need to be kept cleaner as well. I had a situation at West [Brunswick], and I thank god for the principal there. The principal did a good job for me. I had called and was complaining because I had been to some of the schools, and they weren’t clean. He actually fixed that for me. He stepped up to the plate.
RLH: Sharon Woodard Crawford, thank you so much for joining us today.
Sharon Woodard Crawford: Thank you.
Segment Two: Marty Mentzer, Democratic candidate for Brunswick County’s Board of Education, District 4
Rachel Lewis Hilburn: Marty Mentzer, welcome to CoastLine.
Marty Mentzer: Thank you, Rachel. It’s great to be here at WHQR. I want to say a thanks to all my supporters out there, and I also want to recognize three endorsements of support from three fine organizations who have confidence in me: the Southeastern Labor Council, the Brunswick County Association of Educators, and the Brunswick County Association of Realtors. I’m delighted to be here to speak about a topic I’m very passionate about: education.
RLH: Tell us why you decided to run for the Board? What are you bringing to the table that you think the other candidates really don’t bring?
Marty Mentzer: What I’m bringing is a voice that is not afraid to speak up on important issues. As a teacher in the classroom, hands on with students for over 26 years in Brunswick County schools, I feel I’m the missing piece on the school board that can give the teacher perspective, the voice, the connection to our school board.
RLH: How does that translate into policy? As a teacher, what do you think the school board doesn’t understand?
Marty Mentzer: First of all, teachers directly impact students, and that directly shows in their performance and learning. So, with the teacher perspective in the hiring of other teachers and administrators and managing that, I add that voice that knows what is needed from within the classroom.
RLH: And are there specifics you can give us about what’s needed that you think just isn’t there right now?
Marty Mentzer: Well one issue I’d like to address is the teacher morale. It is low at the moment. I just read statistics. We know that teacher pay is low. In North Carolina, we’re 46th in teacher pay in the nation, and what they’ve taken away from us in Raleigh—such as teacher assistants, such as Master’s pay, such as longevity pay—have discouraged us. I’ll give a quote from June Atkinson, our state superintendent. It says, teachers did not go into teaching expecting to become millionaires, but they also don’t expect to go in taking a vow of poverty either. That piece is missing from our school board. We have so much good teaching going on, innovative teaching, and we need to celebrate that, celebrate what’s going right. For example, 82% proficiency on our eighth grade science tests last year. Celebrate that and bring that knowledge to our school board.
RLH: How does the school board impact teacher pay, and how can the school board make a difference when it comes to policy because we’ve had this discussion at the state level, certainly, but what does the local school board do?
Marty Mentzer: Thank you for asking that because locally, we need to find ways to fund a raise in teacher supplements and to reinstate longevity pay at the local level. I know New Hanover County is doing some really good things to draw in teachers at high-risk schools where it’s more difficult and challenging as a teacher. They offer a 14% raise over what Brunswick County is offering, so some of our teachers are coming up here to teach. We want our good North Carolina teaching going on all over our state, but particularly in Brunswick County where we’re losing teachers across the state line, where they can get $10,000 more per year. So we have to find, locally, ways to retain teachers even with affordable housing. Perhaps State Employee’s Credit Union can build housing for teachers to bring them in and give them something affordable so they don’t have to work two jobs to make end’s meet.
RLH: So, clearly, teacher pay and teacher morale is the issue that you’re leading with.
Marty Mentzer: Yes, ma’am.
RLH: What are some of your other priorities, if you are to be elected to the Board?
Marty Mentzer: One element I really want to address is the dropout rate in Brunswick County. It went up slightly, whereas neighboring Pender County came down on theirs. So we need to address that. One way to address it is expanding the vocational education programs, creating a school that could give the kids the trades, the workforce skills they need to stay in school. We have a prestigious early college high school that is addressing the college-bound students very well, and I would like to have a similar type of education for our kids that have mechanical talents and needs. So, we need to expand those trades to do that.
RLH: So you’re talking about a CTE school, along the lines of what New Hanover County is working on.
Marty Mentzer: Exactly, and I’ve been in contact with other school board members in other districts who are doing very good things in that area of trades and career technical areas as well.
RLH: Running for school board cannot be an easy job. It’s harder to raise money than it is for candidates further up the ballot. How are you getting the word out about who you are and what you’re doing? When you go to the polls during early voting, I’m sure you’re finding a lot of people who know exactly which presidential candidate they’re voting for, but do people even know who the candidates are for school board?
Marty Mentzer: Well, that’s one of my gifts, as a teacher, being able to contact people. I also do have social media, Facebook – Mentzer for School Board. But I’m out there at the polls, and I’m out there in the classroom still. I’m retired, as you said, but I’m still substitute teaching, coaching, and until I get a seat on the school board, I can do that. I want people to see a face and know that they can trust the teacher. So many fine folks of Brunswick County know me from my years teaching or coaching their children, and now those children are grown and coming out to the polls to vote. I’m trying to educate them to do that.
RLH: So you have been out to the polls?
Marty Mentzer: Yes, ma’am. I went the first day. Of course, I had to go after my school day from three to six o’clock. There’s a good turnout at the polls. I have some fine literature that Ms. Barbara Stanley of Skippergraphics, a shout out to her, that put together some campaign literature. I received some really good endorsements and donations that have been very helpful.
Adam (caller): How would the candidate feel about the reintegration of schools? If you go back and historically look when reintegration was mandated, standardized test scores rose across the board—about 50% in some cases. That’s for both black and white students. What would your thoughts be on promoting some sort of reintegration process for our schools?
Marty Mentzer: In Brunswick County, as I know from teaching and coaching, we’re very well integrated. We have equal population, black and white students. There’s an even split in all schools, so I’m not sure what the question is. I definitely believe we need to be integrated, side-by-side, and that has definitely helped us understand each other. The programs that I have created, such as Basketball Poets, it’s well-integrated. I guess, what I’m saying is the lower poverty issue is across the spectrum on racial—
RLH: It’s less of an issue in Brunswick County than it is in New Hanover County, is what you’re saying.
Marty Mentzer: I feel that is true. I feel like the socioeconomic issue is the big issue, where students are not having all the resources they need at an early age in order to enter school, and they may be two-and-a-half years behind, developmentally because they don’t have those resources in pre-K or in education with books in their households and so forth.
RLH: What is the Basketball Poets program?
Marty Mentzer: I’m excited to talk about this because our teachers in Brunswick County— There are so many fine and innovative teachers who find a way to connect with kids and get the reading element up. I was given a small group of students at Supply Elementary School that were low readers and at-risk students and got hooked on reading through a little book called Love That Dog by nationally-known and Newbery Award winner Sharon Creech. Basketball is king in North Carolina, so I used that as a carrot. We actually connected with Mrs. Sharon Creech, and she visited our school and donated hundreds of books. She’s a wonderful advocate, so what we have to do with these innovative programs is connect with our community. We have so many resources that can be used within our communities and support those innovative ways of reaching a kid. I say the gym is a magical place and that’s where I taught for 26 years and found ways to bring in the reading element through activity and movement.
RLH: So how do you— Help me here. So you played basketball with the kids? You said, “We can play a game of basketball, and then we’re going to read,” or were they reciting poetry while they were dribbling? How does that work?
Marty Mentzer: It’s a little bit of both. We were reading, and to get them to read and write poetry and discover poetry, the reward was basketball, but often we would do movements, and often have a basketball right on stage with us. We performed poetry—Langston Hughes, “Bring me all your dreams, you dreamer.” Or “Tiger, tiger, burning bright,” by William Blake. Even today, I see those students in the community, grown, and they remember that program fondly. One young lady said, “I just found my Basketball Poet t-shirt, Mrs. Mentzer! Are you still teaching?” And I said no, but I want to make an impact at the next level, which is another reason I’m running for Board of Education.
Tara (caller): I am a recovering addict, and in my recovery, I see of children, 16-18 years old that are struggling with heroin and opiate addition. I’m wondering, as a candidate, how do you plan on affecting that? Treating and preventing our children from using drugs at such a young age?
Marty Mentzer: Tara, thank you and thank you for addressing that problem. I wish you the best in trying to overcome it. As a teacher, that’s what we do. I’ve had students at a very young age affected by drug addiction. It is a huge problem in Brunswick County. As a matter of fact, one of our candidates for Board of Commissioners, Wesley Hickman, wants to directly impact that issue as well, but I know that education is the key, and that if we can reach our young people at a young age to get them excited about learning and positive things— I also happen to surf, which is funny because that activity takes them into the water and away from the atmosphere that they can be in. So we have to find positive atmospheres for them to get excited about. It’s a challenge in Brunswick County because we don’t always have a place they can go and hang out like community centers, though we do partner with the parks. If we can have a center, places they can go to hang out In a positive way, like my Basketball Poets could be involved to increase positivity so that they won’t be pulled into the drug addiction.
RLH: Do you support or oppose the $152 million school bond question that’s on the November ballot?
Marty Mentzer: I vigorously support the bond. I was on the bond committee, serving and trying to educate the public about the bond. It is for infrastructure needs that are currently lacking in our schools. Especially in the northern end of the county, we have growth that is very positive for our community. To bring families in, we have good schools, but we need to build more. So Town Creek Middle School will be built so that we won’t have to redistrict and bus. We are going to put classroom additions and technology into all of our schools. Just so they know the cost, it’s $80 per $200,00 property, and that pays off the 1999 bond as well, which was the last time we had a bond to help our students.
RLH: How are you different from your opponent? Why do you think you’d be a better choice for the school board?
Marty Mentzer: My energy—I really have a passion about serving. My reason for running is I made a promise to my students. I’ve got their back. I’ve got the backs of my colleagues. I made a promise also to a respected supervisor that when I retired, I would be re-fired up about education and serve on the school board to do that. It’s definitely not my comfort zone. However, because of my energy and my passion and my creative endeavors, I’m also a team player. I listen to the other side. And I give myself education. I’ve got my little folder in front of me for all my facts. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll say so, and I’ll work to find it.
RLH: From your point of view, the best case scenario would be for both Democrats to get elected. So let’s say that happens. You still are in a political minority on the Board, so if any decision comes down to a partisan issue, you’re going to lose the point, so what would you say to voters who are concerned about that and concerned about voting for you?
Marty Mentzer: I feel like education is a nonpartisan issue in so many ways, and we don’t need petty politics in our school board. I’ve already reached out and spoken to the other candidates and even Ed Lemon, who’s already won his seat as a Republican, and he’s also a former principal and his wife’s been a teacher. We’ve talked, and we can find creative ways to address our needs that don’t become political but do the best for our students.
RLH: Do you think the Board of Education should be a nonpartisan race?
Marty Mentzer: Absolutely. I really do feel that, and if elected, I’m going to look into how we can create that because many counties and districts do have nonpartisan school boards. I just don’t want our politics to interfere with the fine education that needs to occur for our students.
Amy (caller): I have a child in high school in Brunswick County, and she only has the opportunity to study Spanish at her school. What is your opinion about giving choices for other languages, such as French or Latin, to these students who might want to have that experience?
Marty Mentzer: I’ve heard directly from students that there needs to be expansion in those courses and also in Advanced Placement courses at the high school level. We need to give student’s something they’re excited about, and if they want a different language other than Spanish, we need to offer that because foreign languages enrich, and all languages help them read, write, think, and work in the global society we have today.
RLH: It was about three years ago that the school board engaged in a pretty fierce debate about whether the book The Color Purple should be part of the curriculum. There’s now a committee that goes over the books that are taught in the Brunswick County school system. Is that process acceptable to you? Do you think that was a good outcome? How would you as a school board member vet books? Do you think you should be vetting books, or should that be left to the educators?
Marty Mentzer: I was involved in that process. I was at a middle school where one of the books came as a challenge, and I wrote a letter in support of the book. It can be reviewed, but we need to hear all issues, and at the school board, I attended the meeting and heard some of my former students speak in defense of the book The Color Purple, which is a fine piece of literature. No child should be denied a book. If a parent chooses for them not to have that book to read, they have other alternative choices. I think there is a challenge committee, and it’s gone through the superintendent and the school board, and it worked out with a good outcome. I just don’t want to take too much time on those issues when there might be something more important to deal with.
RLH: What do you think needs to be done about the low-performing schools? You’ve actually taught at two of these schools. Leland Middle, Cedar Grove Middle, Supply Elementary School, and Jessie Mae Monroe Rowe Elementary School, I guess are the four that are the most challenged. You taught at Cedar Grove and Supply Elementary.
Marty Mentzer: Yes, and this is always the challenge. First of all, I want to celebrate what is going really well, what we’re doing right. As I said, the science scores are at the state level of proficiency, above 80%. Our math scores have grown, and we’re staying level with reading. We need to look at the data-driven instruction— Those are summative assessments. There are other ways to assess learning, and we also need to look at those as positive and see the growth that is occurring, but with the socioeconomics of those particular schools, where they have demographics where 75% of the children are on free or reduced lunch, we’re working as teachers to supply them their basic needs of food and clothing many times, and we work to give them every resource—books, learning—and find a way to connect. I think we need to look at the teachers that are seeing growth in their students and use those teachers as models for other teachers in the county to make the scores come up.
Aliesha (caller): How would you put a plan in place for teachers to address their concerns to the Board without feeling that they will suffer repercussions from it?
Marty Mentzer: I’ve done some research. Mr. John Holleman of North Carolina Association of Educations, of which I’m a member, showed me some legislation that passed in other parts of our state where teachers would be given that voice and opportunity to speak up about what’s going on in their classroom, even if it appears negative, because if we want a positive solution, we have to tell the truth and not face any retaliation or retribution for that. I strongly support and have spoken out as a teacher and had the courage to do so, but for some of my colleagues, I know it’s difficult. To address those important issues, you have to ask a teacher. They need to have that voice, and I would support that on the school board.
RLH: Let’s talk about principals. Brunswick County has a high principal turnover rate compared to the state as a whole. In Brunswick County, the rate is 16% compared to a statewide rate of 1-%. Why might that be, and how might you bring that number down?
Marty Mentzer: Once again, we must have the support from the school board level. I know of some fine principals who have left the county. One even wrote a letter to the State Port Pilot that I read, and it addressed concerns about the school board being an intimidating factor for them, and that can affect them leaving us. That cannot happen.
RLH: How does the school board intimidate principals?
Marty Mentzer: That is a hot topic because there are some issues going on in the classroom that maybe some personal values and things of school board members— They’re there to serve our schools. They’re there to have sound policy that ensures all students are expressed and safe. We’re entrusted with students eight hours a day in our schools, and we must do the best.
RLH: What kind of issues have come up that has caused a principal to go head-to-head with people on the school board? Are you talking about curriculum?
Marty Mentzer: Not so much curriculum as I think some hot topic, maybe the rights of all minority students to have a safe place. I’m even speaking about our transgender students, our homosexual students. As a health educator, I taught the reproductive education curriculum put in place by our legislature in 2009. These curriculums are very sound and educational, and they’ve been combated by the school board who is maybe not understanding the purposes to educate about these issues. Not to enforce policy for one value over another.
RLH: Let’s take take HB2. Well, we don’t have much time, but quickly, how do you think you’d handle that?
Marty Mentzer: All students need to be safe and be protected. I support their rights, and within our classrooms, that’s what we do, provide a safe zone for all of our students.
RLH: Thanks, Marty Mentzer.
Marty Mentzer: Thanks.