Voters have some difficult choices when looking at the candidates for the Kanawha County Board of Education. There are two candidates in District 1, and three in District 3. Only one from each group will join the board.
The District 1 race has two strong candidates. Ric Cavender is coming off his first term on the school board. He’s been an advocate for change, but also has shown the ability to get along and do what he thinks is best for the district. His children attend Kanawha County schools, and he’s invested in the school community.
He was one of two board members to vote against a hasty internal promotion for superintendent with no interview or search process, realizing that, even though he had no problem with the selection for the post, there’s a right and wrong way to do things. He’s also done an admirable job of leaving that fight behind, now that it’s over, and putting his focus on pressing district business.
His opponent, Jennifer Bulger, is a first-time candidate who also has children in Kanawha County schools and abundant fresh energy and ideas for a district that is up and down, depending a lot on the economics and community involvement surrounding each school.
She said she doesn’t believe she can swoop in and solve every problem but thinks schools could be doing better in educating students and preparing them for the next phase in their lives by replicating successes at better-performing schools in the district.
She also wants to improve communication among board members, referring to how the superintendent move caught Cavender and board President Ryan White completely off guard. She also opposed the process employed to make the selection.
They’re both good candidates, but the Gazette-Mail endorses Bulger. We believe she is the better agent for change and improvement in Kanawha public schools, and we like a proposal she would pursue to form a district-wide student panel that would have input with the school board. After all, students are affected by the board’s decisions just as much as parents and teachers, if not more.
The District 3 race also is a difficult one.
The incumbent, Jim Crawford, is in his early 80s and has been on the school board for 20 years. Before that, he worked in Kanawha County schools his entire career. Crawford engineered the workaround to hire a superintendent without a search — or the board even knowing who they would be choosing until after they agreed to relent on that search. It can be argued that Crawford represents the status quo and is not receptive to new ideas. It can just as easily be said he knows the district like no one else on the board, and operates from a wealth of experience.
One of his opponents, Barry Holstein, comes from the opposite end of the spectrum. Holstein homeschooled his two children. He also opposed the teacher strikes and recently appeared at a rally at the Capitol opposing measures to limit the spread of COVID-19.
There is another side of the coin, though. Holstein says he wanted to send his children to public school, but his children would have been placed in programs that were below their proficiency levels — in some cases even remedial. He feels like his experience outside the district could bring a unique perspective to the school board. He also said he opposed the work stoppages because he felt there were measures to relieve those problems before it came to a strike.
Then there’s Emily Lanham, who said she filed to run at the urging of board member Tracy White, after having complained to her for a while about teacher pay, class sizes and the state of the school district in general.
Lanham, at one point, had placed her children in private school, but she said they are now attending Kanawha public schools.
Lanham said she didn’t oppose the superintendent decision, but was not kind to departing Superintendent Ron Duerring, saying his more than two-decade tenure led to an era of complacency and misplaced priorities. She said she believes she can bring a fresh viewpoint to a board she thinks sorely needs it. She’d also like to increase transparency and have town hall meetings, to hear the concerns of parents and students.
Lanham might be the compromise point between the poles of Crawford and Holstein, and the Gazette-Mail endorses her for the position on the school board.