With the election for the four open seats on the Newton Community School District Board of Education taking place Tuesday, the Jasper County League of Women Voters hosted a forum Thursday at Newton City Hall.
All six candidates were present and taking questions from moderator Linda Wormely, who received the questions from the packed audience.
“My main approach, other than education, is I bring a lot of common sense to the board,” Joe Klingensmith said. “And I can decipher through comments that I get from the public and take all those and try forming those questions and and try relaying those to the staff members. I would like to continue serving on the board if given the chance.”
Each candidate gave statements on what they would bring to the board if elected, and Klingensmith cited his strong Christian values, educational background and throughout the evening commented on how he would like to bring common sense to the board.
Darrin T. Hamilton also referenced using common sense several times, and all candidates agreed communication, listening and passion were key ingredients for a successful district and are essential to serving on the board.
“I was born in Newton in 1973. My mom and dad moved to Newton the day I was born, and so I was educated in the Newton community schools,” Travis Padget said. “I really believe in the community. I believe in what Newton has been, what it can be and what it has here. There are beautiful people here, and there are passionate people here. We need to support our students, enhance their education and support our teachers and enhance them. It will build for a better future for Newton.”
Incumbent-NCSD Board President Andy Elbert expressed to the crowd what he felt he brought to the table as a current member of the board and his desire to serve another four years. He also mentioned having two children in the district, having a wife who works as a teacher and serving on the board gave him various perspectives on what is happening in the schools.
“I think the thing that I bring to the board is a couple of things. Leadership, and I’m a good listener,” Elbert said. “I’m able to listen to all the board members, staff members, cabinet members and the public and bring all of that information in and form an opinion after I’ve talked to everybody.”
Sherri Benson, who is also seeking to retain her seat, expressed what she felt she brought to the district as a board member.
“One of the greatest strengths that I bring to the board is that I am a strategist and long-term thinker and planner,” Benson said. “As we do work at the board table and are establishing vision, mission and goals down the road five, 10, 15 years, that fits into my niche and skill set as far as being able to take where we are and looking at the steps it takes to move us forward.”
Robyn Friedman, who along with Hamilton and Padget are write-in candidates, outlined one of the ways she thinks she can help improve the district.
“I think that a way the Newton community schools can improve is a little more community and school interaction,” Friedman said. “Whether that is the community’s voice back to the board through parents or through the teachers, but I also mean community members that may not be directly involved in the school system in those ways. I think that there a lot of partnerships that could still happen within our community.”
Hamilton gave his opinion about how he would help to improve the district’s ability to communicate with the public if he were elected again. He last served on the board in 2011.
“If elected to school board, how you can communicate with me is (that) my phone would be out there, my email address, I’m on Facebook, I’m on Twitter and I’m out in the community,” Hamilton said. “As for the board, I would like to see the board change their meeting rules. I know when I was on the board, I was going, ‘Why do we make them sign in ahead of time? Why do they have to be on the list? If you miss the list you’re done?’
“It’s not like we have tons of people storming the board meetings,” he continued. “Normally the board meeting is attended by the board, the media and staff. Maybe somebody from the public and maybe a presentation from teachers or students. But we rarely have people at the board meeting. Make it so they speak on the topic when it comes up on the agenda.”
With the election in less than a week, Thursday’s forum served as a final showcase for many of the candidates in what has turned into a close race. Wormley summed up the evening during her closing statements.
“To all of the candidates and to all of those who attended, this is a wonderful turnout for the candidates meeting,” she said. “I would like to express thanks on behalf of the League of Women Voters for your participation and for you willingness to serve.”
Staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at email@example.com.