The upcoming August election for Loudon County Board of Education will include three incumbents, but also a share of newcomers looking to provide a fresh outlook on education.
Contested races include District 2, seat A, with incumbent William Jenkins up against Mike Hickman, District 4 with incumbent LeRoy Tate against Kim Bridges, and District 6 with newcomers Greg Buckner, Zack Cusick and Aaron Lewis.
Bobby Johnson Jr. in District 2, seat B, is the only uncontested candidate.
Newcomers in sixth
Three new faces will compete for the open sixth district seat on the board to replace Melissa Best, who filled in for her husband Ric Best after his passing in December.
Cusick believes he is right for the job despite having no political experience. He has served since 2013 as program coordinator for Lenoir City Parks and Recreation Department.
“I’m very invested in the community ... my professional job is all about community and then my personal stuff with my family and friends, we’re always looking to get involved in the community and this is just another way to be able to do that,” Cusick said. “With my oldest son starting Highland Park (Elementary School) this fall and then having two kids to jump into the school system right after that, (I) just want to be heavily involved in helping the community and helping the school system any way I can.”
Cusick looks to provide a “new set of eyes” for current and future projects the schools have planned.
“I want to be an advocate for my district, obviously, so try to help out the schools that are represented through my district as much as I can and see what kind of opens up from there,” he said.
Buckner served 20 years with Lenoir City Fire Department and three years on the Lenoir City Christian Academy board of directors. It’s something he hopes he can put to good use serving Loudon County Schools.
“I think the schools are going to be facing some tougher dilemmas with the school safety, school security in the upcoming future years and I mean I think I could do my part,” Buckner said. “I hope if I don’t get it, one of the other candidates fulfills that role. I just want to throw my hat in there; I think I got some experience.”
Maintenance is also a focus for Buckner, he said.
Lewis did not return repeated requests for comment by News-Herald presstime.
Jenkins has served on the BOE for eight years and is seeking his third consecutive term.
He initially got involved because his son was at Highland Park Elementary School and he thought he could help the board toward the eventual construction of schools.
“I feel that it’s been a successful time as I’ve been able to serve the community on the board,” Jenkins said. “We’ve been able to get a lot of things accomplished with building two new schools, one in Greenback and one in Loudon, and being able to add on a lot of additions. We’ve been able to watch our ACT scores grow. Just from whenever I first started they were below right around a 18 range, now with what Jason (Vance, director of schools) has told me we’re up around 19.”
If re-elected, Jenkins hopes to focus on school safety.
“I always have an open mind and I’m always willing to listen to what others have to say and take in,” Jenkins said.
Hickman echoed Jenkins’ statements on school safety, noting he felt it should be a “big deal” across the country, especially with recent shootings.
“If I’m elected I want to look into big things like safety, making our school system as safe as possible,” Hickman said. “I want to participate in being able to move that in a positive direction. I just support the school system and what they need. I think the school board, the goal should be try to supply them with (help). Teachers have a harder job today than they ever have had. I think as time goes on it just gets tougher for them.”
He chose to run for the first time because he simply wanted to give back to the community, he said.
“Those kids today are the adults of tomorrow, in my opinion, and I just want to give back,” Hickman said.
Bridges takes on Tate
Tate has represented the fourth district for 32 years.
“Right now our graduation rate is higher than it’s ever been (and) our ACT scores are the highest average it’s ever been,” Tate said. “We’ve got a lot of stuff accomplished that I’d like to see us be able to continue. When I come on the board our academic stuff was way lacking. ... We’ve got some good things going and I’d like to try and continue them to give these kids the opportunity for the best education we can and get them be able to stay home at the jobs and stuff offered here and prepare them for any future jobs that these companies come up with. That’s the only reason I’m there.”
Tate hopes to see more elective classes for students.
“We’ve got to get some more,” Tate said. “We’ve got a couple vocational-type classes over the last few years and I’d like to continue doing that and try to get them geared up for education because what we’re trying to do right now is educate the kids for jobs that’s not even been made yet. We’ve got to give them every opportunity to get there if they can.”
Bridges has been an educator for more than 20 years, having worked in Loudon County and Athens City schools in the past. She currently works for Roane County Schools.
Running for school board is a first for Bridges, but it’s something she feels she would do well after serving in various roles in education.
“I think education is changing drastically, quickly, and I do know education,” Bridges said. “I may not know politics, but education and kids, that I understand. So my goal is to just help and to be an asset really for teachers and students and parents. ... I guess my goal is really to focus on what’s best for the teachers and the students.”
Bridges said she wants to be a “voice” for school staff.
“My goal is just to be that voice for teachers, because I do teach every day and I understand the struggles that they face,” she said.