By BRIANA BARKER

Four Franklin County School Board seats are up for grabs Nov. 5, and each seat has one candidate running unopposed.

Jon Atchue is running for Gills Creek District, Ann Arlet Greer is running for Blackwater District, P.D. Hambrick is up for reelection in the Union Hall District and Julie Nix also is seeking reelection for the Blue Ridge District.

Charles Jamison (Blackwater) and Dr. Karen Hiltz (Gills Creek) did not seek reelection for their districts.

Meet the candidates

Atchue, 61, a Moneta resident, is retired from his work as a career counselor to college students and running a cooperative education program where he developed jobs in the local community and placed students in career-related co-op assignments. Atchue also entered the corporate world and worked in positions such as director of training and organizational development, senior vice president of human resources, chief learning officer and the chief human resources officer. He earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in counseling.

Greer, 63, is a 1974 graduate of Franklin County High School. She earned her associate degree in medical secretarial science from Ferrum College. Greer has worked as a substitute teacher and a school bus driver for 18 years.

Hambrick, 67, also is a Franklin County native and a 1972 graduate of Franklin County High School. He has served on the school board since 1992. Hambrick earned a bachelor’s degree in business and taught business at FCHS for three years while coaching various sports. He also worked for Turners Building, Inc. as a manager/salesman before retiring in 2018.

Nix, 48, is a mother of two daughters, both of whom attend Franklin County Public Schools. She has served on the school board since 2013 when she was unanimously selected by the school board members to fill a seat that had been vacated mid-term. She is currently serving her second term as chairperson. Nix graduated from the University of South Carolina with a bachelor’s degree in English, and is currently the assistant director of financial aid at Ferrum College.

Education priorities

The Career and Technical Education program has been a hot-button topic in Franklin County for a while now. All four candidates expressed a need an interest to address the issue of the needed expansion of the CTE program.

“We just can’t seem to get the governing board to step up to the plate,” Hambrick said. “We have hundreds of students every year that want to get into some of the CTE classes but can’t because of lack of space and this has been going on for years.”

Hambrick added the nursing program has done well, and he would also like to see it expanded.

Nix and Atchue echoed Hambrick’s view, both adding that many students do not attend college. Programs like the CTE are designed to help them enter the workforce following graduation.

Atchue also expressed concern regarding compensation and retention of teachers.

“We’ve got to continue to challenge ourselves to look for new ways to place greater value on the role that teachers have for the future of our children and our community,” Atchue said. “And while financial remuneration is vital, I’d like to explore other types of programs that show appreciation, and recognize our teachers, and potentially help make their jobs just a bit easier and continue to strengthen each individual school community.”

All four candidates also agreed that teachers and support staff are the school district’s biggest assets.

Facing challenges

As with education across the nation, Franklin County Public Schools faces the challenge of funding. With enrollment declining each year, the challenge becomes stronger as school funding is based on the number of students.

“Every rural division in our area is losing students and with that, monies from the state and federal levels, which makes it more difficult to keep the system running,” Hambrick said. “You still have the buildings to maintain, the buses have to run and the staff still reports to work.”

Atchue said he sees “a myriad of challenges” inherent in overseeing the county’s largest employer whose mission it is to educate approximately 6,000 students.

“The more I learn about our school district, the more complexities I see with serving an economically diverse population: 16% of our students live in poverty, 50% are provided free or reduced-price lunches and 16% have a disability and are eligible to receive IDEA services (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act),” Atchue said. “In addition, from 2009 to 2020 our per-student funding has dropped 9% from about $6,900 per student to $6,300 per student.”

Nix said this gap has forced the board members to be creative in finding alternative revenue streams through grants, partnerships and donations for specific projects from local businesses.

“I’m so proud of what our amazing teachers do with our students each day despite the limited funds,” Nix added.

Greer said to overcome the financial challenge, the district “may have to try getting funding to meet our needs and not necessarily our wants.”

Community involvement

Involving parents and residents in local decisions is also a common goal of the four candidates. Greer said she envisions holding town-hall type meetings with in the Blackwater District.

Atchue said he plans to attend PTO meetings at Dudley and Burnt Chimney elementary schools, as well as public hearings and community meetings on school-related issues.

Nix said she plans to continue to visit schools during the day to see the system in action and attend as many after-hours events as she can in an effort to talk to parents to see what means the most to them when it comes to education.

“It’s important for me to see and hear firsthand from staff, students and parents, as they know better than anyone what their specific needs are,” Nix said.

Hambrick said he continues to be open to calls, emails and texts, as well as visiting schools to speak with parents, teachers and administrators.

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