QUESTIONNAIRE: District 1 VWSD School Board candidates speak on priorities

Published 1:01 pm Thursday, October 27, 2022

Voters will elect Vicksburg Warren School District Board of Trustees for Districts 1 and 5 on this coming election day, Nov. 8.

The Vicksburg Post asked candidates to fill out a questionnaire regarding their candidacy. This article contains answers given by all three District 1 candidates: Bill Jeffers, incumbent Bryan Pratt and Kevin “Shane” Quimby.

The Post will feature responses from District 5 candidates in the Weekend, Oct. 29-30, edition.

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The following are the responses given by District 1 candidates.

1. What has been your and your family’s experience with the Vicksburg Warren School District?

Jeffers: Being a lifelong resident of Warren County, I have grown up with the VWSD. I graduated from Warren Central. My wife is a Warren Central Graduate. My oldest daughter graduated from Warren Central and has now returned to the district and is a teacher at Warren Central and my youngest daughter is a junior at RCEC. Over the years, I have seen many changes within the district and hopefully serving as a trustee on the school board, I will be able to help continue improving our school district for the benefit of our children.

Pratt: My wife, my three boys and I are all products of the Vicksburg Warren School District. We all graduated from Warren Central High School and were all members of Big Blue. My boys, like many other students who were involved in our district’s fine arts, were each able to receive two years of free tuition for attending Hinds Community College. Ashton, my oldest, graduated from Mississippi State University and is now working for Amazon. My middle son, Brandon, graduated from Mississippi College and is currently a teacher in Brandon. Cameron, my youngest, is currently pursuing an IT degree from MSU. My three children are all very different in their educational needs and the VWSD was able to tailor their education to meet their individual challenges.

Quimby: Both of my sons have been through the Vicksburg Warren School District. My wife and I both were in the first graduating class of the consolidated district. Throughout the years, we have had a fairly positive experience. My wife and I both have had long careers within the community and served the community in different ways. My oldest son is a teacher within the district now because of the positive impact that his teachers and coaches had on him during his years in school.

2. What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the school district right now? Do you have a solution for that challenge?

Jeffers: I believe our biggest challenge we are facing is the ability to retain and hire good teachers. Many of our older teachers are retiring and we are looking at a shortage of teachers state-wide. It is becoming harder to recruit good teachers. We are also seeing the loss of teachers to other states as they are offering higher salaries and better benefits. Recently, the state legislators did push through a pay raise for our teachers, but it is not enough. I will continue to push to get the legislature to move forward on more pay increases and better benefits packages to make our state and district more compatible with other areas.

Pratt: Attracting and retaining highly qualified teachers is the biggest challenge facing our state and our district. From a state level, we need our state legislature to continue to raise teacher pay to a level that has Mississippi not just keeping up with its neighbors. The legislature needs to develop programs where we incentivize our outstanding students to go into the teaching field. These programs should be designed to reward educators for recruiting students into the field and contain tuition forgiveness for those new educators who stay in the state. The tuition forgiveness should be structured to start after one year of working in the state and progress over a five-year period. From a district level, we need to routinely assess our district supplement to ensure we are one of the highest in the state. We must also ensure that we have effective mentoring and support for our new and veteran staff. Additionally, we need to work on removing burdens from our teachers and stop adding requirements. I also support adding incentives for our veteran teachers to entice them from retiring early. Everyone working in the district has a role in our success, but it is our teachers that are our most precious resource.

Quimby: There are several challenges that face our district right now. I feel that the biggest issue that faces our district at this time, though, is actually preparing the children of our district for life in the real world. My solution for that would be to install a life-skills type of class. If needed, we as a board can bring in leaders from within the community to help. These skills would include knowledge of banking, simple automotive checks and even things as simple as how to prepare for an interview, including how to dress.

3. What other specific issues would you advocate for as a VWSD School Board Trustee?

Jeffers: Other issues that I am concerned with are the security of our schools. I have a unique perspective on this issue, being a 30-year veteran law enforcement officer. I have seen the many threats that our children face every day, from the increase in school shootings, the presence of bullying and the constant fight to keep drugs out of our schools. It is our responsibility to provide our children with a safe learning environment. I feel that I can offer alternatives that the district can implement that will help in these areas. I will increase training for resource officers and teachers, work with the local police and sheriff’s departments to increase interagency training with the schools, and develop effective response plans and strategies for the well-being and safety of our children.

Pratt: I believe that early childhood programs like Pre-K are essential for a district like ours to be successful. There is little to no state funding for these programs in our district. I have supported expanding these programs every year. Before I joined the board there were no Pre-K programs and now we have a flourishing early education program. I also feel that we need to continue focusing on ensuring that our children are life prepared. Not all children are going to graduate and go to college. We need to ensure that when our students leave us, they are either employed, enlisted, enrolled or an entrepreneur. I also support advocating for the state to fully fund MAEP. In FY 2020, the VWSD was underfunded by MAEP by $3.4 million and from 2009-2020 it has been underfunded by $41.2 million. In just that one year, the district could have hired an additional 57 teachers. I understand that the state must balance its budget, but they have had many opportunities adequately fund MAEP. I have and will continue to discuss these issues with our state representatives to help them see the true impact of their decisions.

Quimby: First, we have to take care of our teachers. These men and women have devoted their lives to educating our children. They need to be given all the tools necessary to make them as successful as possible. Those tools range from supplies like paper all the way to the best possible computer programs to help them do the best they can on the ACT and the SAT. I also feel that more opportunities need to be explored to get our students interested in a trade such as welding, diesel mechanics or even carpentry. We are at a time in our community when these trades are short on qualified people.

4. What has made you interested in serving as a VWSD School Board Trustee?

Jeffers: In recent years, I have seen decisions made that I and other parents did not agree with. I feel that if you don’t agree with how something is being done, then you have the responsibility to step forward and try to change what is happening. I am not just going to sit on the sidelines and “Monday morning quarterback” everything the district does. There are changes that need to be made in the district, and I want to give the voters an opportunity to elect someone who is willing to push for change.

Pratt: I understood early on that for our community to be successful, we had to ensure that our schools were providing a quality education for our children. It was very apparent that not all children are coming prepared to start school. That is why I worked on the Chamber of Commerce Education Committee to ensure that “The Leader In Me” was implemented in our district. This program was a tool that the community funded to help our students be more prepared for their educational journey. Once I was on the board, it became even more apparent that the disparities between our students were even greater than imagined. I have worked to add programs like Pre-K to help ensure our children have a strong foundation before starting kindergarten. When I first joined the Board, our graduation rate was around 60% and we were rated a “D.” We have just posted our highest graduation rate in 30 years of 89% and with the most recent accountability rating, we have been rated a “B.” I am proud of all we have achieved, and I am excited about what we can still accomplish. There are great things happening in the Vicksburg Warren School District.

Quimby: For most of my adult life, I have served the community in one way or another. I served in the Mississippi Army and Air National Guard and retired from it several years ago. While there, I rose to the rank of Staff Sergeant and was a team chief during a year-long deployment for Operation Iraqi Freedom. I also was a member of the Vicksburg Fire Department, where I became a station captain. During these careers, I learned leadership and important decision-making skills. I have always been interested in continuing my public service and feel that the school board is where I can best serve my community at this time. I am a candidate that will offer better transparency and improved communication to the position.

5. What is your opinion about the current state of the VWSD School Board of Trustees?

Jeffers: Our current board has done a good job at getting our district ratings up to a B level from a D level. I commend them on this, as this is a great achievement for our district, but in other areas, I feel they have disappointed the parents and taxpayers of this community. Their decision to dismiss school in the middle of a tornado and put our children on buses and send them out all over the county was foolish. I also question how the money from the bond is being spent. I have seen the board rubber stamp whatever additions the contractor wanted to add without checking to see if it could be bid out cheaper or even be done in-house at almost no cost to the bond. I believe that having such a large amount of funds to draw from for the improvements is great, but it is the responsibility of the trustees to make sure the district is getting the best work and price that they can.

Pratt: It is important to understand that all five board members are elected from their respective districts. This brings a diversity of ideas, views and perspectives. We don’t always agree, and this sometimes shows, but I truly believe that they all have a passion for our children. The current board has built state-of-the-art facilities and guided our district to the highest graduation rate and accountability rating in over 30 years.

Quimby: I honestly feel that there is a need for a new set of eyes looking at the district. Someone with a new outlook and new ideas of how things should be done is needed.

Election day is Tuesday, Nov. 8. To find out where to vote and to see a sample of the ballot, you can visit hco.warren.ms.us/polling-places.