Jackson County School Board Dist. 5 candidate James Stewart-Payne
(Editor’s note: The Crossroads Chronicle submitted the following identical questionnaire to the two candidates vying for the District 5 seat on the Jackson County School Board in the nonpartisan May 8 primary. They are incumbent Margaret McRae and challenger James Stewart-Payne. Although candidates in District 5, a southern Jackson County district, must live in that district, they are elected by at-large voting, which includes all of Jackson County.)
Name: Laura James Stewart-Payne. (Editor’s note: Candidate is female and is named for her father and grandfather, whose names were James.)
Address: P.O. Box 835, Cullowhee, NC 28723.
Occupation (include official job title and name of employer): Small business owner and textile artist at peacegoods shop and The Green Rooster Gallery; circulation assistant and newly hired Youth Services coordinator at Albert Carlton-Cashiers Community Library; temporary substitute first grade teacher assistant at Summit Charter School.
Educational background: Western Carolina University, bachelor’s degree in English Literature; Wake Forest University, master’s degree in English Literature.
Spouse / children: Married to Nathan Stewart-Payne, small business owner and landscaper at Double Springs Landscaping; we have three beautiful, smart, goofy children ranging in age from 9 to 20.
Church / clubs / civic organizations: Girl Scout Troop 12695, St. David's Episcopal Church, Indivisble Common Ground WNC, Boy Scouts of America Pack 914, City Lights Writers Group.
Party Affiliation: Non-partisan race
Name two challenges you would face if elected and what you would do in response to these challenges: 1. Keeping our children, teachers and staff safe when on our school campuses is a paramount concern of mine. School Safety is the education issue of the day, locally and nationally.
Our school board should, and does, work closely with the county commissioners to address the safety concerns and challenges of all our schools in Jackson County. Each of our nine schools have their own unique safety concerns and challenges and many of these have been addressed by the school board, our superintendent and the county commissioners. I believe that more can always be done when it comes to protecting and safeguarding our children.
As a school board member representing District 5 and working in the best interest of all of Jackson County, I will listen to, work with, and help further develop practical safety measures for each of our schools.The school board's response to and the county commissioners allocation of funds for school safety in Jackson County should be as specific and unique as each of our schools.
At the student-led Forum on School Safety in March, upper level students in Jackson County spoke out to the school board and identified what they felt were the chief safety concerns in our schools right now and offered constructive, meaningful solutions. These challenges ranged from non-functioning security cameras or a total lack of security cameras at entry points to the inadequate number of school counselors for the student population and for the needs of the students.
Also addressed were the inadequate number of school social workers, open breezeways, lack of peer-to-peer counseling groups, the dangers posed by open-egress school designs, and the lack of a staffed, single point of entry for the public, to just name a few. These young people were well-informed and gave well-reasoned arguments for their safety concerns. The role of a successful school board member is to listen, to learn and then to advocate for the changes needed to improve our schools, at every level and in every possible way. Our students deserve no less from us.
2. One of the principal challenges facing the Jackson County School Board is ensuring the academic success of all of our schools. At times, our schools' independent academic ratings have not been quite where we would like them to be. Nor, for that matter, have our students' scores on state mandated tests always met our collective expectations. Of course, we know that one size fits all testing does not reflect the unique challenges and accomplishments of each child, each class, each school. Therefore, the Jackson County School Board must look at each individual school's needs and address those specifically. We want all of our schools and all of our students to be as successful and academically competitive as possible.
The first step in ensuring the success of our schools and students, while also meeting the needs of our nine diverse schools in Jackson County, is to look to our teachers. I believe that to better support the academic success of our students, we start first with supporting our teachers. They are tireless in their dedication to our children's education and we should be just as tireless in making sure they have what they need to do their job -- teach.
All too often our highly qualified and dedicated teachers spend too many of their instructional hours meeting the non-academic needs of their students. As we trend toward cutting more resources and doing away with more educational support staff, teachers are also expected to meet even the specialist needs many of our students have.
This has to change. Teachers need to teach and students need to learn. In order for that to happen efficiently, schools need to be better equipped with more school counselors, EC teachers, school nurses, social workers, ESL teachers and teacher assistants. When we have a well-supported child in the classroom, then we have a student -- a young person who is ready to learn, to grow, to shine.
We shouldn't constantly ask our teachers, schools, and students to accomplish more with fewer resources. Rather, we need to be there to request and find more funding sources, further develop community outreach and educational liaisons that could be of positive benefit to our schools and students. We live in a deeply engaged, dedicated, and culturally rich community. I firmly believe that our best collective efforts can grow our schools and our communities into stronger, better versions of themselves.
Why should people vote for you: I believe that I am strong choice for the District 5 seat on Jackson County School Board because I am a dedicated advocate for our teachers, our students, and our schools. At its very core, the role of the JCSB is to serve our county's schools, and, to that end, I will work hard and tirelessly for the betterment of our schools, the needs of our teachers, and our schoolchildren. My experience in fundraising, community development, and community-based collaboration are skill that will serve me well when on the JCSB.
I am absolutely devoted to Jackson County, having resided in Cullowhee, Sylva and Glenville over the past 20-plus years. This community is the home that I chose for myself as a young adult. It is where I chose to live, to marry, to grow a family, to start my business, to build our home and our life. I believe that we have something very special in this community and it would be a great honor to give back by serving on the Jackson County School Board.
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