This is one of two articles from The Dominion Post editorial board virtual meeting with Preston County Board of Education candidates. The editorial board is made up of Publisher David Raese, Editor Pam Queen, Opinion Editor Jessica Nelson and Assistant to the Publisher Adam Raese.
Read the first article HERE.
KINGWOOD — Preston voters will elect three people to the Preston County Board of Education in June. On the ballot are two full terms and the unexpired term of former board member Robert “Mac” McCrum. No more than one person can be elected from District 1 and one from District 2, and no more than two from District 3.
Candidate Pam Feathers lives in District 3, Jeanne Dreisbach in District 1 and Peter Liga and Bruce Huggins are in District 2. Feathers’ and Dreisbach’s replies were reported in another story. Below are Huggins’ and Liga’s responses.
Huggins was appointed in November to fill McCrum’s seat until the election. A retired educator who taught 34 years in Preston County Schools, he was a coach and an athletic director. He wants to stay on the board because he wants to continue to help kids.
Asked about how Preston Schools’ responded to the coronavirus, Huggins said the board basically followed the state and superintendent’s recommendations. Several areas of Preston don’t have good cell and internet service, he noted, which can be a problem for online learning.
Huggins said the superintendent, his staff and teachers did a good job.
He said the superintendent is working on four possible scenarios for reopening schools in the fall. Schools have plans for snow, for tornados, for school shootings. “Nobody had a plan for anything this extreme,” he said. And the state will be involved in planning, he said.
“You don’t want to reinvent the wheel. You don’t want to come up with a plan and then the state comes back and says, ‘This is how you have to do it.’ ” The board’s part will be to make it specific to Preston County, Huggins said.
What health experts and the governor say will influence that plan, he said.
Huggins said they need to look back at what worked and what didn’t.
One problem is lack of technology access for kids. That has to be addressed. People need to be available to answer parents’ and students’ questions about technology and lessons. And we need to work with state and federal officials to get better internet for Preston, Huggins said.
“I think you’re going to see a lot of different changes,” Huggins said. “We have to have the access there. Another thing we maybe need to do is a technology [lesson] for our parents … At least make that an option for them.”
He expects to see more teachers asking students to return assignments on technology, even using phones for assignments.
Asked if he would support a charter school in Preston County, Huggins said, he believes in public schools. While he respects private schools, he fears charter schools would benefit only a select group of students.
He favors Bible classes at school as an elective, saying it should be taught by a teacher who wants to teach it. Religion shouldn’t be forced on students but should be available if they want it.
On the possibility of consolidations to level class sizes and cut costs, Huggins said, that’s “always a hot topic. And, “It’s something that may have to be looked at in the future.” He experienced consolidation as a student and a teacher.
“As board members we are elected to do what’s best for the entire county, not necessarily just one aspect,” he said. The levy provides some teaching positions to help with smaller classes now, he said, but future enrollment is unpredictable.
This is Liga’s first run for the board. He is a maintenance foreman at West Virginia University in zone maintenance. He believes he could bring more technical expertise to the board.
He is a journeyman electrician, has his HVAC license and formerly ran his own business for 18 years.
“I would like to bring these skills to the board and help them make wise decisions for infrastructure and going forward in the buildings.”
His background as a non-educator gives him a fresh perspective and different skill sets, Liga said. His top three priorities, if elected, would be to integrate technology into schools, ensure schools are safe for staff and students, and provide a quality education.
He thought schools responded appropriately to the pandemic.
“I think our superintendent and staff has done everything humanly possible to address this issue, considering they basically had this dropped without much warning. And I feel that they’re doing a commendable job,” Liga said.
But once things slow, “we can sit back and say this is what worked, this is what didn’t work. But I feel uncomfortable having to critique them midstream,” he said.
Going forward, the lessons learned on what worked and didn’t work can also be applied to snow days, he said.
Liga said the county will have to look to the state for guidance on reopening the schools.
“What are our experts telling us? What is the safe way going forward?” Those are things to look at, he said. “This is a fluid situation that changes day by day.”
Going forward those experts have to be considered and plans tweaked as needed.
Liga said charter schools is a complex issue.
“The money goes with the student. And when you have students leave the school system, those are monies that will not be available to be used in the school system,” he noted.
Liga said if he had to look at consolidation, he’d first consider whether it would hurt the quality of education for students. Secondly comes financial considerations and logistics.
“We have a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers of Preston County. And at the same time, we have the responsibility to the students to provide them with a quality education,” Liga said.
Related to technology in schools, Liga said it is a useful tool, but it cannot replace teachers.
In school buildings, Liga would like to put advances in lighting technology to work to do incremental upgrades by county staff to save money. Saving 5% would mean thousands of dollars, he said.