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Hamilton County School Board Holds Forum For District 9 Candidates

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Photo: District 9 School Board Candidate Forum

Photo Credit: Hamilton County Schools / YouTube

The Tennessee Conservative [By Jason Vaughn] –

The Hamilton County School Board held a forum Tuesday night to introduce candidates for the currently vacant District 9 seat. 

The position became available when Dr. Steve Highlander was elected to serve on the Hamilton County Commission. 

Chattanooga, Tennessee At Night

The board recognized eight applicants for the position:

Roddey M. Coe – IT Manager at Suburban Manufacturing

Patrick Hampton – Regional Director of the Access Academy

William A. House, III – assistant manager of EPB Employee Credit Union

Gary Kuehn – former principal of Harrison Bay Vocational School

Charles Kenneth Lawson – retired electrician from the county schools

Patrick D. Lee, II – General Manager of Tanslee Turf & Tractor

James Brent Walker – District Sales Manager for the Tennessee Lottery

Pam Womack – adjunct professor at Lee University

Before the meeting began, Highlander addressed the group, stating his desire that the new District 9 representative would work well with the families in the district and the community.

The candidates then fielded questions from county commissioners and District 9 residents. Lebron Sterchi served as the emcee of the forum.

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When asked about their thoughts regarding the search for a new superintendent, all eight candidates heartily agreed that they felt a local search was in the best interest of the district. They also agreed that the board should hold open meetings and that there should be transparency throughout the entire process.

Candidates were also asked about their reasons for wanting a position on the school board and about the experiences they had that would make them qualified to serve in the role.

Lawson spoke of his experience as a former employee of the school system. 

“My experience is with maintenance in the school system and with the issues we face with the facilities. It gives me a unique perspective,” Lawson said.

Womack explained that she had previously worked as a teacher recruiter after retiring from education. 

“I know the schools in this district…I looked for the best, most educated teachers; the best fit for our students,” Womack stated.

House used his knowledge of finance to express the need for improvement in overseeing spending in the district.

He stated, “We have not been good stewards of the funds received.”

House also said that he was frustrated that District 9 did not have representation during the selection of the interim superintendent.

Lee stated that he and his wife had recently experienced schooling in the district first hand as they worked with some children they had taken into their home. He expressed that he felt he had a lot to offer the board due to his diverse background.

Coe listed his extensive political appointments and his ties to a number of local lawmakers as qualifications that would be beneficial to serving in the position.

Other candidates discussed their approach to education in general.

“I do what’s best for students,” said Kuehn. “I believe in strong educational practices, and I’m also a problem solver.”

Hampton proved to be one of the most outspoken candidates at the forum, referring to himself as an education activist and telling those in attendance that he planned to fight against gender identification education and critical race theory.

“I am here because I am a concerned parent…We are creating children whose future is over before it begins. I will be a solid wall on the school board to protect our children,” Hampton said.

Walker expressed concern that the school board was not approachable to parents.

“The school board seat is an extension of the community, to speak for students and parents. I don’t think parents feel they can have a say with the school board,” he stated.

When asked about the separation of city and county schools, candidates had varying personal opinions but all said they would leave it to the voters to decide.

The subject of open enrollment also proved to be one on which the candidates disagreed. Some felt it would be too difficult to manage the numbers while others believed that school choice was important.

Sterchi also asked the candidates what they felt were the three biggest challenges that were faced by the school system. Nearly all candidates stated that recovering learning loss after the pandemic was the most pressing issue. Several candidates also mentioned the need to eliminate social issues such as CRT while others said finding a new superintendent ranked high on the list.

Commissioner Highland later said, “The School Board has three responsibilities: Have one employee, the superintendent; approve funds, not raise them; and, set policies. All eight candidates spoke to those responsibilities throughout the forum.”

The County Commission will make its decision at their August 4 meeting.

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About the Author:

Jason Vaughn, Media Coordinator for The Tennessee Conservative 

Jason previously worked for a legacy publishing company based in Crossville, TN in a variety of roles through his career.  Most recently, he served as Deputy Directory for their flagship publication. Prior, he was a freelance journalist writing articles that appeared in the Herald Citizen, the Crossville Chronicle and The Oracle among others.  He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a Bachelor’s in English-Journalism, with minors in Broadcast Journalism and History.  Contact Jason at [email protected]

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