Six seeking 3 seats in crowded field for Camden school board

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Sissy Aydlett

Tiffany Riggs Bounds.jpg

By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

CAMDEN — Three open seats on the Camden Board of Education have drawn the most crowded field of candidates for a county school board race in recent memory.

Six county residents are on the Nov. 6 ballot for the three seats. Incumbents Sissy Aydlett and Jason Banks are seeking re-election to second terms on the five-member board. Joining them are Tiffany Bounds, who’s making her second bid for a school board seat, and first-time candidates Eleanora Doane-Butts, Roger Morgan and Chris Purcell. 

All six candidates agreed in interviews last week that the Camden County Schools is already a strong school district. Each also agreed, however, that there’s still a need for continued improvement. How the district achieves that improvement is where the candidates express some disagreements.

Butts and Purcell, for example, differ on the role that career and technical education should play in that improvement.

“I think we need to expand some of our CTE (career and technical education) programs to bring us up to par with what some of the bigger programs in the state do,” said Purcell, who also called for building on family and parental involvement in the schools. “Of course I would like 100 percent of our kids to go to college and be successful, but I think a better goal is for 100 percent to be gainfully employed in life. We need to make it a focus on making sure our kids are prepared for whichever direction they choose.”

Butts wants the district’s emphasis to be on students earning four-year degrees and even advanced degrees. While Butts believes College of The Albemarle and other two-year institutions do a good job preparing students for either more education or the workforce, she wants the Camden County Schools focused on preparing students for both a four-year degree and advanced degrees.

“I don’t agree that students need just a skill,” she said. “I want to see children of Camden County Schools going even further. I think they should be going to those four- and five-year institutions.”

If students graduate and earn four-year degrees and advanced degrees they should be able to come back home and make more money to put back in the county, Butts said.

“We just need to continue being a community school, sticking together, working together,” Butts said.

Morgan said the key to improving the Camden schools is identifying and addressing weaknesses.

“I think that the school system just needs to look at all the weaknesses and use resources to improve areas where they are weak,” Morgan said.

Morgan said he needs to do additional research on what areas are weaker and in need of improvement. He also says it’s important to identify where additional resources could come from.

Banks and Aydlett, who currently serve on the board, both cited Superintendent Joe Ferrell’s recent restructuring of central administration — including the appointment of a chief academic officer to focus on improving student achievement — as a key step in further improving the district.

“I think we’re already taking the next step,” Banks said, referring to the restructuring. “I just think having an approved chain of command is helpful.”

Banks said the new organizational chart increases efficiency and clarifies accountability.

Aydlett agreed Ferrell’s leadership has put the Camden schools on the path to stronger performance.

“Dr. Ferrell has been working tirelessly on our new strategic plan and has included many stakeholders in our community in its development,” Aydlett said. “Our central office has also recently been restructured to provide ongoing guidance and leadership to our employees and students and enhance our academic performance.”

Bounds said the path to improving the district involves public input.

”I think the easiest step would be to ask the parents, teachers, staff and kids what they need to help our children grow and succeed in school,” Bounds said.

She said Grandy Primary School, which last month received an “A” grade from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction on students’ state testing performance, should serve as a resource and example for the rest of the district.

“We also need more parental involvement in our schools,” Bounds said. “The PTOs (parent-teacher organizations) in some schools are nearly non-existent. The events that encourage children to meet goals are not as prevalent once you pass elementary school.”

Although no plan has been approved for a proposed new high school in Camden, the school board, in its preliminary discussions, has favored a design that allows the early college to be part of the main building but located in a separate wing of the building.

Butts takes issue with creating a separate wing for the early college.

“I’m one who when you say the word ‘separate’ a question mark just comes into my head,” Butts said. “Camden Early College is small enough where I think it can be incorporated right within the same building structure as the high school. I just think that that separate idea needs to go away, I don’t want it to have a separate wing.”

Butts said she’s reluctant to call for a bond referendum to pay for the new high school, contending that a better course of action would be to hire someone to write grants for school construction funding.

“We want our children to have the best quality education,” Butts said. “We want them to be in the best structure that they can be in. But I don’t think Camden now is financially ready to make that move.“

Bounds said she’s comfortable with the preliminary plan for the new high school but also believes it wouldn’t hurt to take another look at it.

“I don't have a problem with the current planned version of the high school, but it is a few years old and it never hurts to double check and revise plans prior to building,” she said.

Bounds also believes the early college should share the same building as the new high school.

“They currently share many of the same facilities and CEC (Camden Early College) isn't a large enough entity to have its own separate campus at this time,” she said.

Banks said it might be time to consider operating the entire high school similar to the way the early college operates. That could be done, he said, by taking full advantage of the state’s College and Career Promise program. The program allows high school students to earn college credits at no charge as part of their high school education.

“If we were to make our early college and high school entirely an early college, and make everything accessible to the entire high school, that’s probably a good idea if it’s feasible to make that accessible across the board,” Banks said. “I believe in efficiency.”

Banks believes construction of a new high school needs to go before the county’s voters. 

“I feel like the need for a new high school should be left up to the citizens, maybe with a ballot referendum,” he said.

The county will be strapped with that bond debt for 30-40 years, long after current school board members and county commissioners are no longer in office, he noted.

Banks also believes the county could pursue more needs-based construction grants, noting Camden has already received one for the school. If the grants can cover $15 million of a new school’s $40 million total cost, that’s a benefit to taxpayers, he said.

Purcell said Camden’s planning for a new high school needs to consider future space needs.

“I think the biggest thing with the new high school is not just the building itself but the grounds need to include everything that is needed,” Purcell said.

The school needs grounds for the band to practice and adequate space for CTE programs, Purcell said. 

Morgan said he believes it’s important for the early college and the high school to be on the same campus.

“I definitely support that,” Morgan said. “Camden Early College needs to be kept with Camden County High School.”

Morgan also says the school board needs to plan for between 1,000 and 2,000 students at the new high school, rather than 600.

“They need to plan for the future and not the present,” Morgan said. “Camden County is going to grow. I would say we need to look at probably a 20-year plan.”

It’s reasonable to expect 75-100 percent population growth in Camden over the next 10 years, according to Morgan. 

Aydlett said she supports the current version of the plan for the new high school.

“I would like for our employees to be able to participate in surveys that could help identify changes that may be needed in the development of a new facility,” Aydlett added. “I would also like to see the implementation of the latest safety and security measures for the protection of our students.”


Chris Purcell

Age: 42

Occupation: Fire station captain at Little Creek Naval Base; co-owner, Firehouse Subs in Elizabeth City

Education: Paramedic license, Savannah Technical College

Civic involvement: Member, Camden United Methodist Church; member, Widow’s Son Lodge in Camden; member, Elizabeth City Shrine Club; Chairman, Camden Economic Development Commission

Political offices/campaigns: None

Family: Married, two children

Whitney “Sissy” Aydlett

Age: 48

Occupation: Case manager, Albemarle Hospital Foundation, and a hospice and palliative nurse for Sentara Albemarle Medical Center

Education: Bachelor of science degree in nursing

Civic involvement: Member, Sawyer’s Creek Baptist Church; member, Student Health Advisory Council Committee for Camden County Schools; member, Careshare Healthcare Alliance

Political offices/campaigns: Elected, Camden Board of Education, 2014

Family: Married, two grown sons

Eleanora Doane-Butts

Age: 61

Occupation: Teacher

Education: Master's degree, elementary school administration, LCU

Civic involvement: Member, League of Women Voters; NAACP; founder, Back to SchoolBash/Fun Day

Political offices/campaigns: None

Family: Married; one son; three step-children; six grandchildren

Roger Morgan:

Age: 55

Occupation: Retired educator

Education: Bachelor of Arts in physical education, UNC-Wilmington; master of science degree in physical education, Western Kentucky University; education specialist in educational administration, George Washington University

Civic involvement: Member, Masonic Lodge in Camden; member, Carolina United Soccer Association; high school athletic official

Political offices/campaigns: None

Family: Married, grown daughter

Jason Banks

Age: 36

Occupation: Dentist

Education: Doctorate of dental surgery; Virginia Commonwealth University; completed residency at East Carolina University

Civic involvement: Volunteer, Missions of Mercy; member, Donated Dental Services; N.C. Dental Society/American Dental Association

Political offices/campaigns: Elected to Camden Board of Education, 2014

Family: Married, three children

Tiffany Riggs Bounds

Age: 33

Occupation: Stay-at-home mother

Education: Some college

Civic involvement: Member, South Camden Ruritan Club, scholarship committee; volunteer with the Camden Youth League

Political offices/campaigns: Ran unsuccessfully for Camden Board of Education, 2016

Family: Married, four children