WILLIAMSON — Four of the five seats on the Mingo County Board of Education are up for grabs in the primary election May 10.
The Williamson Daily News spoke with the field of seven candidates for these positions about what issues they feel are facing the school system and what they would address if elected to the board.
Incumbent James Ed Baisden currently represents the Kermit-Harvey district. He is retired and resides in Dingess.
“I ran my own business from 1987 to 2001,” Baisden said. “At that time, I went into substitute teaching and eventually got on full-time teaching until 2013. I got a job at the maintenance department, and I became maintenance director for Mingo County Schools. I served there for four years until I retired, and after retirement I filed for school board and won.”
Baisden, who was first elected in 2018, said the county has been hit hard by the teacher shortage in the state, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020. He said he’d like to work on reaching out both in-state and out to try and bring educators to the county.
“One of our major problems right now in the county is keeping schoolteachers,” Baisden said. “I think we need to reach out, and I’ve mentioned this in a board meeting before, but we need to reach out for teachers — especially with math teachers. … Right now it’s hard to even get a substitute after this pandemic.”
Baisden also addressed the need for a career center at Tug Valley High School.
“We don’t have a career center in the Tug Valley area,” Baisden said. “We’ve got one at Central, which is a great career center, but where they’re only allowed 15 kids per class both schools are going to come short of having all the kids that want to get into the class. Since I’ve been on the board, I’ve pushed to get a career center in Tug Valley, and hopefully that will come to happen soon. … I think that would help the dropout rate in the county because a lot of kids are not going to go to college. They want a trade of some type, so with things we can offer through the career center we can keep our kids here in the state.”
Justin Billy Endicott of Gilbert is running to represent the Stafford district. Endicott currently works in Logan County Schools and will transfer next year to serve as a principal in Wyoming County.
“I only have the desire to work in the area of education,” Endicott said. “That’s the reason I chose to run for school board. My day job is in education. I have 13 years on record of being an educator, but I’ve actually worked 16 years counting my year as a substitute teacher.”
Endicott said he wants students to have the education they need to be able to choose whatever career path they want after graduation and have the tools to pursue that path.
“I just really want to see a level playing field for the students of southern West Virginia,” Endicott said. “I’ve traveled the nation working with other districts, and I know that high-quality curriculum is key in instruction, and I want our students to have every opportunity that they may choose.”
Endicott said he also wants to see the county invest in its facilities to ensure they are maintained to meet the needs of students and staff.
“I want top-notch facilities,” Endicott said. “I think our schools should be the best buildings, the most upkept buildings, and I want to see us investing in those as much as possible so that structurally we have everything we need to offer these opportunities for kids that we’ve never had opportunity to offer them before.”
Eric Evans of Williamson is running to represent the Lee district. He works for a local car dealership as a general sales manager.
“I have six children,” Evans said. “Two have graduated from Mingo County schools, two are currently enrolled in Mingo County schools, and my wife is a teacher in Mingo County at Kermit PK-8.”
Evans also expressed concern over the lack of a career center at Tug Valley High School.
“I think our main concern is we need a vocational school on-site at Tug Valley High School,” Evans said. “Mingo Central, there’s one at the old Burch High School. Now they’re busing kids all the way to school, all the way over there, they don’t get much learning time, back to school. I think that would be a first step in the right direction of giving our kids a choice. I know on a national level it’s all geared towards go to college, get a degree, but there’s a lot of good jobs out there that kids without a college degree can specialize in and are very much needed.”
Evans said his position as a spouse of an educator and a parent has provided him a unique perspective.
“Having kids in the school system, having a wife that’s a teacher, I’ve just seen that we need change in Mingo County,” Evans said.
Scott Grimmett of Lenore is running to represent the Kermit-Harvey district. He also works for Logan County schools.
“A four-day work week,” Grimmett said of his platform. “Later start times. Transparency. Regular communication with all stakeholders. Everyone has a voice.”
When asked to elaborate on some of these points, Grimmett said the four-day work week would look similar to how schools operated last year through the pandemic.
“It would be set up kind of like it was last year,” Grimmett said. “Students would go four days a week, educators would still work five days a week.”
Grimmett said as a parent he wants to see a better school system for all children in Mingo County.
“I’m a life-long resident of Mingo County,” Grimmett said. “I have kids in school in Mingo County. One just graduated high school, and she’s in her first year of college. I have one who is in fifth grade. I have a vested interest in education anyway, especially in Mingo County. … I just want to have a better school system.”
Amy Dearfield Hannah of Delbarton is running to represent the Lee district. She works in numerous roles, including as executive director of the Mingo County Family Resource Network and in outreach for Williamson Health and Wellness Center.
“My background that I think is really pertinent to the board of education race is that I have been the director for our Family Resource Network here in Mingo County for 26 years,” Hannah said. “For the past two and half decades, I have dedicated my life to working to improve our community for our children and families.”
Hannah said she does not want to run her campaign on promises when she knows it takes a whole board working together to get things done. However, she said she wants to be an advocate for families.
“This is what I don’t want to do,” Hannah said. “I don’t want to make promises to people that I don’t know if I can keep. I pride myself on being a woman of my word and my word that I want to say is I will do my very best to do what is right for our children, our families and our school personnel.”
Hannah said her roles have allowed her to see some of the work that needs to be done, but that if elected she would take the time to be informed of the policies in place before making decisions on what to advocate for to ensure students’ and staffs’ needs are being met.
“I’m not currently in the school system,” Hannah said. “I’m a very active community member, and I can see where our communities need to be in schools and how we need to support our school systems, but I’m not running on a platform of changing anything. I need to be educated on the policies and what’s happening, and then determine how we can all work together to fix some of these things for our kids.”
Incumbent John Warren Preece currently represents the Lee district. He is retired and resides in Delbarton.
“I’ve been in education all my life,” Preece said. “I’ve taught elementary school. I’ve taught college. I taught basic education. … I was a principal for a number of years. All in all, I had 43 years of experience in Mingo County Schools and when I retired I got a job with Marshall University training student teachers.”
Preece, who was first elected in 2018, said curriculum needs to continue to be updated to meet modern needs for students.
“I feel that we need to tweak our curriculum in the secondary schools,” Preece said. “We need to get rid of the things that are really unnecessary and come up with more modern, appropriate courses for our students. By that I mean like the CTE programs and such.”
Preece said he would also like to see facilities built to allow development of more athletic programs in the county.
“I would like to see a facility built, a swimming facility built that would be Olympic size indoor swimming that we would be able to use maybe if we had students that are talented enough to train,” Preece said. “I would also like to see a track and field facility built in the county that would let students interested in track and field be able to show off their talents.”
Incumbent Tom Slone currently represents the Williamson district. He is retired and resides in Williamson.
“I have taught school at the elementary, middle, high school and college level,” Slone said. “Being retired, I felt that running for the board of education — my interest has always been in seeing that students in our county receive the best possible education that they can get, and to make it an equal opportunity for all students.”
Slone, who was first elected in 2018, said one major issue facing the board is recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and finding how to navigate the new normal schools have been faced with after so much time without face-to-face instruction.
“I think one of the main things that we’re facing, we as a board have to be cognizant of the problems that the pandemic has caused,” Slone said. “We need to address learning loss that the students have experienced and do everything and provide every opportunity we can to help them recover the learning loss that has taken place.”
After retirement Slone said the board of education is a way to continue to serve the students of Mingo County.
“I felt as though with my experience as an educator that I could continue to benefit the school system that I worked in for 30-plus years,” Slone said.
There are five districts in Mingo County — Williamson, Stafford, Lee, Kermit-Harvey and Magnolia — and no more than two people from the same district can serve on the board of education at the same time. The top four votegetters will win in this school board election, as long as no more than two are in the same district.
Machelle McCormick, the only sitting member whose seat is not up for election this year, represents the Williamson district. Sabrina Grace resigned her seat to seek election to the West Virginia Senate District 6, which is why there are four seats on the ballot.
This election will be decided in the primary, set for Tuesday, May 10.