Wakulla County School Board candidates answered questions Thursday, July 14, during a political forum at the Wakulla County Public Library.

Following a brief intermission after the forum for judicial candidates, School Board District 1 Candidates Eddie Hand, Gwendolyn Manning Staten, and Dod Walker joined District 5 Candidates Laura Lawhon and incumbent Jo Ann Daniels at the front of the room for questions from moderator Bill Snowden, editor of The Wakulla Sun. School Board District 3 incumbent Cale Langston is running unopposed.

The candidates took turns introducing themselves with brief remarks, each touching on the importance of education.

District 1 Candidates focused on different issues throughout the evening. Hand said student safety is his No. 1 concern, followed by teacher retention.

“We’ve got to get the pay up,” Hand said. “Talking to teachers, they don’t feel like their voices are heard.” He wasn’t daunted by the fact that his background isn’t in education: “They’re going to educate me.”

One of the reasons Hand decided to run for office was based on his frustration as a parent when he tried to raise a concern at a local school board meeting: “I think the parents have been pushed out of schools.”

Hand said, of the three candidates, he is the only one who currently has children in school.

“As much as I fight for my own kids, I will fight for every kid in Wakulla County,” he said.

Staten shared how much she loves education and how important it can be to find common ground.

“Wakulla County is a great county,” she said. “Naturally, we are a more conservative county. There has to be diversity. There has to be inclusion. If we’re so great, we can’t be afraid.”

She discussed her experiences working with students for the past 23 years, and the importance of giving citizens the opportunity to have their voices heard. Her main goal is better communication from the school board and schools with the parents of Wakulla County.

“We have an excellent school system,” she said, “but I think we have a PR problem. We need our members to be very open and nurturing. We need to make sure we keep that atmosphere and keep our hearts open.”

Walker’s primary goal is to see technical education grow in Wakulla County. He said he wants to be on the board to prevent what’s happened around the country. He said, as a career educator and leader, “I know what’s about to hit us (because of growth), and I want to be a part of making that happen in a positive way.”

He said he wants to be responsive to citizens, teachers, and students.

“I have put my entire life into the students of Wakulla County, and I still have more to give,” he said. Walker also discussed how “recent safety issues have caused us to rethink how we spend our money.”

District 5 candidates brought different perspectives and backgrounds to the forum. Daniels focused on her years of experience as a classroom teacher, administrator and Wakulla County School Board Member; Lawhon focused on how her role as a current classroom teacher of 17 years shows what current needs are.

Goals for Daniels include continuing to offer the unique programs currently in place.

“We need to make sure we are teaching what they need to come out ready,” she said. She wants to focus on improving teacher salaries, without forgetting veteran teachers, and bringing more social programs back into schools.

“There are a lot of things coming out in the world that won’t fly in Wakulla,” Daniels said. “We need to be careful not to let people from other areas dictate what we do here.”

Daniels shared that she has been in the schools a great deal as a school board member, volunteering two days a week for years.

“We have the best kids in Wakulla,” Daniels said. “We’re lucky. We have a great community.”

Lawhon said while the county is doing a great job with school safety, there needs to be more attention paid to teacher retention and closing the achievement gap.

“My biggest push will be teacher retention,” Lawhon said. “Teachers aren’t leaving the classroom. They’re going to other counties to earn more money.”

When Lawhon decided to run for Wakulla County School Board 15 months ago, she started attending board meetings. She was surprised how intimidating the meetings felt to her and how small the attendance was.

“I am frustrated by a lot of the procedures,” she said. “One thing we lack is open and clear communication to the citizens of Wakulla County.”

Lawhon said she wants the best for every student, not just her own.

“It’s important, especially as we move forward, to have a fresh perspective,” she said.

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