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During a Saturday meet-and-greet at the Wilson County Public Library, Board of Education District 7 candidate Wayne Willingham told attendees he doesn’t pretend to know all the ins and outs of sitting on a school board. He said he needs time and community input to make his tenure successful.
“But I’m a stakeholder in the Wilson schools,” Willingham said. “I have three children in this school system — at Wells Elementary, Toisnot Middle and Fike High School.”
Willingham introduced his cousin, state Rep. Shelly Willingham, a Rocky Mount Democrat whose district includes Edgecombe and Martin counties.
“When Wayne told me that he was running for office, I thought ‘That’s great, because we need people who have the capacity and have the interest who want to serve,’” said Shelly Willingham, who began his political career as a member of the Nash-Rocky Mount Board of Education years ago.“This is not an easy job. And I will say that if you can serve on a school board, you can serve anywhere, because when you’re talking about education and children, everybody has an opinion, everybody can second-guess what you’re doing. They’re not doing it, but they can tell you the best way to do it.”
Shelly Willingham said he is excited about Wayne Willingham running and offered his knowledge and assistance should he win the District 7 seat.
“On the state level, education is the issue we have the most challenges with because it takes up a great deal of our budget, everyone has an opinion, everyone is an expert on how education should be,” Shelly Willinghman said. “This is something that is really important, so if you can get people who really have a passion for children and for learning, then you have a gem. I sense in Wayne this passion to serve on the Board of Education, to serve the children and serve the area. I’m looking forward to great things from him.”
Wayne Willingham listed six areas he would like to tackle if he wins the District 7 seat: finding money to bring the Wilson County school buildings up to standard; revisiting the rule that requires people to register no later than three days before the school board meeting in order to speak and then only having three minutes to speak; plans to do away with the valedictorian and salutatorian honors in high school; school safety; the Spanish immersion program; parent involvement in schools; and the decline in technical trade classes.
The candidate was critical of the Wilson County school board’s policy requiring advance registration for public comment.
“I believe parents should have the right to come in front of the board without registering three days prior and discuss any issue that you have concerns about,” Willingham said. “I am a sales executive, which means I’m out making sales calls or following up with my existing clients and making sure they give me the proper feedback so that we can continue to grow our business or be told that we have to improve on certain things. Then I take that and try to improve upon what they say. That is what I will bring to the school board. But I don’t want to make empty promises here. There are seven members on the board and we have to understand that it takes a majority to change a policy.”
Answering a question from the audience, Willingham addressed the issue of declining Wilson County Schools enrollment.
“I believe some of that has to do with charter and private schools,” Willingham said. “Some parents think that the public school is system is not giving their child a good education or a fair shake. Another reason why I am running for the Board of Education is to make sure that every student gets a fair shake.”
Another question centered on the lack of parental involvement and how Willingham would increase parent participation.
“I want to be very visible in the community,” Willingham said. “During my first 100 days on the board, I want to visit all the schools in my district and attend a PTO meeting in each school. As a former PTO president at Toisnot Middle School, I know how disheartening it is to see three parents attend a meeting.”
Willingham said he’d also like to tackle the issue of declining technical trade classes offered in the schools.
“We do have the early college program and the Wilson Academy of Applied Technology, but there are still more things that can be added to that,” Willingham said. “As I travel across the country with my job, I notice there is a decline in the technical trades as to how many people are actually doing that now. We need people to become plumbers, electricians and auto mechanics. There is a void in those in those trades now, but we’re going to need those tradespeople in our communities. We need to expand our trade programs in schools. Your child might not be a doctor, but maybe he’ll become the best electrician in the state. Maybe start his own company.”
Willingham is running against Stephanie Cyrus and Rhyan Breen for the school board seat. Robin Flinn, the current District 7 representative, is not seeking re-election.