Five candidates are vying for three seats on the Johnston County Board of Education.
Three incumbents – Butler Hall, vice chairwoman Dorothy Johnson and chairman Larry Strickland – want to keep their seats. However, challengers Keith Bienias and Dade Sherman are looking to forge their own nameplates.
Voters will elect three favorite candidates on Tuesday, General Election Day. The winners will serve four-year terms.
A reporter asked the same questions of each of the five candidates. Below, in alphabetical order, are their responses. Johnson did not respond to multiple inquiries.
‘Say no to status quo’
Bienias, 53, of Clayton, served in the U.S. Air Force for 23 years but has spent the past decade in education. He said he’s held a variety of positions at different schools and currently serves as the soccer coach at Southern Nash High School, where he also works with “young men and women who have made poor choices.”
“I have traveled the 706 square miles of Johnston County to see, first-hand, every public elementary, middle and high school,” Bienias said. “In doing so, I have encountered a number of concerned students, teachers, administrators and taxpayers who would like to see an infusion of new ideas and better progress with our school system.”
His platform has four main planks, starting with what he calls “say no to status quo.” The campaign slogan refers to a new, fresh approach that Bienias said he can bring to the board.
Bienias said he also wants to help maintain stable and fair pay for teachers, keep kids fit and take a “strong look” at the “testing madness.”
“Having worked as a teacher in Johnston County, I have seen teachers cry, students throw up and the millions we spend on testing each year,” Bienias said. “I understand the value of testing; however, I also fully believe in our hired leadership and in their ability to hire and retain passionate teachers who want their students to be successful and achieve excellence.”
As for reducing overcrowding at the nearly 50 percent of Johnston County schools that are over capacity, Bienias said he won’t consider shipping students to less populated schools. That would repeat the same “redistricting madness that happened with our Wake neighbors,” he said.
An ongoing challenge
Hall, 69, of Four Oaks, is a former teacher who spent the majority of his career in Johnston County classrooms. The Benson Chamber of Commerce member taught U.S. history primarily before retiring as principal of North Johnston High School 11 years ago.
As the county’s population continues to grow, Hall said providing safe, comfortable schools for students is increasingly important.
“The voters of Johnston County have supported their school system with bond referendums that have provided us with wonderful buildings, but this challenge is ongoing,” he said.
The need for school construction is real, he said, and several projects are underway. “Mobile classrooms are a temporary solution, but the fewer of these as possible the better,” he said.
But as important as good buildings are, Hall said, what goes on in the classroom is the reason schools exist. That’s why he’s also interested in making sure the school system makes the right hires each year.
This is the third time Sherman, 61, has run for a seat on the school board. This go-round, the probation officer from Smithfield said his top priority is supporting teachers.
“I want to get groups of teachers together, where they have no fear of retaliation, and get their input on things that may be done in the school district,” said Sherman, whose wife, Starla, teaches at Polenta Elementary School.
He said he thinks the burden of paperwork, not pay, is the reason a lot of teachers are leaving the profession.
In regards to overcrowding, Sherman said he’s not against moving students around.
“You need to fill up the ones that are not at capacity before you start building,” Sherman said. “Then, when you’ve done that, you start looking at new sites for building.”
A fifth term?
Strickland, 59, of Pine Level, has served on the board since 1998.
He works as an appraiser with the state Department of Transportation, a job he’s held for the past 23 years. Before that, he worked for Eljer Industries of Wilson from 1979 to 1990.
Strickland, a member of the Pine Level Lions Club, said he wants to continue to support the district’s leadership team in meeting state standards and providing a safe place for students to learn. Another priority is working with county commissioners to make sure enough money comes the school system’s way.
When asked about overcrowding at schools, Strickland said one of the reasons the district has grown is because of its quality schools.
“Having a quality classroom environment for our students is very important,” he said. “I will continue to work with our county leaders to provide opportunities to build new schools and wings to relieve overcrowding at our schools.”