“Excellence has to be put back in:” Superintendent candidate visits Kiwanis

Published 10:30 am Saturday, January 27, 2024

VALLEY — The Kiwanis Club of Valley continued its series of local candidate appearances on Wednesday. Members of the club heard from Dr. Sharon Weldon, a candidate for Chambers County Superintendent of Schools in the March 5th Republican primary. The first to speak in he current series of programs was incumbent Probate Judge Paul Story. The following week, Troy Davis, who is challenging him in the upcoming primary, spoke to the club. Current Superintendent of Schools Dr. Casey Chambley will speak next.

State Rep. Debbie Wood is serving as the program chair for this sweries of programs. “I would like for everyone to hear from these candidates before they vote on March 5th,” she said.

Weldon grew up in the Langdale community and attended Lafayette Lanier Elementary School. She graduated from Valley High and has earned multiple college degrees from Auburn University and Troy University. She has 25 years of teaching and administrative experience in Chambers County.

Email newsletter signup

Weldon told members of the club that she will never forget the time when she was in high school and her principal, Leonard Riley, asked her what she planned to study in college. “I told him secondary math education, and he told me there would be a job waiting for me in Chambers County when I graduated from college,” she said.

Sharon married her high school sweetheart, Tommy Weldon, who went on to a career in law enforcement, including serving as Valley’s police chief and being the deputy with the Chambers County Sheriff’s Office. They have three grown children and seven grandchildren.

Weldon’s platform can be summed up in the acronym SUPER. It’s short for superintendent and describes the kind of learning environment all educators are striving for. S is for Student, U is for Unity, P for Professional, E for Employees and R for Respect. “It’s so easy for students to fall through the cracks and be left behind,” she said. “We need to do all we can to keep this from happening. Everyone’s dog is in this fight. So goes the school system, so goes the county.”

When it comes to Unity, Weldon said that some hard decisions need to be made about the future of education in Chambers County. The decision to have consolidation and to build a new high school in Valley as been settled. What’s left now is to get the best new school for the money that’s available. “I’m a good listener,” Weldon said, stressing the importance of hearing people out rather than dictating to them what’s going to be done. “There are things that bind us together as Chambers County residents. What matters now is that we come together. The expression ‘united we stand, divided we fall’ was important in our country coming together in 1776. It’s also important on the local level.”

In explaining P for Professional, Weldon said this reflects on how people are treated.

“Everyone who works for our system needs to know they are valued and appreciated,” she said. “My style of leadership is that if I have influence over someone I will model that. We learned to look at important things as model pieces when I was seeking an aspiring principal’s degree.”

Weldon said that being an assistant principal at Valley High had been a good experience for her. She grew into the job and was well prepared for her next position with the school system, principal at Bob Harding-Shawmut Elementary School. That led to a central office position as director of secondary schools. Weldon said it’s important to understand how circumstances affect a young person’s education. There’s what’s known as a Covid gap and one group that’s very much affected by it are the middle school students.

“Students learn so much basic education when they are in the second, third and fourth grades,” she said. “Those who are in middle school today missed out on some of this during the Covid shutdown in 2020. We sometimes feel like we are flying by the seat of our pants because of what was missed out on. When I was in college I went though some pandemic training. This was before Covid and it seemed like we were in a science fiction movie, but it happened in real life.”

There’s one point Weldon can’t emphasize enough: “Excellence has to be put back in when it comes to student education,” she said.

The Aretha Franklin word – Respect – is critical for any school system.

“It has to be modeled,” Weldon said. “We talk about fear of the Lord in church. It’s all about having respect. Covid hit us hard. We have lost 10 percent of our student population since then. One school has lost over 20 percent of its pre-Covid enrollment. We have got to focus on our present situation and the future. We have to prepare today’s students to function in a global community. We have to be on today’s cutting edge to prepare them for a world that does not exist right now. To succeed in life, they will have to be on the cutting edge of that new world.”

Mayor Leonard Riley was at the meeting. He asked Weldon what she thought of consolidation and of the new school being in Valley, adding that he hopes the Board of Education fully understands that they will be saving some $30 million by the school being built in Valley. That comes in the form of having an 80-acre site donated, a 6A class football stadium being located nearby along with the stadium track, tennis courts, Crestvew Ballpark, etc. All this would have to be built if the school was constructed anywhere else in Chambers County. That would run the cost of the project from in the $90 million range to at least $120 million.

“Should I be elected, I will keep everything in place,” Weldon said. “We won’t be undoing consolidation. That decision has been made and is settled. We now need to figure out how we can get it to all come together.”

When asked if she prefers having a superintendent elected or appointed, Weldon said it might look hypocritical for her to say it since she’s running for the office, but if might be best for it to be an appointed position.

Riley said this issue was put to a vote in Chambers County in the early 1990s, and the voters favored having an elected superintendent by an astounding 78 percent of the vote. “People don’t like having the right to vote being taken away,” Riley said. “It might be better to be an appointed position, but the voters won’t have it.”

A member of the club asked Weldon if she thought enrollment would grow once the new school opened. “How we are unified as a county will determine how much growth, or loss, we have,” she said.

“I think there will be a level of excitement when we get something new,” said Program Chair Debbie Wood. “I am excited about it, and we are getting it done with no new taxes.”

Weldon said she did sympathize with those who lived a good distance away from the school site and would have longer bus rides to and from school each day. She added that it’s important for high school students to take part in extracurricular activities such as athletics or band. “This has saved so many students by keeping them in school. They go on to graduate,” she said. “I think the k-8 STEAM Academy in LaFayette will be vital to future education. I think it can be phenomenal.”