Candidate Forum Gets Heated

Published 10:15 am Saturday, February 24, 2024

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Thursday night’s Republican Club candidate forum was eventful, highlighted by a disagreement between Superintendent candidates Casey Chambley and Sharon Weldon during closing statements. 

The Republican Club invited all candidates up for local offices to participate in the forum, including democratic candidates. Candidates who were running opposed in the March 5 primary participated in a Q&A, with candidate-submitted questions. Unopposed candidates were introduced and stayed after the event to talk with the public. 

The superintendent candidates were asked questions about dress codes, consolidation and the state assessment scores that were made public a couple of months ago. During one of the questions submitted by Chambley regarding test scores, Weldon expressed concern about the state of the district.

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“We have eight schools that received scores. Seven of those schools, the report card grades went down. Five of those schools were labeled as priority schools,” Weldon explained. “A priority school for those that don’t know took the place of the term failing school in the state of Alabama… that’s a school that receives a D or an F.”

Chambley rebuted that COVID-19 had an impact on the scores and explained that new practices being implemented to decrease absenteeism and improve test preparation. During closing statements, Welson went first. She discussed graduation rates, unifying the county and raising test scores. Chambley gave the final statement of the night and went back to the test score discussion.

“One thing that my opponent fails to tell you is that during her tenure at central office…she was director of curriculum for secondary education and director over those pieces that deal with the report card,” Chambley said. “… We do have five schools that are all the priority. However, what she’s not telling you is two of those schools are our high schools. Both of those schools would not have been priority schools had it not been for the error that happened on her watch for certifying data.”

At this point, Weldon stood up and said, “I can’t be quiet because that’s not true.”

Chambley continued, “Data did not get put in on our college and career rating completers. We had 33 students that did not get certified. On Aug. 5, they got put in and then on Aug. 8, she certified it as zeroes.” 

He finished by claiming that both Valley and LaFayette High School would not be priority schools if it hadn’t been for the error in certifying. Weldon continued to deny the claim as the forum was wrapping up.

On Friday at the groundbreaking for the new Chambers County High School, Chambley maintained his stance. 

“In the board of education, everybody has different roles to do different things, they have to certify things and turn things in … we found that there had been a mistake that had happened. We certified that data before the data rolled in. And so it is reported as if we didn’t have any completers. It is reported as a zero when we in fact did have completers,” Chambley said. 

Completers refers to students who completed the certification at Inspire Academy, effectively graduating from the program at the Academy.

“She was the secondary director, and she was in charge of certifying that data…I’m not insinuating she did anything on purpose. However, if you’re going to continue to say those things like that the priority schools are just the fault of one person, that’s not the case. And we if we’re going to do that, we need to talk about the whole thing,” Chambley said. 

Weldon spoke to the Valley Times-News Friday afternoon about the accusation. 

“He doesn’t understand the certifying process. Because when we get that data to certify, they send out the spreadsheets. It has to be updated and corrected,” Weldon said. “Not at the district level, at the school level… It was the responsibility of the principal and the counselor to make sure that got done.”

She adds that once the schools have made their corrections, the data is sent in to the district to certify. 

“We don’t see anything. All we know is that our people have made their corrections … I can’t see the updates, I can’t see the percentages, that’s not available. Because all you’re doing is certifying that you have major changes in the system, and that it’s time for the State Department to look at it and approve.”

The error that was alluded to involved the certification of completion rates for Inspire Academy. Weldon said the state sent Inspire Academy data back and Weldon told the school to resubmit the data. She said Valley and LaFayette had no corrections to make. 

This was in June. Weldon’s last day in the front office was July 30, after which she returned to teaching. She said Inspire had not been ready to recertify by the time she left.

“They made changes. And then I was notified and asked if I could do it. That all the changes had been made. [I was asked] ‘Could I certify it?’ [The front office] didn’t know how to do it, And I did.”

Weldon said she was asked to certify the results after she had left the front office to go back to teaching because no one else knew the system. 

Weldon added that Chambley claiming that the error had an impact on Valley and LaFayette’s statuses as priority schools was also not true. She said that the high schools were going to be priority schools regardless of the error involving Inspire Academy. 

“Our priority schools did not include Inspire Academy because they didn’t get a score this year,” Weldon said. “[Valley and LaFayette] were priority schools, and it was not about their graduation rates, it was about their academics … it’s not about the certifications.”

Weldon ended by saying, “I think one thing that I’ve learned through this whole process is the need for our school system to take the time to educate our community… if our community knows what goes into these scores, it’ll make such a difference.”

The forum also included Probate Judge candidates Troy Davis and Paul Story. The main topics of conversation in that forum were qualifications to do the job of probate judge. Story, the incumbent, talked about his past five years in the office, history in health care and time on the Valley City Council. Davis discussed his leadership as a supervisor at his company, Baxter Healthcare. He added that as a child he went through the probate process when he and his sister were adopted by his grandparents. 

Chambers County School Board District 1 candidates did not participate. Frederick “Reco” Newton was at the forum, but Jeffery Finch was not so Newton was just introduced.