Recap of GVACC forum: Superintendent candidates

Published 8:30 am Saturday, March 2, 2024

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The Republican candidates for Chambers County School District superintendent answered questions on testing, consolidation, school buildings and others at Thursday night’s forum.

Dr. Casey Chambley, the incumbent, and Dr. Sharon Weldon will face off in the Republican primary on March 5, with the winner facing Democrat Winford Ashmore in the fall. 

The forum, held at Valley City Hall, was organized by the Greater Valley Area Chamber of Commerce and moderated by The Valley Times-News. The forum was live-streamed on The Valley Times-News Facebook page. 

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Thursday’s forum was the first public opportunity either candidate had to address a point of contention that occurred at the end of a Feb. 22 forum hosted by the Chambers County Republican Club. At that event, Chambley accused Weldon of incorrectly certifying scores for Inspire Academy, which he said caused both LaFayette and Valley high schools to end up on the priority list. Weldon denied the claim. Five schools, all with D scores, were listed on the state’s priority list for needing improvement. 

Chambley said the score at both Valley and LaFayette High School would have gone up to a C grade rather than a D, meaning they wouldn’t have priority status. If the scores were certified differently, Chambley said the score for Valley would have gone from 68 percent to 69.55 percent, which would have rounded to 70 percent. LaFayette would have gone from a 68 to a 70.13 percent. 

The candidates were not asked directly about the disagreement Thursday night. However, both candidates were asked how they would address test scores. Earlier in the night, during the school board district 1 forum, the moderator, Valley Times-News Publisher Daniel Evans, asked a follow-up question acknowledging the disagreement about how the certification error was made. In the follow-up, candidates were asked about the need to improve regardless of whether the score was a 68 or a 70. Later, when the superintendent candidates addressed the question, they appeared to keep the earlier follow-up question in mind. 

“No one’s happy with a C,” Chambley said about state test scores. “Our school district has never had an A. We’ve not been in an A category. Several of our schools have had Bs.”

Chambley said that the district has “impoverished areas” and does not have as much money and resources as other areas. He continued saying that COVID-19 and teacher shortage have contributed to the scores as well. As for ways to address the scores, Chambley said that they are having more one-on-one meetings with the principals, looking at their programs and offering more test preparation opportunities. 

Weldon also did not discuss the certification during Thursday’s forum. In her answer, Weldon suggested that more meaningful professional development for teachers would allow them to better prepare students and teach the standards and curriculum. She added the district should educate the parents on the tests so they can help and “empower” their children. As for students, Weldon said that they should be prepared on how to take the test rather than teaching the test itself.

“We can push knowledge down a student’s throat all day long. But we’ve got to make sure that what we’re teaching and what we’re doing is really addressing that,” Weldon said. 

The candidates also addressed the low graduation rate in the county’s high schools, which sits at 83.6%.

Weldon discussed her time in the front office when she created a data point for graduation rate that tracks a cohort of students all four years, rather than looking only at seniors when calculating the rate. 

“I’m looking at students that graduated without a diploma or exiting without a diploma and develop characteristics that they have in common… Not that we could change all of them, but we could make sure that we were aware of them and that we understood the importance of building relationships with our students,” Weldon said. “To make sure we understand the story that every student has. It’s such a powerful way to see that graduation rate go up.”

Chambley said COVID-19 played a big role in students dropping out. To address it, CCSD holds exit conferences differently than they have in the past, he said. 

“When we sent them home, many of them did not come back,” Chambley said. 

He added that 83 percent were kids that were in the midst of COVID-19, however, last year’s graduation rate was 86 percent, with LaFayette High having a rate of 91 percent. 

A question was also asked about changing time zones during the consolidation of the high schools. Chambley said the school board is working with the cities and other entities to make the change to central time sooner rather than later. Weldon recommended looking at how other border counties are addressing the issue and then make a decision.

With safety always being a topic of discussion in schools, both candidates talked about how they hope to make schools safer. Weldon hopes to look at funding and grant opportunities for safety measures.

“We’re operating in schools that all were built before Columbine happened. We have to go back, and we have to take a look at how we do things right… I don’t think we can ever say we’re looking too much at school safety,” Weldon said.

Chambley agreed that safety is a priority.

“You can’t make your schools prisons either,” he said. 

He said that limiting access to buildings and potential damage that would be done is key. He then discussed the measures the district has taken, including fencing, gates and access cards.

The ever-important issue of consolidation was brought up by asking the candidates how they hope to unite the LaFayette and Valley communities.

Weldon began by saying that both sides need to be heard. She said that having taught in both communities she feels able to bridge the two together. 

“Just getting them in the building isn’t gonna make it…making sure that when they walk in [Chambers County High School], they don’t see a new Valley High School or a new LaFayette High School,” Weldon said. “But what they see is our new high school, the new high school that we’ve worked hard to equip and staff with a reflection of what they’re bringing in.”

Chambley said the way through the consolidation in staying on the path they are currently on. 

“I think stability and structure is very important right now I think that we have got to maintain the pace…Working with the groups and the professional groups that we’ve hired to help us through this transition.” Chambley said.


Weldon denied the claim at the Feb. 22 forum. The next day, the VTN talked with Weldon who spoke on the claim. 

“We don’t see anything. All we know is that our people have made their corrections … I can’t see the updates, and 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,” Weldon said. 

She added that it is the role of the principals and counselors to look at the graduation rates, test scores and other data to make sure that it is correct. Once they send in the corrections, she gets a notification, certifies the date and sends it to the state. 

The VTN talked with Chambley on Monday, and he clarified his comments. He said that the original error was a computer glitch making the CTE completer scores for the high schools a zero percent for the score of College and Career Readiness. 

However, he maintained that Weldon certified the scores twice. The state sent back the results when they saw the CTE completers, according to an email sent between the district and the state. Chambley said Tyler Nelson reached out to Weldon to re-certify scores. On Aug. 8, Weldon’s email account re-certified the results, according to a screenshot of the scoring portal, the CTE completer score was still a zero when re-certified. At this point, Weldon was out of the front office and back to teaching at W.F. Burns Elementary. Chambley said it would have taken too much time to give credentials to another staff member to certify.

Chambley added that the error changed the total score of both Valley and LaFayette High School would have gone up to a C grade on the state score rather than a D, meaning they wouldn’t have priority status. The score for Valley would have gone from 68 percent to 69.55 percent, which would have rounded to 70 percent. LaFayette would have gone from a 68 to a 70.13 percent. 

At the GVACC forum the moderator, Daniel Evans, editor of VTN, acknowledged that the candidates disagreed about how the error was made, but asked if a 68 or 70 and 71 percent is something they view as needing to improve and how they would raise the scores.

“No one’s happy with a C,” Chamley responded. “Our school district has never had an A. We’ve not been in an A category. Several of our schools have had Bs.”