Each of the candidates for the contested races for Wilson County school board and Wilson County Commission in the August election were asked three identical questions via email. The responses were limited to 100 words per question. Some responses were edited to fit that length, as well as for style and grammar. The responses will be published in the Wilson Post over several weeks before the election. The candidates are listed in alphabetical order for each position.
What do you consider the biggest issue facing the school district and what is your plan to address it?
BETH MEYERS, REPUBLICAN, WCS ZONE 2: “County growth is obviously a significant issue. However, in conversations with parents and teachers, I heard consistent concerns regarding the types of content children are being continually exposed to and the hyper-focus on students’ feelings, beliefs, and attitudes. In addition, teachers are frustrated with scripted curricula that do not allow them sufficient flexibility to meet the needs of their students. My focus will be to address both parent and teacher concerns and to evaluate the focus and effectiveness of academic programs.”
BILL ROBINSON, INDEPENDENT, ZONE 2 (INCUMBENT): “The biggest issue facing our district is growth. We need to expand capacity in existing buildings, while strategically looking ahead three to five years in anticipation of where growth is soon to explode. It is critical that we keep our funding body, the county commission, updated on growth and the limitations and obstacles that lie ahead, so that, together, we can be proactive in obtaining funding and purchasing land. This plan should be addressed collectively by the Board, our director and others, along with the County Commission, so that we can work together to meet these needs going forward.”
DOROTHY CRITCHLOW, INDEPENDENT, WCS, ZONE 4: “Building capacity to embrace the growth of our county while improving student outcomes is the issue by 1) providing desirable schools on campuses that are accessed by predictable zoning patterns 2) staffing our schools with excellent committed educators and support staff to meet the educational and transportation needs of our increasing population. Steps to address these challenges seem less predictable due to upcoming changes in the new state funding formula, Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement. Our district needs to forecast the costs for the next five years and work with the County Commission to plan for growth/improvement/expansion of our schools.”
JOSEPH PADILLA, REPUBLICAN, WCS, ZONE 4: “I believe the biggest issue facing the WCS District is the inability to generate effective processes to solve the many problems that are preventing our students from reaching their full potential. One example is constantly having open positions for administrators, teachers, and support staff. These circumstances impact every aspect of a student’s educational experience. I plan on reviewing all procedures used to attract new hires for effectiveness. I will also meet with employees hired over the last three years to learn what attracted them to Wilson County. This will identify what works and how we can better focus our efforts.”
What is the best quality you have that you would benefit the school board and district?
MEYERS: “I have 31 years’ experience in education with 20 of those being in the classroom. I have over 15 years’ experience in policy research and analysis. Because of that, I am familiar with national and state level policies, practices, and trends. I believe that my knowledge will be of benefit to the board and the district when engaging in discussions, debates, and decisions that affect the students, teachers, parents, and citizens of Wilson County.”
ROBINSON: “My experience as a teacher, coach and Board member, along with my longevity in the community, is key. I recognize that we are not immune to growth, but I have worked hard to help maintain the qualities of community schools. My track record for utilizing my institutional knowledge and common sense to work with others, including our county commission, to meet our needs speaks for itself. Education in this community has been my life, and that perspective continues to drive me to work to provide the highest quality education for all of the students and families in the district.”
CRITCHLOW: “While my 30 years of experience as an educator/district leader and my education with a doctorate in educational leadership are benefits, I believe my greatest asset is my heart to serve people by respectfully engaging with them, building relationships, and responding to needs as I represent and support the students, families, educators and staffs, and community. I am seeking to be elected as Independent candidate so I can represent ALL residents of the Zone 4 Community and not be confined or directed by political party expectations.”
PADILLA: “My greatest quality that will benefit the school board and district is courage. The last few years have taught us that our freedoms will only be preserved if elected officials have the courage to stand against government overreach and political agendas. Woke ideologies are being pushed into our schools and I possess the courage to stand up for our children and parental rights. Doing what’s right isn’t always easy, but it’s necessary. We the people deserve a school board that refuses to cave in to the woke mob. The future of our country depends on it.”
What is your assessment of the district’s CTE and STEM programs?
MEYERS: “I do not have knowledge of Wilson County’s CTE program to provide an assessment. National research indicates that CTE programs vary significantly in practice and in effectiveness. If elected, I would assess the district’s CTE program by examining its alignment with the state’s plan, data from its needs assessment, and what data is gathered as well as what metrics are utilized to determine the program’s effectiveness, applauding successes and improving weaknesses. Based on past experience, I find the challenge with CTE programs is often in balancing workforce needs with students’ aspirations.”
ROBINSON: “Our CTE and STEM programs are second to none. The proof is found in various award-winning programs across the county. From FFA programs, where student leadership has emerged into State positions for years, to our Student TechCrew partnership with Dell Technologies, we continue to provide students with the opportunity to excel. However, we must remain vigilant in monitoring the programs and ensuring that we offer the programs our communities demand. One of the major roles of our district is preparing students that can be successful in our community. Therefore, investing in and supporting these CTE and STEM programs is essential.”
CRITCHLOW: “The effects of the pandemic provide a natural opportunity to evaluate and improve the offerings, which are affected by instructor availability, partnerships, venue, and financial resources. The district works with local Chambers of Commerce, Wilson Works, and state programs to identify, develop, and support the programs offered. Extended offerings have been scheduled for the upcoming year. Some parents have expressed a desire for training program opportunities for students with special needs. Aligning math and science learning opportunities with a STEM focus in elementary grades can build a strong foundation of inquiry to prepare for focused learning in the upper grades.”
PADILLA: “According to the Association for Career & Technical Education, students enrolled in CTE programs have a graduation rate of 93% compared to the national freshman average of 80%. WCS District’s CTE and STEM programs are growing. I believe if we encourage the participation in CTE programs, as well as focus on celebrating the graduating CTE students, we will attract more students thus raising graduation rates. Right now, our country is experiencing a shortage of quality workers in vital occupations. We need to ensure we are identifying these jobs and aligning our CTE and STEM programs to fill these critical positions.”
Why is this election important for the county?
ROBERT FIELDS, REPUBLICAN, COUNTY COMMISSION DISTRICT 1 (INCUMBENT): “While all elections are important, I feel that the August 4 election is not only important but critical. With inflation at its highest rate in 40 years, interest rates rising, and economic forecasters predicting a major recession, it’s critical that our county leadership is experienced. We need officials who have ‘weathered the storm’ and have the intestinal fortitude to address very difficult conditions.”
MICHELLE NEWTON, INDEPENDENT, COUNTY COMMISSION DISTRICT 1: “Wilson County continues to experience significant population growth as people relocate here for all the great things Wilson County has to offer. This election is important, as over the next four years, decisions will be made on how to best use county funds to address the issues arising from the population growth (such as more schools and infrastructure improvements) and from the effects of the current state of the economy (such as the necessity of competitive salaries for emergency personnel and WCS teachers). We need to elect dynamic leaders who are up to addressing the challenges at hand.”
BETH BOWMAN, REPUBLICAN, COUNTY COMMISSION DISTRICT 6: “It will directly impact us for the next four years and beyond. Voters have a crucial role in deciding who best represents their values and stands with them on important issues. Candidates voted into office will serve at a time when policies become more liberal or more conservative. As the Republican nominee for District 6 County Commissioner, voters can have confidence I will uphold conservative values and beneficial representation.”
KEVIN GRAVES, INDEPENDENT, COUNTY COMMISSION DISTRICT 6: “Of the 25 commissioners in Wilson County, six are not seeking re-election which should be concerning to the voters. I had the opportunity to seek the office of 6th District County Commissioner in 2014 and 2018. In 2018, I earned the support of 571 votes as did my opponent, but the tie was decided by the County Commission. I took the defeat in stride and have continued to be actively involved in the activities in the 6th District. It is imperative that those who fill these vacancies are knowledgeable about their district and things that are happening in their district.”
LAUREN BREEZE, INDEPENDENT, COUNTY COMMISSION DISTRICT 18 (INCUMBENT): “The county commission creates and manages the budget that funds local county services including Wilson County Schools, Wilson County Emergency Management, the Sheriff’s Department, and the Wilson County Road Commission, which all impact the daily lives of citizens of Wilson County. You are voting to elect your representative who will make these funding decisions, including setting the county property tax rate, so it is important to elect people who have solid financial knowledge and are able to read, create, and manage a budget and who value and will focus on the future of Wilson County and represent ALL citizens.”
TERRI NICHOLSON, REPUBLICAN, COUNTY COMMISSION DISTRICT 18: “This election for County Commissioner is exceedingly important for Wilson County because it’s the voice of the people who place 25 individuals in office who are directly responsible for constructing, funding, and managing our county’s budget. It’s the time of year when the people come together and extend their vote of confidence for a candidate.”
What is the best quality you have that would benefit the county commission?
FIELDS: “As a CTAS Certified Public Administrator, I have the knowledge and training to address these conditions. Being retired and residing in district 1 for almost 34 years not only allows me time to address residential concerns, but I have excellent relationships with critical department heads such as WEMA Director Cooper, Sheriff Bryan, Road Commissioner Murphy and Director of Schools Lutrell. I have a solid, verifiable conservative record which indicates that I stand firm on principles.”
NEWTON: “I am dependable, and this will benefit the county commission. My family, friends, neighbors, and employer know they can depend on me, especially in a pinch, from organizing a meal train for a family hit by COVID, to stepping up at my job when a project needs urgent attention or covering for a coworker who is suddenly out of the office due to illness or injury. If elected, my constituents can depend on me to be a resource for and represent them. My dependability will enable me to relate positively to my fellow commissioners and other county and city officials.”
BOWMAN “Discernment. Over the years, I’ve been afforded the opportunity to have high-level, high-pressure leadership roles. The ability to think critically and rationally amid varying opinions in stressful environments to find the best solution is a quality I bring to the commission. I will always have the courage to stand up for what is right with integrity and morals, ensuring we address the correct problems with the right solutions.”
GRAVES: “Passion is the quality I possess that would benefit the county commission. As a lifetime resident of the 6th District, I am very knowledgeable about the district and devoted to doing what best benefits its residents. I understand the many challenges the entire county is facing and am focused on maintaining the best quality of life for everyone in the county. I understand that it takes listening to all sides and cooperation of the commissioners to make the best decisions for the entire county. The passion I have will be reflected in my drive to attend every county commission meeting.”
BREEZE: “I am the only elected official in Wilson County that is a Certified County Finance Officer, a designation granted by the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office. I am also a Certified Public Administrator, one of only two currently serving on the Commission. Elected to the Commission in 2018, I have experience serving on the education, emergency management, finance and rules committees. In addition, I hold a Master’s in Business Administration. My strong background in county government finance, accounting, budgeting, and debt management makes me the best educated candidate for District 18 to make fiscally responsible decisions and provide accountable leadership.”
NICHOLSON: “Having had the fortunate opportunity to grow up here has provided me with the important working knowledge of knowing where our county once was, where we are now, and how we can productively plan for the future. My working knowledge of not only Wilson County, but of Middle Tennessee as a whole, will provide the people in our communities, and the commission with smart opportunities to contribute to areas where we can come together and productively plan, so that Wilson County is number one in everything we do.”
What is something your constituents have told you they want to see changed and what is your plan to address it?
FIELDS: “Understaffed emergency and law enforcement services were addressed recently. I am happy to report those additional personnel in both departments were approved. I will continue to seek venues to fully staff these services without any tax increase. Another area is school overcrowding. The safety of our children. The BOE and SROs have a thorough plan in place, but what about the buses. With a driver shortage, routes will be combined allowing elementary, middle and high school students riding together, promoting the potential for bullying. I propose a training program for parents/volunteers who ride the buses to ensure bullying doesn’t occur.”
NEWTON: “One issue presented to me by potential constituents is getting drivers to slow down in some of the District 1 neighborhoods that are active with pedestrians, animals and children playing. Another concern is ensuring our schools have adequate funding to pay teachers’ salaries that are more competitive with those in neighboring counties. Addressing these issues will involve communication with law enforcement, the board of education, fellow commissioners and others as well as taking a closer look at where funds are being allocated in the county budget.”
BOWMAN: “District 6 is experiencing a lot of growth and changes in all areas. If elected, I will have monthly Friday morning roundtables to listen, share ideas, and talk through new and existing issues. I believe in partnering with you to expand collaborative communication through roundtables, monthly newsletters, a Facebook page, and a willingness to talk anytime. Communicating as a community, together, to find the best solutions to land developments, roads, schools, and emergency services is the tipping point that ripple into real innovation and positive change—beyond our district into all of Wilson County.
GRAVES: “Extensive growth, traffic, and infrastructure are three of the biggest concerns that have been presented to me. Most everyone understands that growth is inevitable, but if the infrastructure is not adequate to handle the issues that arise with fast growth, then this growth proposes challenges for the residents. No one person has all the answers, so working collaboratively with the other commissioners who each possess different strengths and knowledge is key. One current example is the proposed rock quarry in Trousdale County. While this is a different county, knowing the affects it may have on the 6th District is imperative.”
BREEZE: “I have been asked to keep taxes low as the county population grows and focus on expanding infrastructure and address county department needs, to ensure citizens receive the high level of services that they deserve. I will use my knowledge to find creative solutions to prevent unnecessary tax increases. This year’s budget added 24 new needed positions, funded raises for county employees, and issued bonds to rebuild WWMS and purchase land for new schools, all without a tax increase. Going forward, I will continue to use my extensive financial skills to utilize tax dollars fully and keep taxes low.”
NICHOLSON: “Being on the campaign trail these past several months has provided me with the best way to listen to the people. This about what they want and how I can satisfy that request. They want to see planned and smart growth that benefits our county. It’s no secret that Wilson County is growing extensively with people choosing to live here. They want communities that accommodate smart growth.”