Two veteran incumbents on the Early school board tout their experience and service to the community as they seek new terms in the May 11 election. Two challengers believe they will bring fresh ideas and if elected.
In Place 3, 12-year incumbent Ray Bertrand faces challenger Anna Allen, and in Place 4, 15-year incumbent Mike Kingston faces challenger Mark Rome. Place 5 incumbent Shawn Russell is unopposed.
The Bulletin will publish articles over the next few days about candidates in the school board and city elections, beginning with today's article about the Early school board candidates. Today's article is based on comments the candidates made at a candidates forum last week in Early.
Bertrand is the owner of Bertrand Technology Solutions and has lived in Early for 19 years. "When I talk about kids I have a passion that I can't explain," Bertrand said. "I firmly believe that every student can learn, and we have a great district. I want to provide our teachers with more resources so we can be even better.
"I'm not done serving this community, our kids, our teachers and our staff, until every student can achieve their maximum. Unfortunately we're not going to get there, but I want to be a part of the team that backs our staff, when it's time for raises of step increases or insurance, whatever it might be."
Bertrand said the district has worked hard on increasing its communication to the community and said one possibility is to have "some open forums like this."
Bertrand believes long-term needs include a need for a new high school, making the existing high school into the middle school and "(moving) some folks around." Other big needs are an auditorium and a new gym, Bertrand said.
Bertrand said his vision for the district "hasn't changed. My vision is, kids first. If you put kids first, everything else will come into play. I want every kid to be successful. That's my vision."
Allen, who works at the Social Security office, has lived in Early since she was 5 and with her family has been involved in athletics and other aspects of community service. "I just feel that it is my moment to give back to the community," Allen said. "This is the next step, the next phase in my service."
Allen said she remembers her teachers, the administration and "the unity. I've always felt like this school brings the community together." Allen said she's proud to be part of a district "that brings so much to everyone."
Allen was asked to explain her campaign signs that declare "a new voice, a new vision."
"I do think I have new, fresh ideas," Allen said, noting she has a good understanding of what a board is because her husband, as an employee of the Brown County Water Improvement District, works for a board.
Allen said there are ways the district can increase its communication to the community such as having a committee of community members "that advertises what Early does, maybe have a community day. I think I can bring good ideas to advertising what we are all about."
But there are areas where improvements are needed, Allen said. "I think we've lost a bit of a spark," Allen said, noting that there are some morale issues. She said if elected she'd want to find out what's causing those issues and "let's have some new ideas, let's try to think this out ..."
Kingston, a physician's assistant, said he's seen many changes in Early and there is much to be proud of. "Serving on the board, especially in a small town, is hand-in-hand with serving the community," Kingston said. "I've heard it told many times that the school in Early is the community."
Kingston said he loves "the cohesion you see, the intensity of the love for the district from the entire community. ... Everybody knows everybody else. I think that's my favorite part, everybody knowing everybody ... and everybody coming together for the kids, be it athletics or ag or all the UIL events that we're involved in."
When asked about the district's needs, Kingston noted the board's consideration of building a fine arts center, which would require a bond vote. "It takes a community to build something like that," Kingston said.
Kingston said he supports fine arts but realizes it would mean a bond issue and tax increase.
Kingston said the topic of increasing communication between the district and the community "has been a hot topic" at board meetings. Kingston said the board has been criticized for spending money on communicating with the community. "It's really important to attract attention and we want attention," Kingston said. "We want our name out there.
"And our kids out there are doing that. I think the biggest thing we do to communicate is our kids. We've had kids all over the nation spreading the gospel of Early. Those kids learn, and we get the name of Early out there in robotics, in athletics ..."
Rome is a 25-year Early resident and a business owner. "I've been a part of this community and I know that some things don't go quite the way we want them to," Rome said. "Being on top is always good but it's how we deal with failures to get back on top."
Rome said while his opponent, Kingston, "is a stand-up guy," he believes it's time for a change. People who hold elected offices for many years can become complacent, Rome said. "I think it's time for just a new set of eyes and ears."
Rome said he wants to help convey "a better understanding what our school does. The teachers are very committed about what they're doing. I just want to help support and strengthen that commitment."
Rome said there are diverse personalities in the community and not everyone things alike. He likes the camaraderie in the district and "when we do fail we're able to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off ... Early's always been resilient in that way."
When asked what he sees as some of the district's needs, Rome said, "I see kids who can't even check their own oil or change a light bulb in a car. I just want to see some basic things that kids can learn that are fundamental things in life."