OAK HILL — Dozens of area residents turned out Thursday night for a candidates’ forum sponsored by Fayette Fair Share, a local political action committee whose goal is to educate and lobby for “Fair jobs. Fair taxes. Fair elections. Quality healthcare and education for all.”

Candidates in races for the Fayette County Board of Education, Fayette County Commission, District 32 of the House of Delegates, West Virginia Senate District 10 and District 3 of the U.S. House of Representatives were on hand at the Southern Appalachian Labor School’s Historic Oak Hill School to introduce themselves and their platforms, as well as to take questions from the PAC and the citizens in the audience.

The evening opened with presentations from candidates for the Board of Education. All five individuals seeking election to the non-partisan board were in attendance: incumbents Pat Gray and Patsy Holliday (both New Haven District) and challengers Lou Jones (Valley District), Gary Ray (Plateau District) and Marion Tanner (New Haven District).

Three seats are up for election on the Board of Education, but only two of those seats can be filled by candidates from the New Haven District. Of the five BOE seats, no district may have more than two representatives.

Fayetteville’s Patsy Holliday, who has lobbied in the past for allowing prayer in schools, said that is still on her list of goals for the county system. Holliday, who said she has clashed with Dr. Terry George, school superintendent, and other board members in the past, decried the state of affairs.

“I’m all for our children, but I’ve never seen such underhanded actions in my life... I’m bullied, ... but everybody knows that because its been on TV and it’s been in the newspaper,” she said.

In spite of that, Holliday said, she wants to return to the board because “I’m all for the children. I don’t think we should have throw-away children. I don’t think we need to dump them on another county,” she said, referring to the plan to close Valley High School and allow its students to attend Riverside High in Kanawha County or Oak Hill High or Midland Trail High in Fayette County.

She said she also wants the BOE to readdress the Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plan (CEFP) and expressed her concern for the closure of Fayetteville High School.

Gary Ray, a retired educator, coach and administrator who recently moved back to Oak Hill following his retirement from the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission in Parkersburg, told those in attendance that, for him, it’s all about the children.

“I have no hidden agenda,” he said. “I’ve never run for office. The reason I’m running is one-fold: To take care of kids.”

Ray said the county system’s curriculum needs to be improved in order to get students “college-ready or job-ready.” School safety also must be addressed, he said.

“If I’m elected, I’ll stay student-focused. We’re going to start moving toward the top (in school rankings), and we’re going to stay there.

“There’s going to be some challenges,” he said, “but I think we’re up to the challenges.”

Another retired educator, Marion Tanner of Fayetteville, spent 14 years teaching at Rosedale Elementary and 14 years at Fayetteville Middle following a brief stint in Braxton County. “After I retired, I decided if you’ve taught middle school, you can do anything, so here I am,” she joked of her reason for seeking a BOE seat.

Actively involved in the Read Aloud Fayette County group and its various facets, Tanner said her work with those groups ties in with her desire to serve on the board.

“All of these programs are designed to motivate our kids to continue reading and learning,” she said, adding that her goals as a member of the board are to improve student achievement, school safety and student wellness, and enhancing the curriculum.

“It takes all of us to get this accomplished,” she said, “engaged teachers, challenging curriculum, parents, business leaders, government leaders.”

Pat Gray of Ansted, current vice president of the BOE, is seeking his third term. Gray, who also is pastor of a four-church charge in the United Methodist Church and deputy chief of the Ansted Volunteer Fire Department, joked that “some people may really wonder why I would want to run again.”

He pointed out the successful process the county system went through to have local control of the schools returned after being under state control and said, “I want to make sure we provide the best educational opportunities for the children in Fayette County.”

He said his priorities on the board are to provide safe schools for students and educators, fiscal responsibility and to provide a quality curriculum for all students.

Former BOE member Lou Jones of Gauley Bridge said the fact that the schools are back under local control is the impetus for her to seek election.

“The system was taken over by the state ... and as a board member, I could only do two things,” she said, pointing out all other decisions were made at the state level.

“Now the control is back and I want in there to do some things that we need to do.”

One of those things that needs to be addressed, Jones said, is to reconsider the closure of Valley High School.

“I am so upset that my kids do not have a set place to go to school. They can choose one of three places to go to school.”

She is in favor of a middle high school concept through which Valley High could remain open with the support of BridgeValley Community & Technical College. Valley is not her only focus, she pointed out. Her priorities are to fix the curriculum so that all the county’s students can achieve more, offer more programs and focus on school safety.

Email ckeenan@register-herald.com; follow on Twitter @Fayette_Cheryl

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