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Eight candidates for Hamilton County's District 9 school board seat answered questions and shared their qualifications in a recent candidate forum.

The July 27 forum, held by District 9 county commissioner and former school board member Steve Highlander, provided candidates four minutes to introduce themselves, their qualifications and reasons for running for the seat, followed by two minutes to answer questions submitted ahead of time by district residents.

Two candidates, Gary Kuehn and Pam Womack, have administrative experience in the Hamilton County Schools system and other educational roles.

Kuehn worked in administrative roles in the district at Hunter Middle School, Central High School, Hamilton County Adult High School and Harrison Bay Future Ready Center. Womack teaches at Lee University and served as a principal and teacher in the district at nine schools, including District 9's Snow Hill Elementary.

"I am not a politician, I am a teacher. I want to do what's best for kids," Womack said to forum attendees. "Every decision I made as a teacher, every decision I made as an administrator, every decision I've ever made even as a parent, was best for kids, and that's where my decisions will be made, they will be what's best for children."

Other candidates with experience in the district are Kenny Lawson, who worked in maintenance in Hamilton County Schools for 26 years; and Patrick Hampton, who worked as a substitute history teacher at Ivy Academy.

Questions with topics ranging from open enrollment to the school system's biggest challenges yielded nearly the same answers from candidates: more parent choice and parent participation.

Candidates for District 9 school board seat

Roddey Coe
Patrick Hampton
Trey House
Gary Kuehn
Kenny Lawson
Patrick Lee
James Walker
Pam Womack

"I'm so proud of the work that we've done, but I don't think parents feel like they can go and have a say in this school board,"said candidate James Walker, a lifelong resident of District 9 and board member of District 9's Ooltewah Harrison Education Foundation, in his introductory statement. "I've never had a problem speaking my mind and I've always been able to reach out to Coach Highlander and his predecessors and county commissioners, but I don't think the majority of people feel like they can do that, and we've got to get the school board and the school system back where we're a part of it."

Parent choice became a more pressing issue in the spring when dozens of parents and community members protested the district's mask requirement at the May school board meeting, less than two weeks before the requirement expired on June 1.

Several candidates brought up other issues in their answers — including resources for students with disabilities, a desire to rework the school district's budget and disdain for critical race theory — but one area where most agreed was finding the next district superintendent locally.

"I agree with most everybody up here, I'd love to see somebody local. I remember when we had local superintendents, several local superintendents that were excellent superintendents. They obviously didn't face the problems that we face nowadays, but at that time they were good superintendents," Lawson said during the forum.

District 9 consists of 10 schools in the Ooltewah and Harrison areas. Highlander left the school board after seven years to fill the District 9 county commission seat in June.

The Hamilton County Commission will select the next District 9 school board member at its meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 4.

Contact Anika Chaturvedi at achaturvedi@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592.

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