On the ballot: Ruben, Stephens and Terry

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Purdy School Board candidates vie for two seats

Three candidates are vying for two seats on the Purdy School Board.

On Tuesday, voters will be choosing between incumbents Ruben Henderson and Ken Terry and newcomer Kelli Stephens.

Henderson is completing his first term on the school board and hoping for another opportunity to represent the residents of Purdy in the school district.

Henderson is following in his father’s footsteps and his brother’s footsteps, who served 27 years and 12 years on the school board respectively.

“I know what it takes to do the job,” Henderson said. “I’ve seen it all. My father was on the board when they added on the middle school, and my brother was there when they did the FEMA building.”

Henderson said he would like to see the school expand the elementary school gym so that facility can host more activities and services.

A 2002 graduate of Purdy High School himself, Henderson has four children attending Purdy Elementary and High School and has first-hand knowledge of the school and its student body.

“Purdy holds very good values and morals,” he said. “The school has a family atmosphere, and as long as I’m on the board, I want to maintain that atmosphere. I want to see everybody succeed.”

If elected to another term on the school board, Henderson said he will strive for continued excellence, coming off what he said is an impressive track record with how it dealt with the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.

“I think we handled it all great,” Henderson said. “We were one of the first schools that mandated masks immediately, and I think the prayers helped more than anything. Now, we’re starting to get back to normal, the students are eating at tables in the cafeteria again, and we made it through without any closures.”

Looking forward, Henderson said he is excited to work with Superintendent Travis Graham, who will be replacing Superintendent Mindi Gates July 1.

“We are pretty good money-wise, and we hired a new superintendent who I think is going to be very good,” Henderson said. “We’re just going to keep going and we’ll be in pretty good shape.”

Stephens is a life-long Purdy resident and a 1994 graduate of Purdy High School.

Stephens said, as an educator, she would bring a unique perspective to the Purdy School Board and invaluable experience to the district.

Stephens has 20 years of experience in the public school system at the primary and secondary levels.

“I started teaching fourth grade, then kindergarten,” she said. “I was a principal and then went to the collegiate level where I teach teachers now.”

With her background in education, Stephens said one of her priorities is recruiting quality teachers for the district.

“I like to put the best teachers that we can out there,” she said.

Stephens recognizes that the past couple of years have been a challenge for the school district, the Board of Education, students and teachers, and hopes the coronavirus pandemic can be a learning experience that will strengthen the district.

“I think the school district did a great job,” she said. “The superintendent and the school board, did great. And, the kids are resilient, they’re going to do great regardless.

“I think the biggest challenge will be really trying to get back to normal, looking at policy and procedure from here on out. What can we learn from this and put things into play that will address these issues if it comes up in the future.”

Stephens also said she has a passion for early education and would like to dig in and see what Purdy is offering younger students.

“I would like to see what our programs are,” she said. “I have a heart for early childhood and want to look at the younger grades. There’s always room to improve.”

She also said she is excited about Purdy’s internship programs for high school students and one of her goals would be to insure those programs are available for future students.

“I know there are really great things in terms of internships at the high school and I’m a really big fan of internships,” she said. “I want to make sure the high school kids are ready for the college level.”

Terry is a 1976 graduate of Purdy High School and has watched his siblings, children and now his grandchildren attend Purdy schools.

He has served nearly a decade on the school board, first getting elected in 2012.

Terry said he is inspired to continue serving on the school board because it is one way to give back to his community.

“I’m a community-minded person,” he said. “The school is the heartbeat of the community and I want to keep it as the centerpiece of our community.”

Terry said the Purdy School District may be the most important institution in the city.

“The school is the town’s largest employer,” he said. “It’s our heart and soul, and we need to protect it.”

Terry said his experience as a school board member and as a community member, parent, grandparent and former student gives him the kind of knowledge that will help him protect the school district.

“My experience gives me perspective on finding the weak points and recognizing our strong points,” Terry said.

Over the past two years, school districts across the country have been forced to adapt and change to meet guidelines and safety regulations formed to protect students and staff from the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think administration and staff have done an excellent job,” Terry said. “We’ve managed to avoid all closures and that’s amazing. It’s a testament to staff, starting all the way at the top and going right down to the students. Everyone complied without complaining.”

With the exceptional handling of the challenges brought on by the pandemic, Terry said the biggest issue facing Purdy schools is the dramatic fluctuation of students the school sees from time to time. He explained that the student body can range from 645 students to 740 from year to year, and it is up to the school board to ensure it is managing a staff that is proportionate to the student body.

“We continue to grow, and it is a challenge to make sure we have a proportionate number of staff members,” he said. “We have one (grade level) that is 62 students. That’s huge. That’s been a challenge watching them come up. It’s probably our biggest challenge. It takes more planning that one might think.”

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