HALLSVILLE — Hallsville ISD will hold one contested election race during the upcoming May 1 election cycle for one trustee seat currently held by incumbent trustee Lee Gaw.
With early voting kicking off on Monday in Harrison County, Gaw is being challenged for his trustee seat by two newcomers, Beth Duncan and Dustin Wisdom.
The trio were recently asked about what drives their passion to serve on the Hallsville ISD board of trustees and what issues they feel should be tackled by the board.
Beth Duncan, challenger
Duncan said she has always sought to be involved in her community and formerly served on the Hallsville City Council.
“People say I’m a ‘difference maker,’” Duncan said Friday. “It began when I served on Hallsville City Council and recognized the needs of my community. Sitting in that seat and being a young woman (in my early 20s), was not the easiest of jobs. While on that committee, I learned from some of the most knowledgeable community members Hallsville has ever had. Those men and how they served our community with the tough decisions that had to be made, and the fierce leadership they bestowed, is a lifelong lesson that will never be forgotten.”
Duncan said she feels now is the right time for her to serve on the Hallsville ISD board of trustees.
“I wanted to wait until I had gained the knowledge/experience of what it was like to have children in our school system, and to understand what our parents, children, and our community needed as a whole,” she said. “I will say this, the men that have served in the past have done a fine job. However, the experience I’m able to bring to the table from kids with special needs, to kids in athletics is unparalleled. The time I had serving our city, as an alderman on city council is priceless. I’ve been on HOA committees for years, where we budget and serve the public, and sometimes personal/pressing matters.”
Her time as a local real estate agent has taught Duncan much about property taxes of Hallsville ISD and other surrounding districts, she said.
“The whys, hows, and where does our money actually go is important to know, and for you to understand,” she said. “How did we exceed a certain budget, or what does the future look like? What do our teachers need, how can we better serve them, and how can they better serve our children and families? Serving a community is about much more than what goes on behind closed doors. When a body of people are educated on all the topics above, it provides a balance in a system that cannot become undone.”
Duncan said if elected, her main goal would be to keep parents involved, keep the community knowledgeable and to support teachers.
“Being on the school board is one thing, being present is another,” she said. “I’ve seen what the special education classes look like. I’ve watched the inclusion classes operate. I’ve attended the ARD meetings for my own child. I’ve been the ‘scared’ parent for my angel baby. New board members will bring new ideas -bring diversity — people with different backgrounds.”
Duncan said she has great pride for Hallsville ISD and the growing Hallsville community.
“Pride is an understatement when I describe how I feel about our schools,” she said. “I tell everyone — there is no better place than Hallsville ISD. Our schools, teachers, and staff are the absolute best. I have a little girl in the second grade with Down Syndrome — I would rather her attend East Elementary School, and continue to grow there than anywhere else in East Texas. That goes for my 12-year-old son as well.”
Lee Gaw, incumbent
Gaw said serving the students, teachers, staff and community of Hallsville ISD is his goal and no hidden agendas will ever be found behind his desire to continue serving as trustee.
“I do not have an agenda. Never did. Never will,” Gaw said Thursday. “I was first elected in 1997 and served for twelve years. I left the board for three years, returned in 2012, and have served ever since. I do have a couple of core beliefs that have guided me through the years of my service as a trustee. I believe that our youth are the heart and soul of our communities. Their education and development are essential to everyone. We must do all we can to prepare them for their futures. I believe that public education for all is what makes our country the best in the world. Public schools give our students the opportunities to learn, grow, and advance into productive members of our communities and society as a whole. These are the things that inspire me to serve the district.”
Gaw said with those core beliefs in hand, he has always strived to make the best decisions for the students of Hallsville ISD.
“I have always tried to make the best decisions possible based on my love of Hallsville ISD and what is best for all students. Therefore, my goal has always been to provide the best teachers, support staff, and administrators possible to educate, influence and inspire our students. This can only take place in a safe and secure environment that invites learning and student growth,” he said.
Most recently while serving as trustee, Gaw has helped guide the district through a bond election and the hiring of a new superintendent to replace outgoing Superintendent Jeff Collum.
“The leadership transition from Mr. Jeff Collum to Mr. John Martin will be very important and one of the first issues we will address as a board,” Gaw said. “As a governing body and by law, a school board hires, supervises and directs only one employee — that is the superintendent. Our current superintendent, Mr. Jeff Collum, has accepted a superintendent position at another district and will be leaving after an outstanding five years of service to Hallsville ISD. At our March school board meeting, we unanimously approved Mr. Martin as our lone finalist to replace Mr. Collum. Mr. Martin has served our district in different positions for a number of years. Even so, the board will be busy working with Mr. Martin to set his performance goals for the coming year to ensure continuous success in all areas.”
Gaw said one of the most rewarding feelings throughout his years serving as trustee has been to watch Hallsville High School seniors earn their diplomas and take the next steps in their lives.
“To me, the most exciting and rewarding accomplishment I have as a trustee is when the current senior class meets at the football stadium for their graduation ceremony at the end of the school year,” he said. “It is a gathering of parents, families, friends, teachers, staff and administrators to celebrate the accomplishments of these fine students. This is what it is all about — preparing students to go out in the world and be successful citizens.”
Gaw said he also looks forward to continuing the updates to the district made through the voter approved bond election.
“I have had the opportunity to be part of several successful bond elections that allowed Hallsville ISD to improve, expand, and build new facilities within our district. In some way, I have been involved in expansions of both Intermediate School campus buildings, and the junior high campus. I was also involved with the construction of Bobcat Stadium, East Elementary School, North Elementary School, and Hallsville High School. In addition, I have been part of the planning and construction start of West Elementary School and the Hallsville High School Auditorium. I am proud we have been able to do all of these things and still have one of the lowest tax rates in our area. We are financially sound.”
Dustin Wisdom, challenger
Wisdom said he was inspired to challenge for a seat on the Hallsville ISD school board after the hotly contested U.S. Presidential election last fall.
“I decided to run for Hallsville ISD shortly after the Nov. 3 presidential election. I saw the fraud that happened and the trouble our country was in,” he said. “I made a decision right then and there to step up for my community and push to make real change. You change a country from the ground up and the children are our foundation.”
Wisdom said he plans to immediately begin work to address security issues across the district if elected trustee.
“The first goal is to immediately address school safety. I intend to get ideas from the staff about how we can further protect our students from their perspectives. Also, to discuss new and upcoming ways of safety for our schools,” he said.
Wisdom said he felt the bond election’s addition of the new West Elementary School was not necessary at this time and that the district isn’t taking full advantage of its current facilities.
“If I was on the board when the Hallsville West Elementary School was voted on, I would’ve voted no. I don’t think it is a necessity at this time. It spreads out the district even more into Longview’s city limits, while we aren’t utilizing our other elementary facilities to our full advantage.”