Valley variety: part 1

Special election: District 6 Board of Education seat bid features political novices Henderson, Gray, Kirby

Three candidates are vying for the Knox County Board of Education District 6 seat (includes Hardin Valley) vacated in September by former Board representative Terry Hill, who was elected to Knox County Commission from the 6th District in August.

Robin “Rob” Gray, Betsy Henderson and Hannah Lizbeth Kirby are running for the post in a special election, which will be decided through Early Voting and Election Day Tuesday, Nov. 3.

The candidates were asked the same basic questions by farragutpress in advance of the election:

Betsy Henderson, why are you running?

“I am running because we have a great opportunity to build on the success of our schools to ensure that all of our children are prepared for the future. As a parent of two young children currently in the school system, I want to ensure that parents’ voices are heard in that process.”

Do you have any previous political experience?

“I have spent the last six years volunteering in our schools, serving first as a room mom and eventually as president of our PTO.

“I’ve worked alongside our teachers and administrators and seen their passion and skills, as well as the obstacles they face every day.

“Before becoming a mom, I worked in Washington, D.C. I moved there seven days after Sept. 11, because I wanted to help make a difference and worked for U.S. Rep. John Duncan and Congressman Connie Mack.”

What is it you hope to accomplish as a member of the Board of Education?

“First, I want to ensure that our children are the focus of our district.

“I’m passionate about early literacy. Too many children cannot read at grade level, and this knows no demographic boundaries.

“In fact, we experienced it in our own family.

“The budget is always a major issue because one of the main duties of a school board member is to develop and pass the budget. This year’s budget was over $500 million dollars — which makes up over 60 percent of the county’s budget.

“These are hard-earned tax dollars and we need to make sure that every dollar is spent efficiently, with the greatest impact being felt in the classroom.

“We also must make sure that the state’s formula for funding schools is fair.”

What is your current profession?

“I currently stay at home to raise our children.”

Additional background

“I grew up in Louisville (Tennessee), attended public schools and graduated from University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

“I was raised in Saint George Greek Orthodox Church and my family and I currently attend Farragut Presbyterian.”

What area of the district do you live in?

“I live in Hardin Valley with my husband, Scott, and two children, Logan and Molly, who attend Hardin Valley Middle and Elementary schools.”

Rob Gray, why are you running?

“I have a Pre-K and second-grader at Karns Elementary. I decided not to wait for someone with my qualifications to run. There are issues in the school that need to be fixed, like a continual 35 percent average reading proficiency in the third grade and 65 percent in the sixth grade.  We need someone who can think outside the box and get us back on track. We need someone who has had to make difficult decisions that affected the outcomes of an organization.”

Do you have any previous political experience?

“I have 15-plus years of municipal budget consulting. I have been a coach, substitute teacher and college instructor over the last 25 years.  I also have been a high school and college football, basketball, softball and baseball official since 1996. 

“So I get to interact with the teachers, administration and kids on different levels, which gives me a great overview of our education system.”

What is it you hope to accomplish as a member of the Knox County Board of Education?

“I hope to make the education system so good that there is no demand for vouchers and school choice in KCS.  The goal is to get the school board to be the bridge between all those vested in education. 

“Communication and understanding is vital to our education system. 

“If we want top-notch education then we must all invest into our kids’ education.”  

What is your current profession?

“Budget analyst/consultant and risk assessment.” 

Additional comments:

“I have no interest in improving my social standing… I am here to fix the problems just the same as I am paid to do in various government agencies across the southeast!!  That is what I do—identify and fix issues!!

“There are three key things to start the restoration of our schools:

“1) Do not wait for data points for intervention but educate children day 1 in kindergarten; 2) We must be proactive; 3) Elect a leader who has had to make and will make hard decisions”

What area of the district do you live in? 

Karns, where I live with my wife, Beth, our daughter, Peyton, and a son, Cooper.

Hannah Kirby, why are you running?

“Because of the intense appreciation I have for the education I received while attending Knox County Schools, and my teachers who are still serving are who inspired me to take the plunge and run for office. I want to make sure that every student receives the same (and better!) high-quality education that I received while also ensuring our teachers and staff members are treated as the absolutely invaluable members of the community that they are.”  

Do you have any previous political experience?

“I’ve never run for public office before, but I do have experience with public policy, budgeting and Knox County Schools themselves.”

Additional background

“I majored in political science and environmental studies at Maryville College and earned my certified nonprofit professional (CNP) credential. I served as the operations manager for a small business, Mountain Challenge, for two years in college, handling the monthly payroll, invoicing, accounts payable, hiring and financial reporting.

What is it you hope to accomplish as a member of the Knox Board of Education?

“My BOE goals can be categorized by three guiding principles that I carry with me in every aspect of my life and work:

“Efficiency — Improve communication through regular meetings with students, teachers, families and the community and plan for development proactively so that schools can keep up with growth demands in our district.

“Equity — Advocate for adequate public education funding; align teacher pay with other large districts and provide ample classroom resources.

“Empathy — Champion Knox County’s community schools and expand family access to community resources; support ending the cycle of expensive, time-consuming and anxiety-inducing high-stakes testing and restore authentic learning time that is lost to test prep.”

What is your current profession? 

“I work as a program manager for the Global Supply Chain Institute at UT, where I manage the budget and opera.”

“After college, I served in fundraising and programmatic roles with two non-profits before landing in my current position at UT.”

What area of the district do you live in? 

“In Karns in the same house where I grew up!” Family includes her mom, Juli, whom she lists as a strong supporter and her best friend.