A resident of Western North Carolina for nearly 18 years, Stacey Caskey is an award-winning teacher, nominated for Microsoft Teacher of the Year and chosen by then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani to open the 1997 school year.
Stacey and her husband, Brian, a Mills River town councilman, own Biltmore Tutoring. They live in Mills River with their daughter, Allison, a West Henderson High sophomore, and their four miniature dachshunds. When not working with students, the Caskeys enjoy hiking and kayaking.
Why should you be elected and what would you bring to the board?
Considering what’s at stake, anyone running for the Board of Education must have a strong educational background. In the business world, the most successful leaders have been those who worked their way up, doing many different jobs, but always with the goal of better serving their customers. If the goal of our school system is to produce well-rounded men and women who are ready for college or the job market, it just makes sense to have someone with an innate understanding of educational best practices to help guide them.
During my 28 years of experience as a teacher and National Board Certified Educator, I obtained an undergraduate degree in developmental psychology and three master’s degrees — in education, mathematics and college counseling. I have worked as a teacher-trainer, helping get the most out of strong instructors. I have written reading, science and mathematics curriculum for my school districts, along with technology grants that brought in over $3 million for my schools. And I’ve been selected as Teacher of the Year in two different school systems.
I am also a small-business owner. In 2010, my husband and I opened Biltmore Tutoring. As small-business owners with 17 employees, we understand fiscal responsibility and the pressures that come with running your own business.
Working together with the Board of Commissioners, our outstanding administrative staff and our incredible teachers, I know we can create the best school system in the state right here in Henderson County.
The School Board has chosen PFA Architects and LS3P over Clark Nexsen to design a new Hendersonville High plan to bring before commissioners. What are your thoughts on the project and how will you handle it if elected?
Like many in Henderson County, I have watched this project painfully unravel. Years later, we aren’t much further along than when we started. Along the way, we witnessed a fundamental and disturbing breakdown in communication between the Board of Education and the Board of Commissioners. We saw a breakdown in trust between the Board of Education and the county’s architect of record, Clark Nexsen. And most worrisome, we saw a breakdown in conversation between the Board of Education and the community.
Most of the schools in Henderson County need capital improvements and have some very real safety concerns. The school board prioritized a list of improvement projects, and Edneyville Elementary and HHS were, correctly, at the top of the list. It is very clear that HHS needs to be modernized and expanded.
Clark Nexsen was asked to create a campus incorporating the historic Stillwell building, an auxiliary gym and a larger auditorium. At each step, despite the fact that all of the above were lacking, the School board approved the plan. One glance at the 32-page contract with Clark Nexsen would inform anyone who bothered to read it that something was wrong. Millions of your tax dollars were wasted because the two boards didn’t communicate.
The presentation by PFA/LS3P was superb, addressing both the educational needs of our students and budgetary needs of the county. It is imperative that there be a liaison between the BOE, the BOC and PFA/LS3P, to bring transparency and communication to this $55 million project. I’m always prepared, I always read contracts thoroughly and would never claim to be “duped” because I didn’t do my homework.
Once elected, I intend to bring that kind of focus, discipline and business experience to the board. We owe our teachers, our administration, our community and our students nothing less.
The school system received millions in local funding this year to hire school resource officers and social workers and complete facility upgrades in an attempt to increase safety. What are your thoughts on school safety and what more would you like to see done?
After the Columbine shooting, the U.S. Secret Service created the “Safe Schools Initiative” in an effort to produce information that would be helpful for school administrators, law enforcement and educators. These expert findings showed that incidents of targeted violence were rarely impulsive, and prior to the event, the attacker told at least one person what was planned.
Most had either attempted, or talked of, suicide. Additionally, most attackers had access to unsecured weapons in their home. While only 12 percent of the attackers had exhibited any interest in violent video games or movies, nearly 40 percent had displayed abnormally aggressive tendencies in journals and other writings. This informs us as to what we all need to be looking for.
Recent solutions such as the “Report It, Don’t Ignore It” app are a good step in the right direction. Metal detectors and single entry systems at school entrances would also be common-sense additions to our school safety plan.
The addition of school resource officers can deter future attacks, but we need to push for SRO training to include immersion into the school culture. Ideally, our SRO’s will become mentors and role models – a safe person to talk to – discouraging other school safety issues that are present in schools, such as bullying and sexual harassment.
Most importantly, we need to move away from lockdown drills. Expert research has shown that 92 percent of those killed in school shootings were “sitting and hiding” in classrooms. To date, all school shooters were former students. They quite literally “know the drill.” Safety experts say that we must get the students out of the building as quickly as possible, like a well-organized, high-speed fire drill. I will work with safety professionals to design an expert escape plan, for every school, to ensure the safety of every student.
What’s your opinion on how the N.C. General Assembly funds public education? What more would you like to see done at the state level and how would you advocate for Henderson County to see those goals happen?
While we have seen a recent shift in the N.C. General Assembly to prioritize public education, we know there is a long way to go. North Carolina ranks 37th in teacher pay and 39th in per-pupil spending. If we want to attract quality teachers, we must offer competitive salaries and we must incentivize post-graduate education. Additionally, the more training our teachers have, the better equipped they will be at helping our students succeed. Other states offer teachers better compensation and training, and it’s time that North Carolina gets on board.
If we want our children to compete in the 21st-century job market, we need to be providing them with the right tools. We need updated textbooks, computer labs and STEM labs. We also need more counselors, so that each guidance counselor does not have to spread their time among hundreds of students.
Henderson County will never be among the top school systems in the state until they offer countywide pre-kindergarten. Pre-k is not daycare or preschool; it is an early literacy program designed for 4-year-olds. Research concludes that by the time these students reach third grade, students who have had a pre-k background outperform their classmates in every single subject.
I have already had conversations with Sen. Chuck Edwards, and most of the candidates for N.C. Senate and N.C. House, so they each know where I stand on this. I will continue to advocate until each 4-year-old child has access to pre-k. As a seasoned grant writer, I’m willing to assemble a team of educators to get the supplemental monies needed to see this to fruition.
It’s easy to talk about things that you would like to see happen in Henderson County, but we need to elect a doer, someone who has a track record of getting things done.
What are your top priorities for the school system?
A well-functioning school system is one where we can easily recruit and retain high-quality teachers, offer the most educationally sound instruction and resources to our children, ensure the safety of each child in our care and produce students who are ready for the challenges of college and the demands of a competitive 21st-century job market.
Our current School Board does not possess early childhood expertise. As we all know, the foundations built during primary education define our outcomes in secondary school. By advocating for pre-kindergarten and shoring up elementary and middle school curriculum, we will reap the benefits of high school students ready to take on rigorous, career-ready coursework. We should not be satisfied when schools in Henderson County drop to Cs on the N.C. Report Card. We can’t celebrate when a school moves from a 54 percent to 56 percent proficiency level without asking why nearly half of the students are failing! We have outstanding teachers in our system, and it’s time to give them better tools.
Why do almost 90 percent of our students graduate high school, but less than 28 percent complete college? Those students not heading off to college should leave high school ready for the job market, ready to earn more than minimum wage. We must offer more than just CTE classes. We must have a comprehensive vocational program that includes personal finance, accounting, social media, marketing and self-promotion skills. For college-bound students, we must move our SAT and ACT scores to a more competitive level. Polk County students, on average, score much higher.
I believe that I bring a unique set of qualifications to our Board of Education. I have received certifications in all areas, from early childhood through college admissions. I know that I can help elevate Henderson County schools to the top.