(Editor’s Note: Each of the six candidates in the race for two seats on the Ohio County Board of Education was asked to reply to five questions concerning the future of Ohio County Schools so that their answers could be published free of charge. The stories will be published based on the order the replies were received from a total of 16 candidates running for Assessor, the Board of Education, County Clerk, and County Sheriff.)
Gary Kestner, Incumbent, District 1, Ohio County Board of Education
Although Gary Kestner’s career with Ohio County Schools began 30 years ago, there was a learning curve he needed to navigate during his four years as a member of the Ohio County Board of Education. Kestner was a garage employee and then a school bus driver for two decades before he was promoted to the director of transportation in 2006. During his tenure he managed a fleet of 42 regular-route buses
In 2012, he ran for and won one of five seats on the county’s Board of Education, and now he hopes voters return him to a second term. A native of the Triadelphia area, Kestner is a graduate of Triadelphia High School, and he and his wife, Terry, have been married since 1985. The couple has raised beef cattle on their 100-acre farm outside of Valley Grove for several years.
Kestner represents District 1 on the board, and the incumbent is being challenged by one other candidate.
What are your primary reasons for filing to run for a seat on the Ohio County Board of Education?
The focus of every BOE member has to be our children. Ohio County Schools has built a tremendous reputation of providing a quality education and a safe, enriching environment for our children. We have an achieving, focused staff that prides itself on providing the quality of life for our students and prepares them with the life skills needed once they leave our care. My main focus these next four years will be to continue to strive for excellence within our system, but also to challenge the way we look at education and push all parties to improve and succeed.
What is your opinion of the most recent test scores received by Ohio County’s public school students; how do you believe improved scores can be achieved in the future; and do you feel those scores represent an adequate way to judge a school district’s employees?
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Regardless of what measure we use to analyze test scores, we should always strive to improve. Test data is sometimes not a true reflection of the dedication of our staff and achievement of our students, but it is a baseline to develop a path to improvement. I feel that we should develop a more tangible path to testing and working closely with the superintendent and each individual school to maximize learning and improve our scores. I have witnessed firsthand how hard our teachers and support staff work to meet achievement standards, and I will work hard to support them during these next four years.
How important do you believe the current arts programs are to a child’s education?
There is absolutely no argument that the arts enhance a student’s education process. We are blessed that Ohio County Schools has always placed an emphasis on this part of the curriculum. I strongly believe we need to take another step and commit more resources to these programs and continue our tradition of excellence.
What ideas do you have at this time to increase the amount of parental involvement with the Ohio County public school system?
The No. 1 area that needs to improve is our use of social media. We need to actively engage the community on all available platforms so they can use this information as a tremendous amount of support from parents and the community in many school activities. We have strong boosters and PTA/PTO organizations, and our Partners in Education program just can’t be beat.
What should be the top priorities be for the members of the new school board and the new superintendent heading into the 2016-2017 academic year?
I’m very excited to work with the new board members and hope that we can have a great culture of enthusiasm and student growth. These first four years on the BOE have been a learning experience, and I think we can move the school system forward even more. I’ve spent many years involved with OCS, and I have a unique understanding of what all groups in the system need to succeed. My close relationship with the service personnel gives me even more understanding of the inner workings of our system. We will continue to focus on student and staff growth, but most importantly, Ohio County Schools should be a safe and enjoyable place for the students and their parents.