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Gatesville ISD candidates offer variety of viewpoints

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With three at-large seats to be filled on the Gatesville Independent School District School Board, 14 individuals filed as candidates.

Katherine Lowrey Sullivant withdrew from the race on Oct. 18, due to health issues. Her name will still appear on the ballot, however.

The candidates are: Lisbeth Appelman, incumbent; Deborah Crosby Ford, incumbent; Dr. Stephen Norris, incumbent; Charles Alderson; Lisa Pruitt Bankhead; Joseph Campbell; Ryan Coggins; Rob Erwin; Tony Fernandez; David Fincher; Stephen Minton; Bruce Thoms and John Westbrook.

Twelve of the candidates answered questions designed to provide information to voters. Candidate David Fincher declined to answer the questions.

QUESTION: With 13 candidates and three at-large seats available on the School Board, why should people vote for you?

Alderson: One of the main reasons people should vote for me is my experience. I am beginning my fiftieth year in public education, forty of which have been with Gatesville ISD. During these years I was a teacher, coach, high school assistant principal, junior high assistant principal, alternative education administrator, textbook coordinator for the school district, and attendance officer.

Appelman: There are 3 reasons to vote for me. First, I’m an experienced Trustee who has served on the GISD School Board for the past 6 years, implementing improvements in the areas of curriculum and facilities, while keeping the District financially healthy. Secondly, the success of all kids in GISD is personal to me. I graduated from GHS, and I have 3 sons who currently attend GISD. I’m energized to make meaningful improvements to the learning environment to prepare life-ready graduates. Lastly, I bring a unique perspective to the Board as a parent and a businesswoman.

Bankhead: I feel that I would be a great asset to the GISD School Board. I believe I am able to help create new ideas as well as offer encouragement and guidance to reimplement some of the past criteria. I also believe I have great administration and financial experience as well as leadership skills. I am confident I have what it takes to be elected into the GISD Board.

Campbell: I bring a new voice to the board. I serve on two boards currently and work diligently to accomplish a common goal. The goal I wish to accomplish with GISD as a board member is to rebuild the breakdown between the educator, administrator and citizens. I care deeply for our schools and the future of our children. I feel I must be elected so I can work with the schools in developing a resolution for bringing our groups together as one with common goals that provide a gainful education to our students. When the disconnect above occurs our students suffer the consequences.

Coggins: I can best represent students because I am a student.

Erwin: I have served on the board previously. I think being self employed for most of my adult life has taught me many different aspects of the business world. I am very concerned about a number of policies that have been adopted by the current members of the Board of Trustees. I think the number of people running for the 3 seats available speaks volumes about the current state of our district.

Fernandez: People should vote for me for no other reason than my sheer desire and ambition to be the best representative of our student body first and to the parents and community

Ford: I have a Master’s degree in Education and over twenty years of experience as a public school teacher and counselor. My children and I are all Gatesville alumni. I helped charter Gatesville Education Foundation a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization. I am fiscally conservative as proven by $19,000,000 cash balance in GISD school funds available. I helped build the new elementary school, new library and new auditorium. If re-elected to a third term, I will firmly commit to our newly adopted Strategic Plan as posted for all to access at Please see my Facebook page “Re-elect Deborah Crosby Ford for Gatesville School Board.”

Minton: I believe I would be a good addition to the board because I pay attention to detail work hard to get things done in a timely manner

Norris: Serving on the GISD Board of Trustees for 33 years, many as president, I have experienced the need for planning and collaboration. A perfect example of this is the strategic planning campaign completed in February. Members from the business community, parents, teachers, administrators, and board members met together and discussed the district’s problems, strengths, needs, and aspirations. Working together, a document outlining problems and solutions was presented to the board. The administration is developing plans to implement these solutions over the next five years. This type of planning and organization is what I have done and continue to offer Gatesville ISD.

Thoms: Gatesville ISD is going through growing pains as it implements changes and there is confusion on the strategy guiding these changes and the lack of communication on these policies. Through my years in the military, government, corporate America, and working with the school, I bring detailed planning and solutions and will continue to bring these before the school board and gather feedback from parents/teachers/students.

I want to continue to serve this wonderful community-- and use my experience and talents to help the students in Gatesville schools have the best educational experience we can provide for them!

Westbrook: I am focused on student achievement, staff support, and fiscal responsibility with taxpayer funds. I am a 35-year Gatesville resident, and a 32-year veteran of Gatesville ISD, having served as a teacher, assistant principal, and GHS principal. I also serve as an educational consultant for several districts in the area, working with school improvement and alternative teacher certification. I feel these experiences and my vested interest in the district make me a candidate with a great deal to offer the stakeholders of Gatesville ISD.

QUESTION: What plans do you have to present to the School Board if you are elected? (technology, buildings, safety, etc.)

Alderson: We need to implement a plan to provide computers for all students for the completion of school work. Computers provide a vast wealth of knowledge and resources that can be beneficial for student learning. Therefore, I believe technology is the future of education.

Appelman: There are several initiatives that I have helped move along during my terms. Many of them are ongoing, continue to be moving targets, and must be executed in a prudent, fiscally responsible manner. Teacher pay, how to handle aging facilities, equipping all CTE programs with state-of-the-art equipment, developing more opportunities to better prepare graduates, and execution of the GISD Strategic Plan are all important to me. There are multilayered issues that these initiatives present as they evolve over time, and I’m energized to continue to work on them.

Bankhead: My plans are to continue “Making Our Schools Great”! My goals are to keep moving positive factors to help kids achieve their goals, whether it be a better reader or it be helping all the way to high school for a kid to choose the right decision in their career path. My plans are also to work with the teachers and administration in getting positive ideas to move forward in “Making Our Schools Great”!!

Campbell: I believe our school needs a community overhaul. Parents in our community need to get involved in their children’s education. A few of our campuses need repairs to allow us to provide a safe learning environment for students. We must work toward a solution that best fits our budget but addresses the older structures. With a construction background, I can provide insight on bringing our buildings up to standard. As a business owner, I have what it takes to get deeply involved and find resolutions to any problems the board may be faced with both current and in the future.

Ryan Coggins: The feasibility of digital textbooks, electronic mobile devices, applications and other wireless technologies for integration in to the classroom now and in the future needs to be considered.

Erwin: I want to see classrooms where teachers are able to instruct rather than spending a portion of their instruction time dealing with students who won’t or can’t behave in class. I will work to return GISD to a district where certified teachers want to work and parents want their kids to go to school. I will work diligently to control spending. As a former board member with a background in business, I believe it is the duty of all board members to be informed of the operations and the budget and be willing to ask the difficult questions regarding expenditures.

Fernandez: The greatest and most important plan is to be the greatest representation of the students, parents, and our community. And to find the greatest Involvement between parents our students and their school board.

Ford: If re-elected to a third term, I will firmly commit to our recently adopted Gatesville ISD Strategic Plan that was developed with over 100 community members including students, parents, staff, teachers, administrators, board trustees, and leaders from all across Gatesville. Our newly adopted Strategic Plan is posted for all to access at

Minton: I don’t have a prior plan at this time I would need to see what’s already in place and being planned

Norris: My plans are contained in the strategic plan and are being implemented now. Some of the plans which I anticipate the most are ensuring teachers have access to the highest administration with ideas, complaints, and needs; work with low socioeconomic family to close the achievement gap; improving the curriculum and equipment to enable career students to enter the job market without having to get further training; and getting every student reading on grade level.

Thoms: My priority on the board will be to get the community involved and establish a comprehensive plan that integrates the school and community fostering collaboration of resources and events focused on our kids’ success. There are large issues and we need detailed planning to provide solutions. Some items I want to implement quickly are: consolidation of web based calendars across all campuses; developing community volunteers database; coordination of school and community events; and partnering with local and regional companies to provide hands on experience and mentorship to help them support a career path for students.

Westbrook: I simply wish to make certain that all district efforts are directed toward meaningful academic achievement opportunities for ALL students. This would encompass a rigorous, viable curriculum which had as its end goal college, career, and technological readiness for today’s economy and world. I also believe facilities maintenance and/or construction should be a consideration as well. I would want to assure teachers were supported in their efforts in the classroom, both in terms of appropriate professional development and student behavioral support. I feel these factors work together to provide the educational opportunities students deserve in Gatesville ISD.

QUESTION: How have you previously been involved with Gatesville ISD? (i.e. parent, student, volunteer, employee, etc.)

Alderson: I have been an employee of GISD. I am also the parent of a Gatesville ISD graduate. As an educator, I was involved in numerous activities which included sponsoring the student council, heading curriculum committees, taking care of audiovisual equipment, conducting teacher evaluations, driving school buses to various athletic events, and supervising the concession stands for activity groups. For extracurricular events, I started invitational and district track meets, helped broadcast basketball games on the radio, introduced players for varsity basketball games, and ran the clock at football games. As a parent, I was involved with band and one-act play activities.

Appelman: I’m a GHS graduate, I’m a parent of a GHS graduate, and I currently have 3 sons in GISD. I’ve served as Trustee since 2011, bringing about improvements to the learning environment in the areas of curriculum and facilities. Some of the curriculum-related improvements include curriculum alignment K-12, implementation of a comprehensive literacy program, establishing a partnership with Texas Bioscience Institute, and upgrading CTE programs. Some of the facility-related improvements are a new elementary campus, new McKamie Stadium facilities, new junior high library, new softball/tennis locker rooms, new athletic training facility, renovated high school auditorium, and security upgrades to campuses.

Bankhead: I have been involved with GISD for many years, whether it being a student/graduate myself or now having 2 sons in the school district. I have also volunteered many hours at many of the different schools by helping out where needed. I am a supporter of the GISD in many different ways.

Campbell: I previously volunteered to be involved in the districts strategic planning for Employee recruitment and retention. This opportunity provided me some important face to face time with multiple educators both current and past to our district. In those meetings, we had some great conversations both good and bad surrounding issues that I feel need addressed. One key thing I learned is we have a disconnect between leaders, administrators, educators and parents.

Coggins: I have attended classes in Grade K-12 at Gatesville Independent School District resulting in a unique perspective different than any other current Candidate.

Erwin: I served one, three-year term on the board previously

My wife of 39 years was employed by the district for over 25 years.

She now works for Wyndham School District. Myself, my wife, my parents and our children all graduated from Gatesville ISD. I have 2 grandsons currently attending GISD.

Fernandez: I have three graduated children and one with two years left. I have also been a volunteer at Friday home football games helping run the down chain markers for the previous 8 seasons. I am bilingual in reading and writing in Spanish and also happen to be a graduate of Gatesville high school and a proud Hornet. I have grown up here with my friends, family and classmates and this is my home.

Ford: (Did not answer)

Minton: Both my kids have gone to Gatesville from first grade and now one is in seventh and one of the ninth grade we’ve been very happy with the school district and its employees

Norris: I came to Gatesville in 1980 straight from my surgical residency in Dallas. I volunteered to be the Hornet team doctor and did that until Les Reaves retired. By that time I was a board member and have served in that capacity to this day.

QUESTION: How do you feel about making GISD meetings more transparent, i.e. via live streaming the meetings or using other technology?

Alderson: I believe that increased transparency should be a major goal of Gatesville ISD. Live streaming meetings would be a great way to achieve this goal. Using technology could increase the interest of the community, especially for those who are unable to attend the meetings. However, it is important to follow the guidelines regarding privacy of individuals. Therefore, we must proceed with caution.

Appelman: GISD School Board meetings follow the Texas Open Meetings Act. While TOMA requires live streaming for enrollments of 10,000 students or more, it does not preclude a district the size of GISD from offering live streaming. Live-streaming could be a nice addition if done consistently, reliably, sustainably, and as a Trustee, I would have to determine that the necessary resources are available to make that happen. The use of other types of technology would have to be evaluated similarly.

Bankhead: I feel the transparent and communication is clear and put out there to the public through the GISD website. It lets the citizens know when the meetings are ahead of time as well as has the agenda packet with additional informational. The meetings are open to the public with all invited to attend. The minutes of the meetings are also open on the website if a person wishes to read them.

Campbell: I fully support open forum and live streaming. I encourage community involvement and feel it is a must in developing a program that works for the child.

Coggins: If elected I will propose that School Board Open Sessions be available for Live Streaming Video. This would increase awareness, transparency, and a better understanding of the School Board Proceedings.

Erwin: I am all for it. I think we would have much more community involvement in the school district if the board meetings were able to be watched on social media.

Fernandez: I am totally for making meetings more accessible to all the public wether live streaming or thru Facebook or twitter. We should have nothing to hide.

Ford: Transparency is where trust begins. Gatesville ISD Board meetings are held in accordance with the Texas Open Meetings Act. The Gatesville Messenger, our local newspaper, prints notes from all board meetings. Our Gatesville ISD website also prints notes of all our meetings. An additional step toward full transparency may include footage of the meetings posted on our Gatesville ISD website.

Minton: I agree with making the board meetings more transparent such as live streaming our video. The more people that know what’s going on the better off you will be.

Norris: Transparency is not increased by making poor information more available. Transparency is increased by being honest with all involved. We are a property poor district. We will need every penny in the next 15 years as 3 buildings which were all built close to the same time 60 plus years ago are wearing out. We are well below the enrollment numbers which mandate televising board meetings and there are many seats left in the audience at our board meetings. If you are really interested in what the district is doing, put away your Facebook, attend our meetings or call me.

Thoms: These suggestions, while important, are not solutions as they do not address the problem. Technology does not fix problems; it is used to assist in implementing a solution. We need the school board seat to be looked at as a job. A job takes dedication, hard work, and being proactive. Few attend these meetings and finding time to watch the meetings online would not increase awareness. The solution is getting the school board out into the public and be proactive in soliciting feedback. This will fix the issue and then adding the right technologies will make the solution more effective.

Westbrook: I would certainly be in favor of sharing those parts of school board meetings which are open to the public through streaming, etc. At all levels of government, transparency is a necessity, and facilitates honest, open communication.

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