Three face challengers in November election

There are four seats on the Craven County Board of Education on the ballot this year.

Vice-Chairwoman Linda Thomas from District 1 is retiring from the board, leaving her seat the only one empty without an incumbent in the race. Stefanie King and Eddie McKeel are the two candidates running for that seat.

In District 3, Board Chairman Carr Ipock and Ashley Smith are running for the seat Ipock currently holds.

In District 5, there are two names on the ballot, but incumbent David Hale is now running unopposed. His opponent, Kim Fink, withdrew from the race in June but due to State Board of Elections rules, her name is still on the ballot. If Fink is elected, she does have the option to accept the seat.

In District 7, Incumbent Joseph Walton is running against Back to Basics candidate Sarah Benischek.

District 1

Stefanie King resides at 1788 Bear Hole Road in Vanceboro. She has 21 years of experience in public education, 19 of which have been in Craven County.

King chose to run because she wants to help shape policies for the school board moving forward.

“I wanted to be able to help with making policies and procedures,” King said. “I think we’re headed in the right direction. I just think that with fresh eyes, I could help with the processes already in place, help make them clearer, and communicate it to all of the stakeholders.”

King said she is not opposed to Common Core, which is a set of high-quality academic standards in mathematics and English language arts and literacy. The learning goals outline what a student should know and be able to do at the end of each grade. The standards were implemented to equalize the education system across the country.

“I think there are some elements of it that if we look at them a little bit differently, maybe we can do something a little different with some of the components,” King said.

King said education isn’t just what she does, it’s part of who she is.

“I want to continue assisting making our school system the best,” King said.

Her opponent, McKeel, is running on the Back to Basics Platform. He lives at 320 Spruill Town Road in Vanceboro.

According to his Back to Basics campaign page, McKeel is also a product of Craven County Schools.

He is running for school board to be an advocate for teachers and parents. He understands the struggles and responsibilities teachers have to endure, and sympathizes with parents who want their voices to be heard. He opposes Common Core.

McKeel was unable to be reached by press time.

District 3

Board of Education Chairman Carr Ipock lives at 414 Surrey Lane in New Bern. He has served on the school board for 24 years and has served as chairman 22 of those years.

Ipock retired from Weyerhaeuser after 34 years. He currently serves as president-elect on the N.C. School Board Association.

Ipock said his leadership has provided him the opportunity to make statewide connections.

“You really want to know what somebody’s bringing to the table and what they’re tapped into. Because of my school board leadership, I know people across the state, every county’s school board members, state school board members, DPI (Department of Public Instruction), so there’s a connectedness there that we call on and that we can call on,” Ipock said.

Ipock doesn’t want voters to mistake experience for complacency.

“It’s like working all your life to educate yourself to the optimum point and then you feel like you’re getting there. Finally you’re beginning to understand what it is you’re really supposed to be doing and it’s time for you to go?” Ipock said. “I believe in education. I believe the premise that you always are preparing, you’re always working to do better.”

He said he wants to be available and continue to build bridges between the school board, teachers and parents.

Ipock’s opponent, Ashley Smith, resides at 1215 Pine Valley Drive in New Bern. He is also a product of Craven County Schools. He attended East Carolina University on a football scholarship but left to join the Air Force where he served as a staff sergeant during the Vietnam War.

Smith was a teacher and a principal for 27 years in Florida and was elected president of the Florida Association of School Administrators.

“I’ve actually had classroom experience,” Smith said, “which is very valuable if you’re going to be a school board member because you need to know what the real problems are and what the teachers really face.”

He moved back to the area five years ago.

“With my experiences, and they’re different experiences than what most people have here in Craven County because I come from a very large system,” Smith said. “I can offer a new direction, a new enthusiasm, a new spirit.”

Smith said it’s time for new leadership.

“Hillsborough County, where I was in Tampa, is the eighth largest school district in the country so they’re very innovative down there,” Smith said. “I think I can utilize what I learned down there here in Craven County. We’re kind of stagnant. We need to move forward and I think new blood with experience is the way to do it.”

District 5

Incumbent David Hale is running unopposed for the District 5 seat. His opponent, Kim Fink, withdrew from the race in June.

District 7

Incumbent Joseph Walton resides at 142 Secretariat Drive in Havelock. He has served on the Craven County Board of Education for 14 years.

“I know the system well,” Walton said. “I’m familiar with the workings of the Craven County school system and I love what I’m doing for the children.”

Walton said he’s seen the school system move in the right direction during the course of his tenure.

“As board members, we have prepared ourselves with more than 1,200 hours of training and we’ve been recognized as one of the top boards in the state because of our training and dedication to the system,” Walton said.

Walton said he is constantly studying to prepare himself and educate himself to do the best job he can for Craven County schools. He said transparency is a top priority and he thinks Common Core is beneficial to students, especially in his district.

“I think Common Core is good because of the military families we have,” Walton said. “When they leave the system and go to other states or come in from other states, they’re on the same curriculum and they’re not behind. That’s what Common Core is about.”

Walton’s opponent, Sarah Benischek, resides at 117 Secretariat Drive in Havelock with her two children and her husband, an enlisted Marine, when he’s not deployed.

Benischek is the second candidate running on the Back to Basics platform. She became involved with politics after having her first child and said she was approached by a local conservative group to run for the District 7 seat.

Benischek is opposed to federal overreach in local government and chose to homeschool her children to guarantee their education would not be based on federal mandates.

“I chose to homeschool because I see what’s going on with education and the social indoctrination that comes with Common Core,” Benischek said.

She said she decided to run because she couldn’t complain about the education system and not try to do something to change it.

“Our Back to Basics platform is very logical. It’s not in any way radical,” Benischek said. “It’s simply getting rid of Common Core type standards, eliminating all the over-testing, and abiding by the Sunshine Laws. It’s very non-partisan and if people could take an honest look at that platform, they could see that we’re really, truly trying to get back to what the education system used to be.”

Contact Jennifer Cannon at 252-635-5671. Follow her on Twitter at JCannonNBSJ.