Wade Leatham has heard the same question many times: “Why are you running for this position?”
His answer never changes.
“Bottom line, it’s for the kids,” Leatham said.
A retired military veteran and grandfather of six, Leatham feels that every child, no matter their socioeconomic background, deserves a quality education. Whether it’s a college degree, a trade certificate or military career, they can learn strong skills viable to help create a solid workforce within the community.
Leatham described it as a “win-win” for Wayne County.
Members of the Wayne County Board of Education embraced Leatham’s passion and enthusiasm, and appointed him by a 4-2 vote as the District 6 representative for the county Thursday. He replaces the late Richard Pridgen who died in early February.
“I don’t think we need this board to be full of educators,” said Jennifer Strickland, vice chair of the Board of Education. “I think we need to be representative of the community, the entire county as a whole. I feel that the people in his district, at least half of them, already have the confidence that he can serve them with integrity, honor and knowledge.”
One of five candidates interviewed by the board over a two-hour period, Leatham handled each question with confidence and poise.
He cited the positives in the school system — the camaraderie between Superintendent Michael Dunsmore and the board, higher graduation rates, lower drop-out rates, the opening of new schools within the last five years, a minor increase in technology and better lock-down procedures.
In the same breath, Leatham noted there was room for improvement.
There are numerous old buildings in the county in desperate need of repair. The state’s population is growing, which will bring an influx of students and undoubtedly create the need for additional schools.
The recent referendum of a one-quarter sales and use tax increase failed in the March 3 primary election. Leatham said the board has done a good job of handling money, but needed to remain prudent on the allocation of funds.
Leatham questioned the opportunity to get county-wide WiFi so students can do their work from home, using the current coronavirus outbreak as a strong example.
“Things are going great, but I think we can obviously make things better,” said Leatham, who ran for the same position two years ago and lost to Pridgen by a scant 15 votes.
District 6 encompasses Greenwood Middle School, Meadow Lane Elementary, Eastern Wayne Middle, Eastern Wayne Elementary and Eastern Wayne High School. A majority of the students housed on those five campuses come from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, which is Leatham’s bailiwick. He has a direct connection with Base Commander Col. Donn C. Yates.
“As a retired officer, I think I have a unique insight that is required between our local schools and our military base,” Leatham said. “We need a strong relationship between the school district, the county commissioners, the chamber of commerce, the businesses.
“I think that the most important thing that we can do is teach our students not just to survive, but to thrive.”