Brittney Lofthouse – Contributing Writer
The Macon County Board of Education has three candidates vying for the open seat to represent the Franklin area on the board. Jim Breedlove, who currently serves as chair of the board is up for re-election and is facing two opponents this November.
“I have always been committed to public service, especially in the community where I live and work,” said Breedlove. “My most passionate belief is that one of the highest callings a person can follow is investing time and energy into the betterment of education for our children. I feel compelled to continue to serve as a board member and help make decisions that represent the best interest of all students. I have served on the Macon County Board of Education for the past 12 years, and hope to continue to serve for the coming four years. I strongly believe our county and state will be facing uncertain and considerable challenges and obstacles due to the current pandemic and the economic impact it will undoubtedly have on education as a whole. I feel my experience and proven leadership will be invaluable in helping lead the school system through these coming turbulent times.”
Breedlove is a Macon county native and is proud to have attended school here.
“I am a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a BS and MBA in Business Administration and Finance. After completing my education at UNC, I returned to Macon County where I began a long and sustained commitment to public service,” said Breedlove. “Some of my community service includes two terms as president of Iotla School PTO, three terms as president of Franklin Little League Baseball Board, Macon County Youth Soccer Organization board, volunteer soccer and baseball coach and referee/umpire for over 20 years. I have been married for almost 40 years to Kathy Breedlove, a long time school counselor. We are the proud parents of two children who attended Macon County Schools K-12, are graduates of [Western Carolina University], and live and work in Macon County. In addition, I am also proud to have three grandchildren who are all currently students in Macon County Schools. I am a member of First United Methodist Church in Franklin; and my greatest joy is spending time with my family, reading, traveling, and an occasional round of golf.”
Breedlove’s devotion to Macon County drew him home in 1979 despite tempting employment opportunities in the Research Triangle Park area. Upon returning from UNC- Chapel Hill, he entered the banking profession, where he has served in local banking and finance for the last 40 years. Breedlove was first employed at Northwestern Bank for five years, Macon Bank for 17 years, and is currently employed at United Community Bank as bank manager and city president, where he has served for the last 18 years.
“My continued desire to serve has led me to be involved in numerous professional and community volunteer service commitments,” said Breedlove. “I have been elected and am currently serving a fifth term on the Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce board, serving as president during three of those terms, three terms as president of the Franklin Jaycees, secretary/treasurer of Macon Program for Progress Board for four years, Community Foundation of WNC board for two terms, and currently serving on the Macon County Economic Development Commission board.”
Matt Mason filed for school board this year and hopes to bring a fresh perspective to the school system.
“I am running for Macon County School Board in order to bring a fresh perspective for the issues facing the Macon County School System. Running for the School Board has been a part of my long-range plan for several years. Currently, I have two children, a niece and two nephews enrolled in our school system ranging from 10th grade down to first grade. I feel that it is imperative to work diligently for the children of Macon County and it is also important for me to begin “giving back to our community.”
Mason and his wife Robin and have been married for 21 years and have two children who are 13 and 15 years old. Mason is a native of Macon County and graduated from Franklin High School in 1995.
“I graduated from Clemson University with Bachelor of Landscape Architecture degree in 2000,” said Mason. “After graduation, I owned and operated a landscape design/build company in upstate South Carolina. I am also an active member at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church.”
After moving back home to Franklin, Mason worked as the Sedimentation and Erosion Control officer for Macon County. After several years of working within the Planning, Permitting and Development Office, Mason was promoted to Macon County Planner.
“In 2014, I left county employment to work as a design and sales manager for Tate Landscaping Services Inc.,” said Mason. “I am a former fire chief at Clarks Chapel Fire Department. Currently I am the president of Macon County Boys Basketball and a board member for Franklin Little League Softball. I also serve as an elected board member for Macon County’s Soil and Water Conservation District.”
Like Mason, Emily Ritter hopes to bring a new voice to the board if elected.
“I am running for office to give young people a voice in Macon County,” said Ritter. “As a proud graduate of Macon County schools, I understand the challenges facing students as education is changing to adapt to incorporate more technology and prepare students for a modern workforce. I want to be an advocate for giving Macon County students the tools to be the best that they can be. “
Ritter is a graduate of Macon Early College, Southwestern Community College and Western Carolina University with a degree in Public Health Science and Marketing, and is currently a Master’s student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill earning her degree in Public Health Science with a concentration in Health Policy. A Franklin resident since 2000, she has participated in several charities in the community including Relay for Life, REACH, Rotary, and Angel Medical Center Auxiliary, totaling more than 3,000 hours of local volunteer work. She enjoys a good book, knitting, and kayaking.
Ritter has worked in the healthcare industry since graduating with her Bachelors, but currently has the pleasure to serve Macon County citizens as a Health Educator and Public Information Officer for the Macon County Public Health Department. Ritter also served on the 2020 Think Tank for the American Journal of Public Health, where she writes original research and editorial, as well as works on online engagement.
As an elected official – how would you improve educational opportunities for Macon County?
Breedlove: “I believe we already have the best teachers and central office staff in the state. We have excellent trained professionals who are consistently seeking to improve the best interests of our children in all aspects of education. If elected, I pledge to work to provide continued resources and support to help further the educational opportunities for our students. In addition, I commit to continue to work with the Macon County Commissioners to improve and upgrade facilities that our students are currently attending. While it might have been beneficial in the past to develop short and long range pans, planning such as this will have to be accomplished when it is financially feasible and responsible. Along with continuing to try and fully reinstate enrichment opportunities for students to have such as art and music in all our schools, I feel it is important to expand our early interventions programs. The best example of this is our outstanding pre-kindergarten program, which has demonstrated great readiness and success for our youngest students. It has always been my goal to provide students with the highest level of quality education whenever and wherever possible.”
Mason: “My goal is to assist educators in removing barriers in order to enable them to be strong leaders as they face current and future academic challenges.
Ritter: “I want to see Macon County Schools embrace technology and for Macon County Schools to emphasize the need to modernize our school system. We need solutions that work for all students, and I think that requires a new and different perspective. Specifically from someone who has gone through the system more recently.”
What is your stance on Macon County’s current policies for returning to in-person instruction during COVID19?
Breedlove: “I would first like to address that school closures and re-openings are a result from having to adhere to the changing and current executive orders of the North Carolina governor. These guidelines created the most challenging and difficult conditions for normal student instruction. My goal has and always will be to try and return our students to in-person instruction as soon as possible, while keeping in mind the safety of the students as the overriding concern. I completely see and hear your anger and frustration. In my opinion, there is simply no reliable substitute for face-to-face learning in this county or any county. If re-elected, I will continue to push hard for the option for students to have as much in-person instruction as possible.
Mason: “While I understand that Macon County Schools must follow state mandates, I strongly believe that every K-12 student should return to in-person instruction five days per week immediately. I also feel that students are being significantly impacted in a negative way by the current interpretations of the protocol for classroom quarantines. My goal is to create a discussion with the leaders of the Macon County Public Heath Department so we can limit the number of students within quarantine protocols. By doing this we would allow a significant number of students to return or never miss in-person instruction.”
Ritter: “Given my position, I do not feel it is appropriate to comment on this at this time.”
What do you see as being the biggest issue facing Macon County Schools?
Breedlove: “I believe the two biggest issues facing our schools are (1) the projected and probable funding cuts and shortfall of revenues on both the state level and local level due to the economic impact of Covid-19 and (2) the ongoing educational, social and mental health issues that have inevitably arose and will continue to impact students in Macon County Schools during this sustained pandemic crisis.
Mason: “Currently the biggest issue facing Macon County Schools would be navigating through the Covid-19 pandemic. Beyond that, I feel that the biggest issue facing Macon County Schools is a lack of long-range planning for current and future needs. Our duty should be to create a planning process that develops a needs assessment which outlines current and future infrastructure needs. The product of this process would be a 5-year Capital Outlay Plan that would include stronger internet infrastructure throughout Macon County while also creating a plan of attack for school renovation projects and/or the construction of new school campuses.”
Ritter: “Macon County Schools need to embrace and prepare for the future. If anything, this COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that the future of education, careers, and even business is online. We need someone who will be dedicated to preparing young people to enter a new and modern world, and for students to have the tools to navigate that world.”
Anything else you would like for your voters to know.
Breedlove: “I would first like to express my utmost respect and deepest appreciation to all Macon County Schools faculty and staff for their beyond amazing and tireless efforts during these stressful unprecedented times. Every individual has gone above and beyond the call of duty, and worked ceaselessly to provide an ongoing and outstanding education and environment for all our students. I also want to extend my sincere admiration to all parents and guardians who have had to balance so many things for their children during these past few months. My fervent wish is that I will be able to continue to serve on the school board in what I believe is a continued calling, to help the students of Macon County Schools. My pledge to the citizens of Macon County is to vigorously pursue the absolute best for the students of Macon County Schools as they so richly deserve, ever keeping in mind that they are America’s future.”
Mason: “Over the next few years, I plan to create a positive working relationship between the Macon County School Board Members and other elected leaders within Macon County. It is time for our generation to be actively involved within our communities because our children are our greatest assets for the future of Macon County.”
Ritter: “I love Macon County and have been blessed to call this place home for much of my life, and I see this as an opportunity to give back to my community, but to also show students that Macon County Schools students are capable of truly great accomplishments. I had to fight to be heard and understood for much of my education; I want students, like myself, to have someone who has their back and will go to bat for them. I believe in making the right choice, not the easiest.”