Berry commitment to education is foundation for his service

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   Robert "Bobby" Berry says his commitment to education began the moment he was sworn in as a member of Elizabethton City Schools' Board of Education.
   "When I first got on the board I made a commitment to myself to get everybody on the same playing field for the children," said Berry, who is seeking his third term on the Board of Education. "In the seven years I've been here, things have gotten so much better."
   Berry currently serves as vice-chairman of the Board of Education. He and fellow incumbents Catherine Wooten Armstrong and William T. "Sonny" Hunt are the three candidates seeking two school board seats in the Nov. 5 city election.
   "I look at being a school board member from a common sense point-of-view," said Berry. "I try to weigh everything out and weigh what is going to be in the best interest of the students."
   He said he has worked collaboratively with the City Council and Board of Education in realizing the largest facilities improvement financial plan for the system since 1973.
   The city's recent annexations of property in west Carter County has brought in new properties and hundreds of county residents into Elizabethton's corporate boundaries.
   He also said anytime the city undertook a major annexation, the school's system ability to accommodate an influx of children would have to be considered.
   Berry said the Tennessee Supreme Court's recent decision ruling the state salary equalization unconstitutional should mean a more level playing field for the state's teachers. The key to funding for teacher equalization -- which has ranged from $53 million to $400 million -- is a question left to the state legislature, he said.
   "The person listed at level A on the poll should have an equal share of the pie to the person listed at level C," said Berry. "It is going to take some very well-planned ideas to get this thing the way they want it to."
   Berry said a goal he wanted fulfilled was an increase of the Elizabethton teachers' salaries. A teacher paid adequately could dedicate their focus to teaching, he said.
   "Having the salary increase, we can draw the best people," said Berry. "We have top notch people that we need to hold on to."
   He also said the system's improvement from an administrative standpoint had grown exponentially each year he had been on the Board.
   "Dr. (Judy) Blevins does a great job, as does Mr. Rondald Taylor as assistant director," said Berry. "We have a good staff for our principals."
   Berry said the Gateway examinations given to high school and eighth grade students is doing an adequate job in measuring students' achievements. Still, he added that standardized testing was not the end-all score of how much a student knows.
   The overall enrichment of education in the classroom and social experience of school adds significantly to a student's learning experience, Berry noted
   "There are two sides to look at it," he said. "Sometimes students just freeze on one-time tests and that's the only thing I have against testing, that there is no way to test a child's overall ability."
   While he felt the state's Basic Education Plan had provided substantial help for K-12 public education, Berry said the state needs to focus on the services provided to their citizens. If funding for public education withered, so would the state's workforce and higher education enrollment.
   "We ought to have education needs to come first, or you won't have the right people to build highways or manage government," said Berry. "If we don't put enough people to educate people who are going to take our places when we are gone?"
   "I don't think we are watching out for the future in Nashville," he added. "We are letting other things sidetrack us instead of focusing on the children."
   Tennesseans will have an opportunity to lift the state's Constitutional prohibition on a lottery when they go to the polls to vote on the lottery amendment in the state general election on Nov. 5.
   Lottery supporters and state legislators have stated publicly that a Tennessee lottery would be modeled after the state of Georgia's lottery -- that provides college scholarships to academically eligible students and a pre-kindergarten program.
   Berry said he did not oppose a state lottery to fund education. However, he said if the lottery referendum was approved by voters, proceeds from lottery revenues should be appropriated to K-12 education.
   "It should be administered to K-12 in my opinion; that should be the main focus," said Berry. "We have to get the children ready for higher education."
   A graduate of Elizabethton High School, Berry and his wife Vicky have one daughter Emilee, an Elizabethton High School student. He is the son of Mona Sweeney and R.H. Berry. He has worked in automotive technology for 20 years. He currently works at Rusty Wallace Toyota in Morristown.
   "I've never been one to have an agenda," said Berry. "It is a passion to be involved in education and serve on the board and I thoroughly enjoy it."