Student community involvement: Kingsport youth council holding April 25 school board forum

Rick Wagner • Apr 22, 2019 at 7:30 PM

KINGSPORT — Who better to organize and choose questions for a local school board candidates forum than 12 students in the local school system?

Students say that’s the thinking behind the Kingsport Board of Education forum set for 4 p.m. Thursday at Robinson Middle School’s auditorium. The Mayor’s Youth Council YELL, which stands for Youth Engaged in Leadership and Learning, organized and will staff the event. It had some help from the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce, which organized YELL.

Bethany Welty and Olivia Lovelace, both 17-year-old Dobyns-Bennett High School seniors, are among the 12 YELL members helping with the forum. Both said they enjoy community involvement and think it is important. YELL members are juniors and seniors in Kingsport City Schools and in some Sullivan County schools in the Kingsport area.


“The Board of Education is very important, and we have a great school system,” said Vanessa Bennett, executive director of operations and leadership programs for the chamber.

Bethany, Olivia and the other 10 students came up with five prepared questions already provided to the candidates, and plans are to have questions submitted by audience members and answered as time allows. Bennett said all five candidates have indicated they plan to attend.

Three of the five school board seats are up for grabs in the May 21 election, for which early voting runs May 1-16. Incumbents Susan Lodal and Karen Reed-Wright are not seeking re-election to at-large seats. On the ballot are incumbent Todd Golden, who works in pharmaceutical sales; and newcomers Julie Brinker Byers, an Eastman Chemical Co. retiree; small business owner Shelton Clark; college professor Liv H. Detwiler; and retired Kingsport teacher Jim Welch.

“I like to always stay involved in my community,” Bethany, a Lady Indians basketball player, said recently at the Chamber. “Instead of complaining, you can get out and work to make your community a better place.”

Bethany will be among YELL members collecting audience questions at the forum.

Bethany plans to attend the University of Alabama and earn a chemical engineering degree, meaning she could one day work in her hometown at Eastman and have children in Kingsport City Schools. Olivia plans to seek a double major in elementary education and special education, meaning she could one day work in her hometown as a teacher in the city school system.

Olivia, like Bethany, said she enjoys being active in the community.

“I just really enjoy working in the community,” said Olivia, who is in the color guard of the D-B marching band. “It’s the only collective group I know that puts an emphasis on doing things rather than talking about them.”

Olivia will be one of two time keepers at the forum.


Olivia and Bethany said the format will be a one-minute introduction from each candidate, two minutes for each candidate to answer questions and then one minute to wrap up.

“We came up with a whole lot of questions,” Olivia said. “You’ve got to make sure they’re specific but not too specific.”

Bethany said, “We tried to get issues that everyone cares about.”

Bennett said that next year, which will be an off year for city elections, YELL will focus on voter registration.

Other YELL members involved with the forum include moderators Anne Tumlin and Abby Nash, both seniors; time keeper Keagan Bellamy, a junior; greeters Alisa Peal and Frederick Tully, both juniors; question collectors Gianna Pastrick, a senior, and Olivia LaHair, a junior; seniors Rachel Bennett and Tiffany Corby; and junior Rylee Waye.


The Kiwanis Club of Kingsport held a school board forum March 22, viewable online in an archived Facebook Live video. The Rotary Club of Kingsport plans a BOE forum at its May 1 meeting at 11:30 a.m. in the Press Room of Food City on Roller Street, and the Republican Women of Greater Kingsport plan a school board forum at its noon meeting on May 6 in the upstairs meeting room of the Food City on Eastman Road.

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